To Overland Park resident Tom Adams, Veterans Day has been all about sharing with his son Tyler his memory of his father, Connie Adams, who served in two wars — World War II and the Korean War.
Like Tom Brokaw, who closely captured the footsteps of his father and other American servicemen in Europe and in the Pacific during World War II in his book “The Greatest Generation,” Adams also covered short and long distances to catch a glimpse of his father, whom he lost at the tender age of 16.
In 1998, three years after the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., was built, Adams and son, then 18, made a big trip together to see it.
“Tyler had a great impression about the monument,” Tom remembers. “It was a foggy day, and it seemed as though the sculptures of soldiers in raincoats were walking toward us, giving us an illusion that we were actually seeing them in Korea six decades ago. We then visited Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Seeing rows and rows of white headstones stretching in all directions, each with the name of the man buried under written on, was something to remember! You can’t help but to realize that real men, like my dad, went to war thousands of miles away and came back — some alive and some dead — and all ended up here, in this sacred ground.”
Tom’s father is not among those buried at Arlington National Cemetery; he’s buried at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the world-renowned academy that produced countless men of the “greatest generation,” including Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Connie Adams entered the army at Fort Myer in Virginia, and fought with the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division near the town of Colmar on the Vosges Mountain range, not far from the French-German border. In November 1944, he received two medals — the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal, one for the leg injury he received during combat and the other for his valor. When he arrived in Korea six years later in early July 1950, as 1st Sergeant in the First Cavalry Division, he was married to Tom’s mom, Jeanne Bartole Elliott. She had been a switchboard operator at the White House but was now employed by the Occupation Army in Tokyo, in the same capacity, under Gen. MacArthur.
About that time 62 years ago, South Korea’s fate was that of a candle flame in a torrential storm. Days earlier, 95,000 North Korean troops had launched a surprise attack across the 38th Parallel, and refugees carrying boxes, bundles and small children on their backs were milling into the port city of Pusan, my hometown. All school buildings were confiscated by the government or the military without advance notice, and our motherland’s future seemed hopeless even to me, then a 9-year-old.
The First Cavalry was a “group of fearless, invincible brutes,” Col. Red Reeder describes in his book “Medal of Honor Heroes.” “Although the 1st Cavalry was stretched thin — 7,000 riflemen holding a front of nearly 60 miles — it readied itself to battle the oncoming Communists.”
Sergeant Adams’ First Cavalry Division was among 140,000 U.N. troops who built a sturdy defense line called Pusan Perimeter along the southeast flank of the Korean Peninsula, bordering the towns of Taegu and Masan, and the Nakdong River. From this defense line, U.N. troops would plan a surprise amphibian landing known as Inchon Landing, which succeeded on Sept. 15, 1950, turning the tide of the war.
By the time Tom Adams was born in June 1952, in Aberdeen, Md., the war situation had changed. Instead of fighting against the North Koreans, American troops were now fighting against Chinese soldiers, who had stepped into the war theater in late October the previous year. The Russian leader Joseph Stalin had died a year before, and Gen. MacArthur had long been removed from his position as the Supreme Commander of the Far East, had given his famous “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away” speech to Congress, and was writing his memoir “Reminiscences,” while living in New York.
After the war ended with the armistice in July 1953, the senior Adams continued to serve his country as 1st Sergeant. In 1961, he retired from the army but worked in the athletic department at West Point a few more years, coaching and training cadets. In June 1969, a massive heart attack claimed his life at age 50.
Even today, the sounds of bugle playing Taps brings Tom the memories of his father’s final days. “Dad said something I can’t ever forget; that serving one’s nation as a soldier is the noblest profession of all professions. He had much physical discomfort…but he never complained. He was proud of what he and other Americans have done for other countries.”
The senior Adams had been glad that he heard Gen. MacArthur’s farewell speech at West Point on May 12, 1962, in which the general acknowledged and honored the sacrifices of all American servicemen:
“I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory.”
Overland Park resident and retired musician Therese Park has written three novels. Her most recent, “The Northern Wind: Forced Journey to North Korea,” is available at www.thereseparkbook.com and Rainy Day Books.