When Bill Williams returned from Korea in April 1951, people asked him why he had on a uniform. He hadn't fought in World War II, had he?
"We were ignored," said Northwest resident Williams, a veteran of the Korean War. "People here were tired of war and didn't want to think about it."
Thought about or not, the Korean War did happen. It started 60 years ago last Friday.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea and communist allies crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea in an attempt to make up for unresolved business carried over from the Second World War.
President Truman sent U.S. forces to help the South Korean regime. Three years and about 57,000 American fatalities later, the war ended in July 1953 when the 38th parallel was secured.
Williams, then 24, entered the action in Korea in September 1950. "War wasn't doing too good right then," said Williams. He had enlisted in the Air Force in 1948 and was stationed in Japan when the war broke out.
"We were all a little bit excited because we knew we'd be in it and it wouldn't be too long," he said. "We were also a little apprehensive because we hadn't had jets in combat before, we didn't know how much damage they could take. Turns out, they can take quite a bit."
Williams flew F-80s, single engine and cockpit fighter jets, in air-ground interdiction missions, or ground support. The first jet-to-jet victory in the history of war happened in Williams' squadron.
In Williams' seven months and a hundred missions in Korea, he experienced all that comes with war: camaraderie, success, hope and hopelessness. "I don't think about the war that much," said Williams, "I think about the people."
Williams reflected on humorous experiences. Once, he sent a pilot to make a pass at a suspicious truck. The pilot reported making one pass before running out of ammunition. A few hours later, a truck rolled up to camp with flat tires, a burned radiator, and an irate U.S. corporal.
"He was steaming as bad as the truck," said Williams, grinning at the memory. "He wasn't where he was supposed to be and the North Koreans were getting their hands on our trucks all the time. I kept my mouth shut and didn't tell him I sent the plane."
A terrible memory began when Williams was flying ground support. "Leading a flight of four," Williams began, "we'd been up north, the push was in reverse and there was a column of our trucks, around a hundred, alongside the road headed south. On one side was a steep drop right on the side of the road."
When the first truck in the line went around a barricade, Chinese forces attacked, preventing the trucks behind from moving. The last truck was incapacitated as well, leaving the line of trucks immobile.
"They couldn't do anything but hide behind the trucks. I stayed as long as I could but there really wasn't anything I could do but hope for night so that the men would have a better chance to make a run for it," said Williams.
"When I returned, there wasn't a breath of life among the trucks. They were either all captured or killed. I felt sort of helpless, I couldn't do anything."
Douglas Raine, a 50-year resident of Northwest Tucson, entered combat in the last leg of the war in 1953 at age 23.
He joined the Air Force as a pilot in 1950. "I didn't particularly want to go to war," he said. "But I didn't have a choice, but I did have a choice to be a pilot." Had he waited for the draft, he would've likely been placed in the infantry.
In December 1953, Raine entered Korea flying F-84s in training, orientation and checking the frontlines. Like Williams, Raine experienced all that war entails.
"There were some exciting times, and some down times when we'd lose a guy," said Raine, reflecting that his squadron lost a pilot once a month.
Announcement of the war's end "was a good day." But his squadron was told the fighting could keep going until 10 p.m. "It was a mixed feeling," he said. "Knowing the war was over but we had to fly another mission."
Was the Korean War really forgotten?
"I didn't pay much attention," said Raine. "My mom was glad that I was home, that was enough."
"People didn't even know I had gone off to war, they just thought I was away at school," Williams said. "There were no parades, no homecomings, we were just ignored."
Sixty years later, it seems not much has changed. The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., was built long after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and only after much debate. The Pima Air and Space Museum lacks a Korean War exhibit among the many WWII and Vietnam displays.
"The Korean war — nobody cared," said Williams. It was the middle child of wars, between WWII and Vietnam. "What people don't realize is that we lost about 57,000 in the three years and the Vietnamese War lasted 10 years and lost 58,000."