LYNNWOOD — Wallace “Wally” Armstrong received a multicolored sash on his 87th birthday.
It was placed around his neck, as recognition for the sacrifices he made while fighting in the Korean War more than 65 years ago. A circular, gold pendant hangs from the ribbon.
The Monroe man and about 60 other veterans were given the Ambassador for Peace Medals on Monday in Lynnwood. They were presented by Consul General Hyung-jong Lee from the South Korean Consulate in Seattle.
The goal is to get the medal to as many people who fought in Korea as possible, said Lourdes “Alfie” Alvarado-Ramos, director of the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs.
“They are fading away on us, and we want to make sure they don’t go to the everlasting post without receiving their credit,” she said.
The event in Lynnwood was one of many. Alvarado-Ramos hopes to get the word out so families can help claim the gift. The award is from the South Korean government to show appreciation for those who helped the country, she said.
“The Korean government has never forgotten,” she said. “It’s important for us to bring this element of recognition and closure to people who gave so much in such inhospitable environments: Cold and dangerous.”
More than 5.7 million Americans served during the Korean War, which started in 1950 after communist North Korea invaded South Korea. During the next three years, 33,741 American troops were killed or reported missing in battle. The death toll of American forces inside and outside the war zone was 54,246.
The total number of deaths during the Korean War has been estimated at nearly 5 million. More than half were Korean civilians.
Armstrong was in the Army and stationed at an unoccupied women’s college in Seoul during the war. Wayne Rodland was there with him, but neither of them knew it. The pair even ate in the same mess hall. Rodland, 87, was in the Air Force.
Armstrong has always lived in Monroe. His family has been there since the 1880s.
Rodland grew up in Lake Stevens. After Korea, he was stationed in Kansas. There he met his future wife, Margaret. The couple was engaged after a month of dating. They’ve been married 65 years.
The pair moved to Rodland’s home state and bought property in Monroe.
Armstrong’s dad was a logger, and ended up working on the Rodlands’ land. The older Armstrong introduced the two Korean War veterans.
“His dad was much nicer than him,” Rodland said.
“Who isn’t?” Armstrong replied, which made Rodland laugh.
The men have been friends for about 50 years.
Each has different memories of the war. They might want to forget some, but others are fond.
“Actually, we had a lot of fun in Korea,” Armstrong said.
He recalls being the only soldier with a truck. One of his companions wanted to travel halfway across the country to visit his brother.
“I said, ‘How is he going? He can’t have my truck,’ ” Armstrong said.
Armstrong got permission to drive him, and once word got out about four other guys wanted to tag along. Their trip lasted a week.
Rodland recalls Christmas 1951. It was night and their building was hit hard by enemy fire.
He also remembers a different time seeing rubble in the streets of Seoul, and how empty the city seemed.
“It was completely evacuated, there was nobody there,” he said. “I’m lucky to be here.”
To receive an Ambassador of Peace Medal, veterans must have served in Korea between June 25, 1950, and July 27, 1953. Those who were involved with the United Nations peacekeeping operations there until 1955 are also eligible. Call the Department of Veteran Affairs at 360-725-2200 for more information.
Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey @heraldnet.com. Twitter: @stephrdavey.