The Korean War is often considered the “forgotten war.” But for those who were there, including one Leavenworth man, the conflict is impossible to forget.
Hersch Chapman, 85, will serve as the grand marshal of the 93rd annual Leavenworth County Veterans Day Parade.
He has since 1980 been one of the owners of Lavery’s Jewelry in downtown Leavenworth. But among the massive jewelry display cases in the circa 1892 store is one at the end containing maps, pictures, articles and items from the Korean War. Every piece has a
different story and Chapman is more than willing to share.
He said he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1944, turning down an athletic scholarship from the University of Iowa. He also chose to enroll at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., instead of attending Infantry Officer Candidate School, which would have had him commissioned in less than half the time.
“We graduated three weeks before the outbreak of the Korean War,” Chapman said.
He would be shipped out to fight in that war soon after, and has written accounts of most of his experiences. There’s one experience that sticks out from the Korean conflict, he said — the battle of Heartbreak Ridge. Lasting for about a month from September to October 1951, the battle eventually claimed the lives of some 3,700 soldiers in the U.N. regiments, among them 1,832 from the 23rd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, the unit for which Chapman was serving as a rifle platoon leader and operations officer.
“Heartbreak Ridge” itself is about five miles long, christened after the fact in newspaper accounts of the battle due to the number of casualties and the brutality of the fighting. Chapman said North Korean forces had dug into a series of hills with artillery to hold their ground and force the United Nations forces at the bottom — three American battalions and one French unit — to fight their way up.
“The attacks really became almost suicidal because of the way the enemy was dug in,” he said.
A magazine article that Chapman has framed in his office contains a description of the battle, claiming “the only casualties there have been the dead” — in other words, there were no prisoners taken.
It would be one of the last U.N. offensives of the Korean War because of the losses sustained. Those losses included Chapman’s best friend and classmate, Peter Monfore, who had been sent with a smaller contingent of troops to another location.
Despite the casualties, the U.N. forces would capture the hill, the importance of which is still evident to this day — the 38th parallel, known as the “Demilitarized Zone” or the DMZ that separates North and South Korea, runs right through Hill 851 on the ridge.
Page 2 of 2 - “We saved South Korea,” he said.
All told, Chapman said he spent 13 months in Korea. For much of that time, and certainly during the battle for Heartbreak Ridge, he said the letters and “goodie boxes” from the woman who would become his wife of 59 years, Evelyn, sustained him.
Chapman would continue his career in the military, leading a unit in Vietnam before coming back and serving at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College. Though he said he always hoped to serve as grand marshal alongside his wife — who died almost a year ago — he said he will have company from Olympic runner and Leavenworth High School graduate Amy Hastings.
And despite the fact that it is considered a “forgotten war,” Chapman said that is no reflection on the sacrifice made by the men he fought alongside in Korea.
“I always say, I’ve always been proud to be associated and lead some loyal and courageous American soldiers, both in Korea and Vietnam too,” he said.