When the Korean Conflict started, it was the exact middle of the century. I was 18 years old. The so-called Police Action played a major role in the way my life has unfolded over the last six decades. I am sure it affected thousands of others who served in the same way.
At the time, there was still a draft (required military conscription). All 18-year-old men were subject to this draft. We lived in fear: A 1A draft status meant that it was only a matter of time before a “Greetings” letter from the U.S. Government invited the recipient to join the military.
As a standing joke, only those draft recipients with a 1M rating would be exempted from military service. The 1M rating meant one was next in line to serve after Mamie Eisenhower.
Therefore, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force to escape the draft. But, of course, there were other reasons I enlisted in the service. In 1950, patriotism was still a virtue. Then, too, all five of my uncles were just returning from duty in World War II. All of these brave men told my mother how proud they were of my enlistment. I’m still proud of my enlistment, as well as gaining the respect of those I loved.
I endured Air Force Boot Camp in Lake Geneva, New York, in March 1951. We had no blankets, no beds, no uniforms and roofless barracks.
From Lake Geneva, the Air Force sent me to school in Cheyenne, Wyoming. When I left Cheyenne, I was a novice in cryptology and a member of the newly formed Air Force Security Service.
I had in hand orders to report to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. It was September 1951. I served two years in Alaska, at some of the most remote spots on Earth monitoring radio air-to-air and air-to-ground Chinese and North Korean aircraft movements.
During those 24 months, I fought a losing battle with loneliness, boredom, fear and frigid temperatures.
We lived in six-man Quonset huts heated by oil stoves. We worked three shifts per day; worried about Chinese paratroopers dropping in on us, blizzards, and bad food.
During those 24 months, I laughed, cried, shivered, and got drunk with great guys from all over the country. They were my friends then, and I still think of them now.
The Korean War had its share of horror and grief, but it provided some good as well. At 18, it built a life-long sense of honor, a solid sense of purpose. The Korean GI Bill opened the door to college and the ability to buy my first house.
Simply put, my Korean War experience means that I enlisted, served proudly, and came home safely as a wizened veteran.
Cliff Rockwell, 81, lives in Noonday with his wife of 58 years. After serving in the United States Air Force during the Korean War, he graduated with degrees in journalism and history from North Texas State University. He worked for United Press, Lubbock Avalanche Journal, G.E., Square D and a variety of other computer companies. In retirement, he enjoys political discussion, argumentation and writing.