60 years later Korean veteran has no ill will over "forgotten war"

Posted by Tom Ensey -  email

It was 60 years ago Friday that Communist troops from North Korea invaded the south touching off a conflict that drew the United States and China into a 3-year, bloody war that claimed millions of lives -- about 40,000 of them American.

Though the struggle sent the world to the brink of nuclear conflict, it has been called "The Forgotten War," overshadowed by World War II before it and Vietnam afterward.

Werner Kastel of Prattville, a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who retired as a senior master sergeant doesn't bear anyone any ill will for that.

"I don't feel bad about it, but I guess a lot of guys probably do," said Kaestel, who didn't actually set foot in Korea, though he served the effort on bases stateside and in Europe. He was not in combat during his years in service, though he did serve in country in Vietnam.

He was grateful, though, to his adopted hometown and Mayor Jim Byard, who in 2000 spearheaded an effort to offer thanks and recognition to Korean veterans. It lasted a few years, he said.

"We had some ceremonies -- at one of the high school football games the Prattville band serenaded us," he said. "But after that, we were somewhat overshadowed by Vietnam  veterans and then, with the other wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it kind of fizzled. But it meant a lot."

Prattville was the only city in the he nation recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense for its recognition of Korean vets, he said.

Kastel's military service allowed him to become an American citizen and for that, he is grateful as well. He was born in Germany, and his English is flawless but accented with the lilting remnants of his native language. His family's home was bombed out during World War II he said. His family moved into what became East Germany. He got a good job in New York and emigrated to the U.S. in 1952, he said.

"It took me two and a half years to get that job -- and six weeks later I got drafted," he said with a soft laugh.

President Eisenhower instituted a program, he said, that individuals who were not American citizens who served honorably in the U.S. Military were allowed to apply for citizenship. If not for that, he said, any of them serving in Korea who were captured in combat would have had no rights.

He took the test. He passed.

"I became an American on 28 September, 1953 in Tampa, Fla.," he said. "I was stationed then in Orlando."

He returned to Prattville after he left the service because he liked the place so much during his time at Maxwell, where he was a teacher. The temperatures in the high 90s that greeted the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict were OK with him.

"I like the hot weather," he said.

Copyright WSFA 12 News all rights reserved