Memorial Day is a federal holiday—a day of remembrance for those who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces.
The May/June issue of Omaha Magazine features the stories of several Nebraska veterans and their war experiences. My husband, Raymond Lemke, was drafted to serve in the Korean War. He was somewhat reluctant to talk about his experiences, but he wrote about his service in a memoir. I’ll share some of those experiences here.
His basic training was in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which had been closed since World War II. When he first got there, it wasn’t even completely open. Today, it remains open and is known by the nickname “Fort Lost In The Woods.”
He trained in engineering—which consisted mainly of building Bailey bridges—and also trained with dynamite, TNT, and other explosives to blow up bridges. After training, he was sent straight to Korea. He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division’s M114 155 Howitzers, which had nothing to do with his basic training.
He said that Korea was very difficult for him, and he felt that it was a controlled war. He said they would take a hill, back off, then take it again the next day. The loss of life was tremendous.
The winter weather in North Korea was nearly identical to the winter in Nebraska. Growing up dirt poor in rural Nebraska provided the right experience for dealing with Korean winters. By layering newspapers inside his clothes, he was able to stay warmer while so many U.S. troops froze to death.
On top of the constant cold, he was always hungry. He fondly remembered taking a big jar of peanut butter from a resupply group.
After 11 months in the service, he became a staff sergeant. He believed the promotion was because he was still standing.
The American and North Korean forces would shell each other continuously until one knocked the other out. They never thought about ear protection, and the battery fire took its toll. Despite suffering tinnitus since the war, he didn’t complain. “I’m the lucky one—I am still here,” he said. He was discharged on Nov. 6, 1953.
Later, living in Papillion, he was on the Papillion Draft Board. As a protest against the escalation of the Vietnam War, he resigned from the board, refusing to send more boys there.
I am proud of my husband’s service, and I have deep respect for all who have served and sacrificed for our great country—they are truly heroes!
This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition Sixty-Plus, a publication within Omaha Magazine.