‘The forgotten war’ veterans remember

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 30, 2003

Frank Bolen was a prisoner of war for 10 months during World War II. Ron Parks spent five years as a POW in Korea.

Both men told their stories to the Korean Combat Veterans Wednesday at Ed’s Pancake House.

The meeting occurs every year, and is a chance for veterans of the conflict to meet and hear from speakers.

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James Wilkinson, chairman of the Korean Combat Veterans, said that the annual meeting has happened for the past four years. He added that other meetings occur throughout the year every other month.

Charles Pollack, one veteran of the conflict, said that one day about five years ago Wilkinson said that veterans of the conflict should start meeting.

“The Korean War was the forgotten war,” Pollack said. “We don’t want to be forgotten.”

Jeff Ratcliffe, another veteran of the Korean War, said that the group meets to share their experiences.

Everyone at the meeting had one thing in common, Ratcliffe added: “We were there.”

Bolen, a veteran of both World War II and Korea, spoke to the group about his 10-month captivity in Germany.

A member of the Air Force and a pilot, Bolen was shot down on his fifteenth mission, he said.

He didn’t become a prisoner of war immediately, though, but instead was captured six days after parachuting from his airplane.

One of Bolen’s more harrowing moments took place at night while trying to cross the Rhine River.

Bolen had to get across the Rhine, he said, because he was on his way to France in hopes of meeting with the underground resistance.

However, while crossing a bridge a German guard approached him, and came so close that Bolen said he could have brushed him with his elbow.

Bolen, though, kept his head down and managed to pass safely by the guard.

Shortly thereafter Bolen was captured and brought to a camp 150 miles north of Berlin on the coast of the Baltic Sea.

The biggest fear for POW’s, Bolen said, was the fear of tomorrow.

“We didn’t know what tomorrow would bring,” he said.

Bolen stayed in the camp until May 1945, when Russian troops overran the area and set up a headquarters.

Eventually, all the Americans were released and he was sent home.

Parks spent 999 days as a POW in Korea. He said that he counted the days after being released because he was told he’d receive $1.25 from the United States government for every day he was a prisoner to make up for the meals he had missed.

One of Parks’ greatest moments of fear as a prisoner came shortly after he had been shot down and captured by the Chinese, he said.

The Chinese had given him to the Russians, and he was being transported by them through an area of woods when they stopped. Four armed guards were present, Parks said, and one of them pulled out his gun to check if it was loaded. He then told Parks to kneel.

Parks said that he couldn’t believe they were going to kill him, and he said as much to the guard.

The guard, Parks said, told him he wasn’t going to kill him. He just wanted Parks to kneel so he wouldn’t see airplanes that were flying through the area.

Five years later, after being given back to the Chinese and tried as a war criminal he was deported. Parks was then brought back to America where he underwent psychological testing by the United States government, he said.

Parks said that he discovered the government thought he could be a risk since he had spent so much time as a POW, and had fears that he might have been brainwashed by the Chinese.

“I am alive and well in Selma, Alabama, on January 29 in 2003,” Parks said at the conclusion on his speech. “It is 2003, isn’t it?” he asked.

After receiving a “yes” from the crowd, Parks said, “And I thank God for that.”