Waterloo museum opens Korea exhibit, stirs vets' memories

Posted on Thursday, July 20, 2017

By Pat Kinney - Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

WATERLOO —- Paul Reuter and Eddie Cahill had a little history with their coffee Wednesday morning, courtesy of the Grout Museum District.

They got a sneak peek at the Grout’s year-long Korean War exhibit, which opened today.

It was history they helped make.

Both served in the U.S. Navy in Korea. They strolled into the exhibit area to check it out after attending one of the Grout’s weekly veterans coffee receptions.

They liked what they saw in the exhibit called “The Cold War Ablaze: Iowans in the Korean War.”

“It’s wonderful,” said Cahill, who served on the attack transport troop carrier USS Montrose. “When we came home it was a forgotten war. It really brings it to life.”

He noted a mother and her young son who was curious about the war, strolled in to the exhibit area while there for another activity. He and Reuter walked up to give the young man some first-hand history .

“He lit right up,” Cahill said, at meeting two real-life veterans of the war.

“It’s super. We’re glad to see it,” said Reuter, who served on the destroyer USS Robinson. “It’s information for the general public, to realize what people went through. I went through it, was able to do my part for the country. And it brings back memories.”

Reuter served on a committee of Korean War veterans who helped plan the exhibit.

The exhibit is much like an earlier “Iowans in the Vietnam War” exhibit put on by the Grout in 2015-16. It includes some historic background on the circumstances leading up to the war, but mainly focuses on what the individual soldiers, sailors, Marines and Air Force personnel experienced.

A stark reminder is a large floor map of Korea. “We’re hoping people can point out where they were serving,” said Erin Dawson, Grout exhibits curator. Visiting veterans can walk to the spot on the map where they served.

“It is kind of interesting to get Korean veterans to come in here and ask them where they were,” said Christopher Shackelford, historical content and program developer.

The Korea map is surrounded by a 1950-53 timeline of the war with a display of military dog tags for all 567 Iowans killed in the war, placed along the timeline at the time they fell.

“This is everything you need to know about the Korean War (history) contained in one area, and the rest of it is the Iowa troop experience,” Dawson said, with items donated or loaned by Iowan veterans, in a “day-to-day life” display of what ground troops would carry.

There also is an exhibit of artifacts of two Iowans killed during the war, donated by their families.

It also includes weaponry from the war, including rifles, machine guns, a mortar and a flamethrower, among other items, courtesy of Dwight Clark, a Vietnam veteran who deals in vintage military equipment and helped set it up. Period uniforms of different branches of service will be displayed. There’s also a re-created front of a “Higgins” boat landing craft, similar to what troops might have used during the 1950 amphibious landing at Inchon, a key event in the war.

There’ s also a summary of major battles and a special display on the Chosin Reservoir campaign of late 1950, where many local Marines served, fighting their way through Chinese forces and bitter cold, with interview excerpts from those veterans.

“We will also have a veterans theater where you can access excerpts from all our Korean vet interviews,” Dawson said. The interviews were compiled over several years as part of the oral history project of the Grout’s adjoining Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.

“We’re on the hunt for all the photographs of all 567 individuals from Iowa who were killed” in Korea, Shackelford said, for a “Faces of the Fallen” exhibit. The museum currently has 395 of them. Shackelford’s looking for additional photos and information on fallen veterans for biographies of each. People with photos, biographical information or who want to know more about the Korea exhibit in geneal may contact the Grout at 234-6357.

Though the exhibit officially opens today, several Korean veterans will be at a 1 p.m. Saturday reception to meet the public and talk about the exhibit.

Reuter will be one of them.

“I’m glad to talk about it,” he said — particularly for those who still can’t. “I didn’t go through any violent action. There weren’t any after effects. A lot of them won’t talk about it to this day.”