ELK RUN HEIGHTS — Viola Rieck was and is a strict teetotaler, but she was giddy as a happy drunk on July 27, 1953.
She was high on the joy of peace.
She was in the U.S. Army at Inchon, South Korea and she heard the news everyone on the war-torn Korean peninsula had been waiting for for three long years.
United Nations and communist North Korea and allies had reached an armistice in the Korean War.
It was an end to the carnage of American soldiers who had lost life and limb trying to preserve freedom for South Korea.
“I was right there. When that came over I was sitting at my desk” when word was received that North Korean leader Kim Il-sung had agreed to a cease fire.
“I jumped up on my table — and usually I’m a pretty quiet person — and I just started dancing and dancing,” she said. “Now they wouldn’t be bringing them home with arms missing and legs missing and all the things I’d seen in Korea.”
“Things like that, I’ll never forget,” she said.
She sobbed as she told the story, 64 years later. Rieck was a company clerk. She delivered payroll in a Jeep armed with an M-1 rifle — a weapon she knew “as well as any man (did),” she said. Among other duties, she’d also help out at a makeshift hospital, tending to wounded. The memories haunt her to this day.
It had been announced a day earlier the armistice might be imminent. That evening, she said, still crying, “I walked down to the ocean and I was praying that the war would end. And I looked out there and it looked like little boats out on the ocean. A year later, I found out my brother was on one of those boats” and would have been headed into the fight were it not for the armistice.
When she’d see those troop ships come in, she said, “All I could do was think, ‘How many of these are going to live?’ She would see wounded be shipped out to Japan once they were well enough to move.
Rieck said she and comrades had their doubts. “We didn’t think it was going to end,” she said, “and we were getting all so tired of seeing guys coming in and missing (body) parts and things like that.
“I was in finance and I was the one that had to send the (final pay) money to the parents of those that got killed,” she sobbed. “So you know it wasn’t a happy time. I was very, very sad.”
Even then soldiers could hardly believe it was true, “because you weren’t in the States and hearing things,” she said. “We were there living it.”
Riecks, now 84, was 19 when she served. She wonders how many of her comrades are still alive, “because I was so young.”
Asked about the current situation in Korea, with Kim Il-sung’s grandson, Kim Jong-un, testing nuclear weapons and threatening the West and neighboring countries, Rieck said, “It’s the same feeling I had when I was there. I just don’t believe they are guys that you want to trust.”
Her husband, Marlowe, also served in the Army in Alaska from 1951-53. Troops were needed there to safeguard against any kind of action by the Soviet Union, another communist nation just across the Bering Strait from Alaska.
Of her service, Rieck said in a 2015 Courier interview, “I didn’t do it for fame and fortune. I did it because I was needed.”