Honor Flight a “bucket list” wish for Korean, Cold War vets
by Pat Kinney
on Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Pictured: Robert Cowles
WATERLOO -- Robert Cowles had been as far west from Iowa as Korea, but never as far east as Washington, D.C. -- until Sept. 25.
That's when the 86-year-old received from long-overdue thanks for being shot at some 65 years ago on that faraway peninsula.
He was one of more than 90 military veterans making the latest Cedar Valley Honor Flight to see Washington, D.C. military memorials.
"I've never been to Washington. Never thought I'd make it," he said.
The northern Fayette County farmer was lucky to make it back from Korea.
He was serving in combat with the U.S. Army Third Infantry Division at the time of the 1953 armistice.
“I was over in Korea on the 38th parallel. The night of the cease fire I was in a bunker on the DMZ. At ten o’clock at night, everything just quit, ” he said.
But there was shooting right up to that point. “They knew it was a cease fire. They were getting rid of all their ammunition so they didn’t have to carry it down the hill,” Cowles said.
“July 27, 1953. That was the night of the cease fire. They said we were making some agreement or something . You always hear these rumors of everything in the Army. It was supposed to at 10 o’clock at night. And it was!”
The Chinese and North Korean communists were heavily armed. “We dug the trenches up there, and the bunkers. I went up there about three months. They had everything. We were coming up across there walking. We had to walk about 40 miles. They had so much stuff around the mountain. Mortars was the worst of it. We survived though.
“After you get out of there , you think, ‘Man, that is more dangerous than you think.’ You do just what they tell you and nothing else. You don’t think much of it…I got out of there alive. A lot of them didn’t. Mortars was bad where we was. They were dropping stuff all the time.”
The war had been raging for some time, and Cowles said the troops were warned in basic training what they were in for. “They said ‘Listen to everything we tell you. Because there’s a 95 percent chance you’re going right to Korea. You shoot first or you might not live long.”
Cowles said he'd be thinking of his comrades on the trip to Washington.
Cowles was one of 12 Korean or Cold War veterans making the 22nd one-day Cedar Valley Honor Flight from the Waterloo Regional Airport . The rest served in Vietnam or during the Vietnam era.
For Gale “Cork” Peterson Jr. who served as Army construction engineer in Vietnam after graduating from Iowa State University, the World War II memorial had special signicance. He father served at Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June, 6, 1944.
Pictured: Gale Petersen Jr.
“It’s pretty cool. Pretty humbling,” Peterson said, noting his father was on his mind.
For Burdette "Bud" Anderson, who served on the Korean demilitarized zone in 1967-68 all of the memorials were a reminder that "if it wasn't for our forefathers, we wouldn't have what we've got today."
Barb Gehrke of Waterloo was the only woman on this trip. She was a U.S. Navy radioman third class and worked in the Department of the Navy building in the early 1960s in Washington. “So this is like going home for me,” she said. “I was in communications. We delivered messages to all the bureaus in the building. And it was teletype back then. We lived in Arlington Va., our command was in Cheltenham, Md. And I worked in downtown D.C.
Pictured: Barb Gehrke
“I hated it and I loved it,” Gehrke said of her service. “I came from a big family and I was used to the discipline and the regmen. So I loved that. I loved all the pomp and circumstance. What I didn’t like was being told what to do and the consequences if you didn’t. But you knew what you signed up for.”
Military veterans from Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Grundy and the northern half of Tama counties who served from World War II through Korea and the Vietnam wars or the Cold War in between are eligible for an Honor Flight locally. More than 1,400 local veterans have made the flights locally since they began flying out of Waterloo in 2011.
Applications may be picked up at any of the Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Waverly Hy-Vee Stores or by going to the organization's website, www.cedarvalleyhonorflights.org, or the Cedar Valley Honor Flight's Facebook page. Donations are being accepted to continue the flights. Questions may be directed to Craig White at firstname.lastname@example.org or co-organizer Frank Magsamen at email@example.com.