LITTLE ROCK — Andy Aldridge of North Little Rock didn’t recognize himself at first.
Aldridge, who attended a ceremony at the state Capitol on Wednesday marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, said he visited the Capitol the day before the ceremony and came across an unlabeled photo of a young man on a hillside holding a rifle.
The photo is part of “Arkansas Remembers: The Forgotten War,” an exhibit on the war that will remain on display at the Capitol until noon Friday. Aldridge, 85, said he looked at the photo and thought, “That looks like something I’ve got at home.”
When he returned Wednesday the photo had been labeled, and Aldridge saw that the photo was of him, taken when he was a machine gunner with the Marines in Korea in 1951.
Aldridge remembered then that some time back he had given a copy of the photo to the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, which assembled the exhibit in conjunction with the secretary of state’s office and the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
Asked about his thoughts on seeing the photo, he said, “You don’t want to know.”
That was because it brought back memories of Aldridge’s last day in combat, Sept. 15, 1951. An enemy grenade took out the machine gun he and another Marine were manning, injuring them, and a second grenade killed the other Marine and permanently injured Aldridge, causing him to be sent home.
Aldridge pointed out a zigzag scar down his left arm. He said he still has about 200 pieces of shrapnel in his body.
“South Korea is still free,” said Aldridge, who served on the committee that built the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park. “It’s one of the few places that Americans ever fought that when we left they appreciated us and they’re still free.”
Aldridge attended the ceremony with his wife, Ruth, whom he married nearly 63 years ago after receiving his orders to go to Korea.
“I appreciate all the men who served our country with him, as well as all of them,” Ruth Aldridge said. “I wish we didn’t have wars young men have to fight.”
The ceremony included comments from Gov. Mike Beebe, who said that although returning Korean War veterans were not treated as badly as returning Vietnam War veterans, they were not honored with the parades that World War II veterans received.
“It’s incumbent on us as we recognize all veterans from all periods in our history, whether it was in wartime or peacetime, whether it was standing on the wall when there were no shots being fired or whether it was in a foxhole when there were shots being fired, we have an obligation to say to the men and women who wear the uniform and to their families, ‘God bless you. We owe you more than we can ever pay,’” Beebe said.
Also speaking at the ceremony was Ambassador Suk-Bum Park of the Korean consulate in Houston, who said he was honored and humbled to be present with “admirable veterans” who fought to protect South Korea from Communism.
“We will never forget what you have done for us,” he said.
About 3 million military personnel and civilians on both sides were killed between the start of the war on June 25, 1950, and the cease fire on July 27, 1953. About 6,300 Arkansans fought in the war, 461 of whom were killed.