Veteran returns to Korea to receive a medal

Friday, December 12, 2014
Pictured at the July 27 Thank You Banquet are veterans of the Korean War and their family members. Ralph Grubb is seated in front and his wife Dorothy is standing second from right.

By Karen Hall


A Marshall County man and his wife made the long trip to South Korea this summer so that he could revisit the land he fought for and receive an Ambassador of Peace medal from the South Korean government.

Ralph and Dorothy Grubb left Nashville on July 22 and returned a week later, with an album full of pictures, and a ton of memories they are glad to share.

Ralph, now 79, was born in Michigan, and enlisted in the army in 1952, at age 17. He said they were trained, and then sent straight to Korea.

Leaving the army in 1955, Ralph went to work for General Motors. He and Dorothy were introduced by a mutual friend, and got married in Michigan in 1962. They've been visiting Tennessee for a long time, and bought property here early on. In 1990 Ralph came to work at Saturn, and this was his last job: he had triple-bypass surgery in 1997 and the doctor told him it was time to retire. Dorothy is retired from nursing, and teaching nursing, and they have two children, Brooke and Tammy.

The Korean War is hardly taught in school nowadays, and is even called "The Forgotten War," so some explanation from Wikipedia could be helpful.

"The Korean War (June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953) was a war between North and South Korea, in which a United Nations force led by the United States fought for the South, and China fought for the North, also assisted by the Soviet Union. The war arose from the division of Korea at the end of World War II and from the global tensions of the Cold War that developed immediately afterwards. Korea was ruled by Japan from 1910 until the closing days of World War II.

"In August 1945, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and -- by agreement with the United States -- occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel. U.S. forces subsequently occupied the south. By 1948, two separate governments had been set up. Both governments claimed to be the legitimate government of Korea, and neither side accepted the border as permanent. The conflict escalated into open warfare when North Korean forces -- supported by the Soviet Union and China -- invaded South Korea.

"Twenty-one countries of the United Nations contributed to the defense of South Korea, with the United States providing 88 percent of the soldiers.

"The fighting ended on July 27, 1953, when the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. The agreement established a new border between the Koreas close to the previous one and created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a 2.5-mile-wide fortified buffer zone between them. Border incidents have continued to the present."

Here is Dorothy's account of their visit to the DMZ.

"We were then told to make sure we had our passports as we were going to the DMZ zone. We got on our bus and as we approached Panmunjom all you could see was double barb wire and a guard shanty every 500 feet. Some had American soldiers in them, some didn't. When we got to the DMZ we were greeted by two American MPs; one of them was from Murray, Ky. We were told where we could take pictures and where we couldn't. I got to step foot in North Korea. We went in a building with a big table and on one side was South Korea and the other side was the North. They put us around the table and I was in North Korea for about five minutes."

The rest of their visit was a whirlwind of meals, ceremonies, and special events.

"They treated us like royalty," Dorothy said.

The South Korean government has been sponsoring these trips for veterans since 1995.

"They want to get all the vets back so they can see" the country they fought for, said Ralph. "They're so grateful to the Americans. I've been wanting to go for the last three or four years."

The proclamation that accompanies Ralph's medal helps explain what the South Koreans feel about these veterans.

"It is a great honor and pleasure to express the everlasting gratitude of the Republic of Korea and our people for the service you and your countrymen have performed in restoring and preserving our freedom and democracy. We cherish in our hearts the memory of your boundless sacrifices in helping us reestablish our Free Nation. In grateful recognition of your dedicated contributions, it is our privilege to proclaim you an 'Ambassador for Peace' with every good wish of the people of the Republic of Korea."

Since the troops were United Nations troops, the veterans come from all over the world. On Ralph and Dorothy's trip there was a Swedish nurse who had been in a MASH unit, and a man from Turkey making the trip for his late father.

South Korea has come a long way since the war, and Ralph was astonished by the transformation. What he remembered as a poor, sparsely populated place with people living in shacks, is now a crowded, highly developed country, with everyone living in apartment blocks -- except the president, who lives in the Blue House.

Every spare bit of land in Seoul had vegetables growing on it, Dorothy said, and out in the country they saw small farms growing vegetables and rice. They don't remember seeing any farm animals, and this was reflected in the food that was served: lots of vegetables and fish. French fries appeared at every meal, including breakfast.

The Grubbs intend to keep traveling as long as they are able to, though maybe not quite as far as Korea again! They've visited all the states except North Dakota, Oklahoma and Idaho. Next month they are going to Hawaii, and after that, Dorothy said, they will stay home for a while.