Last week, the world remembered the 70th anniversary of the truce between North and South Korea that marked the end of the three-year war. But decades later, actual peace remains elusive.
In fact, North Korea is still among the U.S.’ greatest enemies, says Victor J. Haas of Whitehall Township, a veteran of the Korean War.
North Korea has staged dozens of missile tests this year as it works to advance a nuclear program aimed at targeting the continental United States, according to the Associated Press.
“I hate them,” he said bluntly. “When I consider what they’re doing, that’s it.”
He paused to reflect on those words, then adjusted his tone.
“I guess it’s more disrespect than respect,” he said, “especially with North Korea, because they are in the missile program, and God knows where they’re going to go from here.”
Haas wants people to remember what he calls a war forgotten by subsequent generations. It’s been ignored, he said, in part because it was sandwiched between World War II and the Vietnam War. At least with those two wars, some sense of closure came, he said. The end of the Korean War fighting set the stage for decades of animosity that still exists with North Korea and the U.S.
About 37,000 Americans lost their lives during the Korean War, more than 92,000 were wounded, and 8,000 went missing, the Defense Department says.
Haas served 20 years in the Air Force, including many months in South Korea during the war working on radar systems as a geodetic surveyor. He helped determine the precise position of permanent points on the earth’s surface, taking into account the size, shape curvature of the earth.
Surveyers would review a terrain and take a profile of North Korea’s mostly mountainous areas, Haas recalled. Pilots would then be able to find targets based on the surveyors’ information.
“We were the backbone on the ground,” Haas said..
Haas grew up in a rural part of Schuylkill County, but wanted to escape life in the Coal Region.
His father, who fought in World War II, signed the enlistment paper for Haas, who was 17 when he joined the Army Air Corps, the forerunner to the Air Force.
“I wanted to be like him,” Haas said of his father. “We lived in Clamtown [West Penn Township] at the time, and I was going to Tamaqua High School, and with the things he was doing, it really made me go get them. My mother didn’t want me to [enlist], so he took the papers out to the hallway where it was dark, and he signed the papers.”
With his father’s permission, Haas enlisted Jan. 16, 1947, in Philadelphia. After basic training and technical school, he attended drafting and topographical drafting school, being stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He was later deployed to Okinawa and made trips back and forth to South Korea, surveying radar sites on mountaintops. He then became lead officer of the construction of a B-36 air base in Okinawa.
At his home in Fellowship Community, a narrow display case houses some of Haas’ memorabilia from the war, including photos from its horrors: Several Americans stand over a ditch filled with bodies.
“That’s what we kept running into,” he said, “trenches and ditches loaded with these dead soldiers.”
Haas, a master sergeant who shuttled between Okinawa and the Asian peninsula nation from 1951 until the war’s armistice, was happy about the truce when it was announced.
“I don’t like any war,” he said.
Haas has had a fulfilling life in the military and as a civilian. After retiring from active duty in 1967, Haas became a land surveyor, working in the private sector. He is married to Marjorie, whom he met in Cheyenne, and they celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary in March. Two of their children, Vicki Kennedy of Tamaqua and Gary Haas of Allentown, asked them to move to the Lehigh Valley to be near their families. The Haases have lived at Fellowship Community about 10 years, moving to the Valley from Sumter, South Carolina. The couple have another daughter, Judy Rickman, of Venus, Texas, while another son, Dale Haas, died in infancy.
Unlike many veterans, Haas has been happy to share his story.
About 6.8 million Americans served during the first half of the 1950s, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs; Haas is among approximately 1 million of those veterans still living. By 2030, the aging population is projected to fall below 250,000, the VA estimates.
Haas has visited group homes and attended events to pay respects to fellow military and speak to younger generations. He has given his military history to the Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project.
He dresses, as he did for an interview Saturday, in his “uniform” that includes a light blue jacket, dark blue tie and a garrison cap. The jacket is emblazoned with recognitions for his war service.
Haas has attended events at schools to provide younger audiences with a living history about the war. He visited Allentown’s Trexler Middle School in 2019 with other veterans to discuss their experiences. The years have slowed him down somewhat; he uses a walker to arrive for the interview. But he sits upright and has a clear voice. He said if able, he would like to return to schools and speak about his war experiences.
He also enjoys watching reruns of the long-running TV series “MASH.”
“Oh yes,” he said, “that’s the old hometown.”
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