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Korea: Hot war in cold land
With the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice 19 weeks away, the Appeal-Democrat is doing its part to help ensure the so-called "forgotten war" will be remembered. Starting last weekend and in the coming weeks, we are profiling local Korean War veterans at least weekly leading into the July 27 armistice anniversary date.
Ask Yuba City resident Hugh Huff about the cold in Korea, and he talks about how peanut butter and Tootsie Rolls sent to soldiers would freeze.
Huff, 82, spoke about more epic events than freezing food — the landing at Inchon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and what it was like returning home from the war.
But it's hard to forget weather that could reach 39 degrees below zero — when the tongue of boots could snap after freezing and tires of abandoned vehicles were burned to provide heat. He recalled a fire in Korea that burned a ration can with red raspberry jam. The can exploded, and the red jam ran down the front of Huff's jacket.
"I thought I was dead," he remembered.
Then he realized what he thought was blood, wasn't.
Huff, who served in the US Marines from 1948-52, joined the military as a 17-year-old right out of high school. His first night in the Marine barracks in San Diego left him momentarily wondering if he had done the right thing.
"The Marine Corps put me on a path," said the Yuba City resident, who found the direction the military provided a big help in his life.
Soldiers returning to the United States after service in Korea weren't welcomed the way they were during World War II, Huff said.
"I don't really know why," he said. "I've never heard any explanation."
"When we came home, we just came home," Huff recounted.
He doesn't admire MacArthur, whom President Harry Truman relieved of command in 1951 after concluding the general was unable to support US and United Nations policies.
"MacArthur thought he could do whatever he wanted," Huff said. "MacArthur put people in command who really shouldn't have been."
Huff has had the opportunity to visit South Korea, but friends he has spoken with who made the trip told him he wouldn't recognize any part of the country.
The Yuba City resident contrasts Korea with Vietnam.
"That was a completely different war," Huff said of Vietnam.
The United States didn't seek to win the Vietnam War, he added.
"If you don't go to win a war, you might as well just stay home," Huff said.
He supports having people serving in the military.
"I would be one of the first persons to go for universal military training for everybody," he said. "It grows people up."
"When you're 17 you don't have much of an idea of what you want to do," said the Yuba City resident.
CONTACT Ryan McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4780. Find him on Facebook at /ADrmccarthy or on Twitter at @ADrmccarthy or 749-4780.