For years, we’ve heard about the exploits of “The Greatest Generation,” the men and women who fought and won World War II.
We rarely hear about their younger brothers.
But just five years after World War II ended, America was back at war again – though, for years, it wasn’t called a war, just a conflict.
And at first, the young men sent off to fight it thought it would be grand.
“We'd grown up during the war and we all figured we were going to go off and fight somewhere and all of the sudden, it was over and I hate to say it but we were all a little disappointed,” says Dave Cone, who was 14 when World War II ended. “We didn't realize they were saving a couple for us.”
The first of those was Korea, when President Harry S. Truman sent soldiers in in June 1950. And, although it has come to be known as “The Forgotten War,” some of the men fighting it were – or became – some of America’s most unforgettable names.
"Neil's call sign was Midnight Butterfly,” says Bill Hutchens, who worked with explosive in the Air Force in Korea. Call signs were the code name pilots used. The Neil he refers to became more famous a decade or so after the war, when he became the first person to walk on the Moon: Neil Armstrong. And he wasn’t the only one. Hutchens helped light up the way for Ted Williams, whose call sign was Big Swing. Williams – already a household name as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history – was in his second tour of duty as a Marine pilot. Williams had flown in World War II as well.
“I knew who Ted Williams was,” said Hutchens. “Because he made you know who he was. You know, 'How you, sir?' He was an officer and I was not.”
Hutchens was what they called a “firefly.” He flew in big, C-47s and it was his job to shoot out the flares that would light up the night for the pilots like Armstrong, Williams and future astronaut and US senator, John Glenn.
“And they would go in and just tear 'em all to pieces,” says Hutchens of what the pilots would do, once he dropped his flares. “You hate to think about it but we killed thousands of people. And the next day they were built up and coming again.”
But, in the end, they saw the nobility of their cause, saving millions of South Koreans, many of whom they’d become familiar with during their time in the service, and helping put a stop to the Communism that was on the march from China and the Soviet Union.
“They were our enemy and they were going to take over the world if they could. And that was our job to see that they didn't. Which we look back and say, well, we did a pretty good job,” noted Hutchens.
See their story in this edition of the Buckley Report.