LUCKEY - Don't refer to the Korean War as a “police action,” or worse, as the “Forgotten War,” when you're around Joel Davis.
A veteran of that war, he has strong feelings on the subject, and has spent a good part of his time telling people what a hellish, bloody place Korea was from 1950 to 1953. “It was a real war that killed a lot of good people,” Mr. Davis, 71, a soft-spoken retiree, said in his ranch home here. “If we forget the war, we forget the people who served and died there - and we haven't done that at all.”
Forty-seven years after leaving the Army, Mr. Davis is being inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in recognition of his efforts to keep the sacrifices of Korean War veterans in the public memory. His induction is Thursday in Columbus. “Mr. Davis has been very active in veterans organizations,” Hall of Fame director Shannon Scherer said. “We don't base this award on a veteran's military service, but on what he or she did after leaving the military with an honorable discharge. Each one of them has a story. Mr. Davis exemplifies the service we look for.”
Adds Toledo Korean War veteran Ed Rutherford: “He's an inspiration. If a veteran's group needs something done, he's there to help out.”
Mr. Davis was an Army corporal in Korea during most of the war, serving behind the lines in a military police battalion personnel office, where he was responsible for record-keeping. His MPs guarded the trains that carried supplies to the front lines and brought the dead and wounded back. Compared to what the combatants went through, it was not hard duty, he said.
But the war changed him nonetheless. He saw bodies and hungry refugees and destroyed cities. Afterward, he returned to Wood County and his wife Shirley, to his job at a former Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. plant in East Toledo, and threw himself into veterans' activities.
He joined the Luckey American Legion Post, where he became commander and served as chaplain. He also has been the American Legion's Wood County commander. He joined the National Korean War Veterans Association in 1986, and helped start the Western Lake Erie and Northwest Ohio chapters of the group. He is active in the Bowling Green Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Mr. Davis raised funds for the maintenance and repair of Ohio's box car from the Gratitude Train sent to this country by France in 1949 as thanks for United States' participation in the World Wars. Each state received a train car. Ohio's is at Camp Perry, west of Port Clinton, and is protected by a roof thanks to donations Mr. Davis helped solicit.
At the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky, Mr. Davis belongs to a committee set up to establish programs to recognize the home's residents who are Korean War veterans. He is raising funds to pay for a Korean War veterans monument at the home.
When the sexton of Wood County's New Belleville Cemetery left the job, taking records with him, Mr. Davis located the veterans' graves so flags could be placed on them on Memorial Day.
“I just wanted flags on the graves,” he explained. “Every Memorial Day I visit Wood County cemeteries and plant flags.”
Disappointed that most school textbooks give the Korean War scant mention, he enjoys visiting classrooms to give history lessons and recount his own experiences. The interest shown by students is encouraging, he said.
“Young people want to hear about it,” he explained. “They find this history fascinating.”
Mr. Davis gives them some hard facts: How the poorly trained American garrison troops, with old equipment, took the brunt of the North Korean invasion at the war's start. “They suffered terribly,” he said.
Mr. Davis also talks about his admiration for the South Korean people, who built a prosperous democracy from the rubble of war. He and his wife visited the country in 1994.
“We were wined and dined by the Korean government. I had last seen Seoul in October of 1953. The city was leveled. When we returned, it was a booming metropolis. A Korean boy even kissed my hand and thanked me for what I did for his country,” he said.
Mr. Rutherford, who handles public relations for the Northwest Ohio Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, credits Mr. Davis with increasing the group's membership through his recruitment efforts.
“Our membership has been going up, and that's important,” he said. “We have to keep all the people we can get, because we're dying off.”