Remembering the end of the Korean war:

July 27 is not one of those days that stirs the American soul like Dec. 7, July 4 or June 6.

We have so many memorable days in our history that forgiveness is appropriate if you can’t recall that on that day in 1953, the guns fell silent along the line of battle in Korea. Three years of killing was at an end. This year, it’s the 55th anniversary of the cease fire, so maybe there’ll be a bit more ink and airtime.

I carry in my mind’s eye recollections of two officers who paid a price while serving their country. Both were fellow second lieutenants – a rank sometimes regarded as below that of private – in the field artillery. I served with both and knew them well enough to say they were among the best, brightest and likable young men you might want to know. And, they were leaders.

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First, let me tell you about Nimrod Torkomian. He was one of 200 who were in the initial formation for D Battery, Field Artillery Officer Candidate Class 17 in January 1952. Ninety of us made it to the finish line in June. “Tork” – everyone gets a nickname in the Army – must have stood on tiptoes to get in. He was 5 feet tall, maybe. But he was in superb physical condition, easily meeting the many physical demands placed upon us. He had the barracks wit needed to get through six months of OCS.

After graduation, we spent a few months in artillery battalions stateside before what we thought was the inevitable – orders to become forward observers across the hills of Korea.

Tork wound up as a forward observer with the 555th Field Artillery, an ill-fated outfit if ever there was one. They were overrun not once but three times during the course of the war, often because they weren’t given the protection they needed. Worse, their guns fell into the hands of the North Koreans and Chinese. This is close to a mortal sin for an artilleryman.

In March 1953, the Chinese caught a South Korean infantry unit unprepared and walked all over the 555th. Tork and his forward observer team were isolated at an outpost. They held out until they were out of ammo, and then stuck a white handkerchief tied to a rifle out a firing port. Tork wrote an eloquent essay about this experience, sharing it with all of us at our most recent reunion. It is not a good feeling, he said in a classic understatement, to be marched north when the U.S. Army is somewhere south of you.

The good news is that he survived, was exchanged not long after the armistice and is enjoying life in California.

Other OCS classmates tell their tales of the last day of the war when we get together. For one, it was being sent up on the line when other units were standing down in anticipation of the cease fire. Ma Parker’s son may not make it home in one piece after all, thought Roy Parker, now a lawyer in Tupelo. Another brought his wounded radioman down for help and went back to fire more missions. And so on.

Then there’s James Dorland from New Jersey, who was commissioned just before me out of OCS. We were both assigned to an anachronism, a mule artillery battalion in Camp Carson, Colorado.

When the expected orders for overseas came, Jim’s were for Korea and mine were for Germany. He accepted his with a baffled grin, and I thanked some gnome in the Pentagon for his wisdom in sending me elsewhere, even if there was a twinge of guilt.

Some years after Al Gore invented the Internet, I began to crawl the Web to find out what happened to Jim. It didn’t take long to find out that he’d been shot down over North Korea in March 1953 while calling in artillery fire as an aerial observer. He was first listed as MIA – missing in action – and later that changed to KIA – killed in action. His remains have yet to be returned.

Jim was tall, lean, witty, a graduate of Williams College. He was a quiet leader, dependable, demanding and respected, and I will never forget being his friend and serving with him.

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