Ed Alt, a veteran of the Korean War, carries with him memories of his services after over 60 years - Putnam Sentinel
Ed Alt, a veteran of the Korean War, carries with him memories of his services after over 60 years. (Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)

OTTAWA — When we say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ there’s a finality to it. We thank them for the things they have done. Past tense. We rarely consider what’s ongoing. We don’t offer thanks for what is carried back home.

“When I got into the service,” says Ed Alt, an Ottawa resident and veteran of the Korean Conflict. “I went to basic training in Fort Carson, CO. Got to see Pike’s Peak everyday for eight weeks. Then, back home for a short furlough.”

Alt’s initial account is how military service is often sold to young men and women. Learn new skills and see the world, recruiters often say, or at least some mountain peaks that don’t exist in Ohio’s flat farmland. It’s nearly always an attractive offer.

“Then, I went to Fort Knox and took 10 weeks of tank training. Of course, that fell right into my lap, that mechanical stuff. They caught onto that and kept me and another guy there to train the next bunch. So I was a teacher for 10 weeks.”

Alt already knew his way around machinery and had become a decent mechanic before joining the military. His skills were quickly recognized and utilized, but with fighting breaking out, the U.S. military needed Alt for far more than helping to train other young men.

“They got word from Korea that they needed some help down there. So, they loaded us all up, and away we went.”

“Got down there, and with my name starting with an ‘A,’ I was always at the top of the list. This one tank company needed a driver, so they dropped me off there with a whole company of guys I’d never seen before, didn’t know a name or nothing. I got to be a driver in the first tank, and had 19 of them behind me. I had quite a bit to learn there too.”

So much of who comes home and who doesn’t, who serves in the front and who brings up the rear, comes down to a sort of luck. If Alts name had begun with any other letter than ‘A,’ his life would have been very different. Immigration agents once routinely changed the spelling of last names to make them seem more American. Who knows what might have been if he was an ‘Elt’ instead of an ‘Alt.’

“The Captain, he enjoyed riding in a jeep, and he had a driver for that. One day, he had them drive ahead of me to figure out where we were going. And, when we got to where we were supposed to be, [the Captain] pulled off to the side.”

“They didn’t much more than get off the road. I was right beside them. The jeep ran over a landmine. It blew the whole front of the jeep off. I was only about 10 feet away from it. The guys got out with blood running down their faces from the windshield.”

“Then, about a couple of minutes later, there was a Korean woman about [100-150 yards away]. She stepped on [a landmine]. She had a baby on her back. Then, there was a puff of black smoke. I think about that every day. I don’t imagine she ever knew what hit her. That’s stayed in my mind a long time.”

Alt was asked, you think about her every single day?

“Yeah.”

As of today, it has been 23,844 days since the official end of the Korean Conflict on July 27, 1953. It has been more than 55 years since Alt served on the Korean peninsula. Over half a century has passed. And still, Alt carries the memory with him.

By offering this small glimpse into his memories, Alt reminds us that every soldier brings a part of war home with them. No one is able to just, ‘leave it all behind.’

We must all do a better job of knowing this. Of knowing that when we say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ that this service still continues. We must find a way as well to thank them, welcome them, listen to them, care for them, and support them for the burdens they still carry. We must do this for the burdens they will forever carry.