As I do every year, today I will visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Arlington National Cemetery to pay my respects to the legion of the dead and their comrades from the United States and 20 other United Nations member countries who selflessly fought to save the South Koreans from the totalitarian threat of North Korean occupation 59 years ago. Despite a 1953 cease-fire, the two countries have yet to sign a formal peace treaty.
Today, on the anniversary of the Korean War armistice, many Americans will find themselves reminded of this horrific conflict, as will citizens of Turkey, the United Kingdom and other countries allied with the U.S. on the Korean Peninsula.
At the memorial, I look at each of the inscribed names, starting with those from my homeland, the United States. Moving on, I will pause to look at the names from Turkey, the ancestral home of my immigrant father. In Korea, I was reminded of him when I met soldiers from the Turkish Brigade.
I am one of the 1 million surviving veterans of the Korean War. And, like all the others, I am grateful to still be alive. Also, like most of them, I will always have vivid memories of what many consider "the forgotten war."
Every war must be studied and remembered, if for no other reason than to learn how to avoid future conflict. Our historical accounts remind us that war lays bare human evil, making nobler those actions that counter it through bravery and compassion.
One story line that deserves greater recognition is that of the heroic Turkish Brigade. Among veterans of the Korean War, the Turks have gained fame for their courage and selflessness. As one veteran, Bob Banker of the 25th Infantry Division, put it, "Having the Brigade on your flank made you feel secure at night."
Beyond the lines of battle, the Turks demonstrated loyalty to fellow captives in the Chinese prison camps. Mary Lee Settle's book Turkish Reflections: A Biography of a Place includes these memories of one American veteran:
"We didn't know how to look after ourselves, and the Turks took pity on us. ... My friend was Hakim. ... When I was sick, he brought me food, and he looked after me as he would have another Turkish person. ... When our sweaters and socks wore out, they picked the wool apart and reknitted it. ... We had informers among us, and we knew who they were. I still know. The Turks did not have one single informer. ... When I was so sick I thought I was going to die, Hakim brought me soup and sat with me, and pulled me through it. I think he gave me courage."
The alliance between the United States and Turkey has survived numerous conflicts since the Korean War.
Although many of these efforts were spearheaded through NATO, the valiant effort of the Turkish Brigade in Korea set the tone for cooperation in times of war, from the first Gulf War to Bosnia, from Somalia to Afghanistan.
Although the future is uncertain, the American and Turkish partnership is strong. It is my hope, as well as that of many of my fellow Korean War veterans, that the legacy of the Turkish Brigade continues to serve as the foundation for U.S.-Turkish relations in the years to come.
I will always be inspired by those bloody early days in Korea and by the resilience of both our American soldiers and our Turkish comrades.
Sgt. William Edward Alli (Ret.) of Bowie, Md., was an ammo carrier with a machine-gun section attached to Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division from March to November 1951. He participated in operations against Chinese and North Korean forces on the east-central front in Korea.
By William Edward Alli