DENHAM SPRINGS — Bill Cothern, 81, sifted through old black-and-white photos dating back to the early 1950s when he and some of his airmen buddies were at Keinsan Airbase in Korea.
He carefully selected each of the photographs he wanted to be part of the Korean War exhibit at the Old City Hall Museum.
“Who’s this good looking fellow,” Cothern chuckled as he pulled out a photo of himself when he was 20.
Cothern served in the U.S. Air Force from 1951 to 1955 and was a radio mechanic responsible for maintaining all communication equipment in his unit. He served in the Korean War from April 1953 until April 1954, he said.
As he recalled vivid details of the war — from comrades being shot down to bombing raids and combat missions — Cothern paused and shook his head in disgust.
“It was a good education for a young fellow,” Cothern said. “It was an interesting war.”
Coined “The Forgotten War,” the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when about 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army poured across the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south, according to www.history.com/topics/korean-war.
“By July, American troops had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf,” the site says. “As far as American officials were concerned, it was a war against the forces of international communism itself. After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and casualties mounted with nothing to show for them. Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and China — or even, as some warned, World War III.”
In July 1953, the war ended. By the end, about 5 million soldiers and civilians had lost their lives in the war.
“Some of the fighting was brutal,” Cothern said. “We lost a lot of troops.”
To honor those who lost their lives and to commemorate those who fought in the Korean War, Old City Hall Director Patti Smith Peairs asked Livingston Parish residents to send photographs, testimonials, old letters and objects of Korean War soldiers from Livingston Parish to display during the exhibit that runs through Veterans Day.
Local Korean War veterans have been bringing items to Old City Hall for weeks, including the family of Master Sgt. Joseph Sysak, who was declared missing in action on Sept. 1, 1950, and declared dead at the end of the war. His last letter to his family, dated Aug. 29, 1950, will be included in the display.
In addition to the exhibit, Korean War veterans can apply for the Distinguished Award, provided by the South Korean Embassy in Houston. For information, call Frank Adame at (512) 426-3743, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (713) 961-0700, or email email@example.com.
The Korean War exhibit will be on display at the Old Denham Springs City Hall, 115 Mattie St., Denham Springs, which is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For information about the exhibit, call (225) 667-7512.