What I Learned in Rotary Today [9 July 2015]

by Glenn on July 15, 2015

Mr. Alan Lertzman, Korean War Veteran made a visit to the Central East Portland Rotary Club on Thursday, 9 July 2015.

I am one of four Rotarians from Central East Portland who arrange for speakers for our club. Some time ago, I was forwarded the name of a potential speaker on the subject of the Korean War.

My knowledge of the Korean War comes mostly from the television show MASH. No reflection on an iconic TV program, but that’s probably not the best way to learn about the Korean War. I’ve done a reasonable amount of study of World War 2 and knew growing up that the Vietnam War was controversial. But the Korean War in between wasn’t talked about much. No wonder it’s often called “The Forgotten War.”

Our guest at Rotary last week was a Korean War veteran named Alan Lertzman, who is a survivor of that war as well as a more recent battle with cancer.

Lertzman’s presentation was a nice balance of facts about the war, his personal experience in the war, and his own opinions regarding the war.

Things I didn’t know:

1. Nearly 40,000 U.S. casualties in just over three years meant a high casualty rate. Mr. Lertzman used the expression “compression of casualties.” You can see why there was the need for a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital Unit.

2. The capital of South Korea, Seoul, is located just 35 miles South of the border, which meant it was decimated during the war. North Korea occupied it, then the U.N., then the Chinese.

3. The broad outlines of the war are something like this:

During World War 2 the Soviet Union occupied Korea North of the 38th parallel and the U.S. occupied the South. After World War 2 Korea was divided North and South.

The Korean war began when the North invaded the South on June 25, 1950.

North Korea had nearly taken the whole peninsula.

General Douglas MacArthur was a genius who ended up making a mistake. The genius came with an invasion in Inchan, the largest amphibious landing since D-Day. The mistake was pushing so far into North Korea that China entered the conflict with 300,000 troops. MacArthur was fired by President Truman in April 1951. The following winter was tough on the U.S./U.N. troops.

46% of casualties came after cease fire talks began.

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Mr. Lertzman provided a map, which was helpful for his talk. Here is something from the web.

Mr. Lertzman had a role of artillery observer during the war. His job was to call in coordinates for artillery fire. He said he is often asked if he killed anyone. You get the sense it’s a question he neither wants to answer or avoid. His answer is that he doesn’t know for sure, but if so, it was indirectly caused.

Mr. Lertzman is a beautiful person. There’s no question that the memories of the war (including people he knew who died) are with him today. The subject matter was heavy, but in a lighter moment, he pointed out that the “Korea Veteran” hat that he wore that morning was “Made in China.” He seems to be a believer in the rightness of that conflict, but doesn’t seem to carry any bitterness toward enemy combatants.  A 30-minute talk was not nearly long enough for all that he knows and has seen.

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This weekend, July 18, there will be a remembrance of the Korean War at the Oregon Korean War Memorial in Wilsonville.

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The Central East Portland Rotary Club meets Thursday mornings at 7:00 am at the Elmer’s on Sandy Blvd. and 101st.