‘Freedom isn’t free:’ Korean War veteran Al Feldan is reminding everyone of what is owed to those who served | Local News

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BENNINGTON — It may have taken nearly seven decades, but 90-year-old Korean War veteran Al Feldan of Bondville is doing everything he can to make sure Americans, and veterans themselves, know the value of those who have served in the country. armed forces.

Feldan was at the Vermont Veterans Home on Tuesday, visiting a group of about 10 veterans, exchanging introductions, talking about when and where they had served, and finally reminiscing and swapping stories about “the good old days.”

“People don’t realize freedom isn’t free. We guys had to fight for that freedom,” Feldan passionately told the group that included several other Korean War veterans. “When people do things for you, it’s their duty. No charity here. It’s duty.

Feldan, like so many Americans, left the Korean War in the rearview mirror long ago. Being a war veteran himself, Feldan had his own reasons for keeping memories locked away, even of his wife and children. He considers himself “lucky”, having been deployed to the front shortly after the armistice of July 27, 1953, which put an end to major hostilities.

Still, Feldan witnessed much of the aftermath of the war that killed an estimated 1 million South Korean civilians and nearly 40,000 American soldiers. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant and sent to command an artillery battery of the 7th Infantry Division.

Feldan arrived in a unit that had gone through one of the bloodiest battles not only in the Korean War, but in all of modern warfare, at Chosin Reservoir. Of the original 238 men in this unit, only 24 survived, according to Feldan’s estimate.

Armistice or not, Feldan was still there in a very difficult moment of peace as the two sides negotiated a deal that would never come. Both sides were still harassing and infiltrating through the 2-mile-wide demilitarized zone (DMZ) that still exists there today, and China’s entry into the war caught the United Nations by surprise. many years earlier, so the utmost vigilance was still needed during UN peacekeeping operations.

Even offered a promotion and a promising start to a military career upon his return from 18 months in Korea, Feldan was determined to transition to civilian life.

“When I left Korea, I said I never wanted to see this place again,” Feldan said. “I don’t want anything to do with the army; I want to go out.”

Feldan managed to hold this for almost 70 years. But life has a funny way of bringing you back sometimes. Three years ago, Feldan was contacted by Honor Flight, a 501c3 program that celebrates veterans by paying for their trip to Washington, DC, where they can view memorials from the war they served in, to much fanfare.

“I don’t know how they found me, but I’m glad they did,” he said.

The trip was an important first step in helping Feldan reconnect with his military roots. He was moved by so many people who showed their support for veterans.

Stimulated by this positive experience, Feldan took another step he never imagined he would take. He accepted an invitation from the South Korean government to fly there as part of the “Revisit Korea” program, where he received the Ambassador of Peace Medal, given in appreciation to UN nations. who defended South Korea during the war or participated in the peacekeeping mission until 1955.

Being tasted and dined in the presence of heads of state or high-ranking generals was revealing enough, but the part of the trip that stood out the most to him was yet to come.

“They took me to where I was during the war… And as soon as I saw that, it all came back to me, about people dying on the streets,” he said. “I didn’t feel so good.”

Fortunately, the Revisit program was ready for this and had mental health professionals to help. Feldan’s unpleasant memories, however, contrasted sharply with what he had seen in present-day Korea.

“They took me on a paved road, a multi-lane highway. When I was there [in the 1950s], it was only dirt roads. There was nothing, even in Seoul,” he explained. “So I started thinking, ‘boy, this country is doing really well…’ It’s a beautiful country. It was beautiful. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Between the heaps of gratitude from the Korean people and seeing firsthand the prosperity of the nation he had helped escape the clutches of communism, Feldan’s whole view of his role in the war began to change.

“I come back to the United States and say, ‘You know, I was wrong. We really did something. We… we made freedom. We did something really awesome.

“So now I’m going to do what I can to make it up to you by getting involved in veterans affairs,” he continued. “It was this whole transformation just from being a deadbeat who wanted nothing to do with services to saying, ‘Hey, I really did something and we did something.'”

The transformation can be seen not just in his words, but in the Korean War veteran’s baseball cap he proudly wears. Feldan’s cycle of disengagement from the military and service to rediscover his roots is not an unusual cycle for veterans. Like many veterans, Feldan to some extent downplays his time in uniform, but he intends to bring awareness and appreciation to those he served with and those who followed him.

Feldan stuck to this resolution to get more involved. His Tuesday visit to the Vermont Veterans Home was not his first, and he has spoken at several recent events in the area on behalf of veterans, including at the Israeli Congregation in Manchester and Rutland for a “Vets Town Hall,” an event where all are welcome, but veterans have up to 10 minutes to talk about what service has meant to them in a comfortable environment with other veterans.

Feldan isn’t sure exactly how Korea got lost in the reconnaissance mix for America’s wars, but speculates it’s a combination of following a war of such magnitude as World War II so closely. He also says that attitudes towards him were just not particularly strong one way or the other, perhaps due to the prevailing narrative that it was a “police action” or a “limited war”, which made it less memorable for those who weren’t. involved.

“People weren’t as much against this action as they were against what [the troops] crossed in Vietnam or even in Afghanistan,” he said. “The country was sort of neutral, but nobody really said thank you either. And I think over time people will realize what Korea was, what Vietnam was, Afghanistan and why we were there.

Feldan doesn’t just focus on veterans of the conflict he was a part of. He wants to ensure that there is appreciation and respect for all service members, past and present.

There is another anecdote from Feldan’s recent trip to Korea that seems to have resonated with him. While there, he had plenty of time to talk with Major General Xaxier T. Brunson, commander of the 7th Infantry Division, Feldan’s former unit.

“He said, ‘Lieutenant, you will always need boots on the ground. So you will always have a lot of veterans.

And as long as there are veterans, Al Feldan will be there to honor them. Thankfully, Feldan says it seems more people share his mindset.

“I go up the road and see the Korean War Veterans Memorial on Route 7, or I go out to eat somewhere with my veteran hat, and they say ‘meal is for us,’ or I go to the supermarket and they give Je fleuris. So I start to think to myself: “You know, maybe people are starting to understand.”

If you know a Korean War veteran, they can learn how to apply for the “Revisit Korea” program. here. Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal application (can be awarded posthumously) is also available here.


‘Freedom isn’t free:’ Korean War veteran Al Feldan is reminding everyone of what is owed to those who served | Local News

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