Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cold War memories

The bitterly cold weather is what veteran Keith Hall recalls most vividly about the time he served in the Korean War.

There were nights in the army tents when the temperature dropped so low that his moustache became stiff with ice.

A bottle of beer tucked under his stretcher once froze solid.

The Mt Wellington resident is one of 12 veterans to share their experiences in the 2013 book by Pip Desmond: The War That Never Ended. New Zealand Veterans Remember Korea.

More than 5000 New Zealanders served in Korea.

A book like this highlights their effort, which has tended to be overshadowed by larger wars, Mr Hall says.

"There is a lack of knowledge about the Korean War and people don't really understand what it was like."

It was the desire to travel and experience the world, not political beliefs, that led him to war.

He was one year away from finishing his six-year plumbing apprenticeship when he and his friends enlisted for Kayforce.

"I think it was a case of getting away from the humdrum existence we were leading."

But the 22-year-old was confronted with a "miserable, filthy-looking place" when he arrived in the port city of Pusan in December 1950, he says.

He was posted to the New Zealand Base Engineer Section and rose through the ranks to second lieutenant.

Mr Hall spent most of his time working in the minefields but removed a lot more than he laid.

It was not something he ever took lightly.

"You were always conscious of the danger because every mine had a large bang in it.

"It can be difficult finding mines, particularly when shellfire has gone through. The trip wires get cut so you get left with a live mine."

One of his responsibilities was to teach replacement troops how to remove mines.

One soldier in particular made an impression.

Despite being given instructions, the man picked up a mine without putting the safety pin in. He turned to Mr Hall and said: "What'll I do with this?"

Mr Hall took it out of the soldier's hand and put the pin in.

"I gave vent to a bit of language. It could have been the end of us," he says.

His dedication and ability to work under pressure in support of the Australian infantry battalion was Mentioned in Despatches.

Mr Hall left Korea on July 27, 1953 - the day the truce was signed. He went back in 2010 with the Korean Veterans Association to mark the 60th anniversary of the war.

He was amazed how much the country had changed.

Korea is still divided today but the war effort protected South Korea, the 84-year-old says.

"It's certainly done the country good.

"They wouldn't be where they were today if it hadn't been for the effort made by the United Nations," he says.

Mr Hall does not talk about his war experiences much but celebrates Anzac Day every year.

It gives people an opportunity to reflect on the participation of New Zealanders in war, he says.

"I tend to remember my Dad who fought in the Second World War.

"He comes back to mind very occasionally otherwise," he says.

The day tends to get me a bit emotional."



Sean Eagan

American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile