HURRICANE — On Thursday morning, local government dignitaries joined forces with Washington County Fair organizers to honor and celebrate Korean War veterans – those living in Southern Utah, those who have already passed on and those who never made it home.
The ceremony was held inside the Harmony Building at the fairgrounds, where the fair’s military veterans Wall of Honor will remain on display to the public for the remainder of this year’s event. A total of 17 local Korean War veterans attended.
In 2020, the Washington County Fair, alongside the Veterans Coalition of Southern Utah, honored World War II veterans. Recognizing that veterans of the Korean War, which spanned from June 1950 to July 1953, are also getting on in age, coalition chair David Cordero said this year was the right time to recognize their service.
Cordero said that the Korean War is often referred to as “The Forgotten War” because it occurred between World War II and the Vietnam War, both much larger conflicts. But the bravery and sacrifice of all who fought is equally notable and worthy of recognition.
“We don’t want the Korean War to fade into distant memory,” he said. “We want to recognize people for what they did, which is just as important as any veteran of combat from past eras.”
Nearly 1.8 million Americans served in combat during the Korean War. More than 36,000 were killed in action, 103,000 were wounded and 4,700 were taken as prisoners of war. Nationwide, just over a half a million are still living.
An estimated 200 Korean War veterans reside in Washington County today, including 90-year-old Ed Barberis. Barberis followed his older brother into the Marine Corps after high school and was deployed to the Korean peninsula at age 19.
Barberis was among the 75,000 troops who participated in the daring landing at Inchon early in the war. He endured a surprise onslaught by Chinese forces amid subzero temperatures during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Wounded and suffering from frostbite, he was evacuated by air in early December 1950.
Barberis recalled sitting aboard the transport plane about to lift him and 27 other injured men off the frozen ground of North Korea. Listening to the roar of the engines, he felt as though his prayers – to come home alive, to marry and start a family, to check a lifetime of experiences off his “bucket list” – had all been heard and answered. He returned to the United States on Christmas Eve.
While sharing his experiences with the audience, Barberis gave an emotional thanks to the Navy hospital corpsmen who were able to save his severely frostbitten fingers and toes.
“I owe you and your men gratitude I can never repay,” he said.
Barberis later received a Purple Heart and retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of staff sergeant. He has lived in St. George for more than 25 years.
Ed Tracey, president and CEO of the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce, also took to the stage to express his gratitude for the service of Barberis and all the veterans in attendance. Local actor, vocalist and voice instructor Brodie Perry delivered a stirring rendition of “Anthem” from the Broadway musical “Chess” before leading the crowd to sing “America the Beautiful.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist read a resolution passed by the commission declaring April 15, 2021 as Korean War Veterans Day. A framed copy of the resolution was given to every veteran in attendance by Almquist and fellow commissioner Victor Iverson.
Cordero, whose grandfather appears on the Wall of Honor, said that although he personally never served in the military, he feels a sense of duty to recognize those who have. He hopes that events like Thursday’s ceremony will help educate people in the community about military conflicts and perhaps inspire them to get to know local veterans and learn more about their service.
“I’ve interviewed probably hundreds of veterans over the last 10 years or so, and sometimes all it takes is just asking,” he added. “It’s very important for us to show that we appreciate them.”
The Wall of Honor will be on display during fair hours on Friday and Saturday and is free to access with gate admission. The Korean War documentary “Miracle at KapYong: The Story of the 213th” will be screened at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Friday and at 10:30 a.m., noon, 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, also in the Harmony Building.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.