WATERLOO - Kyung Mortimer hates silence. A peaceful lull in her daily life in Waterloo quickly whisks her mind back 50 years - back to war-torn South Korea. It always got deathly quiet right before the bombs fell.
The Korean War. History calls it the forgotten war - lost between the decisive victory in World War II and the heated controversy of Vietnam.
But Mortimer remembers. With solemn clarity. So do local veterans.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the armistice in Korea. And on Saturday the Grout Museum of History and Science honored Korean War veterans.
Even with the passage of time, veterans can tell you what they were doing right up to the cease fire.
Marine Jim Magnuson considers himself lucky. The Eagle Center native was just on his way to Korea from Japan.
Paul Haley of Jesup was already on his way home.
And Sgt. F.J. Lintsch, strangely, was digging a hole.
Lintsch was somewhere along the 38th parallel, hours before the armistice was signed. His troop was cooking a celebration dinner out of rations - hot hash. Holding a plate full of food, Lintsch was halfway back from the chow line when the ground shook.
North Korean soldiers let loose a barrage of fire that continued right up to the cease fire.
"Those suckers started shooting … I went down like a South Dakota badger," Lintsch said, laughing.
It seemed the enemy wanted to lighten its load of ammunition before heading home.
Lintsch tossed aside his dinner, already covered in dirt, and started digging a man-sized hole with the only tool at hand: his steel helmet.
"(The ground) could have been cement and I'd have dug through it," he said. "But the next day, the sun came up and birds where singing."
More than 54,000 Americans died in the war, including 507 Iowans.
For the United States, the conflict began in 1950 without a declaration of war against an aggressor. U.S. Armed Forces served under United Nations auspices after communist North Korean troops invaded South Korea. The conflict ended in a stalemate in 1953.
The Grout's commemorative event included informational and photographic exhibits. Wearing an array of military pins, hats and patches, veterans told war stories, some humorous.
Eagle Center native Donald Hayes recalled how infantrymen were called "doggies" and how the draft notice read like a special invitation for a privileged few.
Wilmer Bauler of Waterloo, among the first drafted from Black Hawk County, remembers never being able to figure out geographically just where he was. The 31st Infantry was always moving.
"You'd play what we call leapfrog," Bauler said, describing the tactics of U.S. infantry in the early war years.
Walk for a stretch, climb a hill, clear out the enemy, take the hill. Walk some more, take another hill.
"I wouldn't get a damn shower for a month, and you lived in a hole," he said, grinning. "At least you didn't freeze in the hole."
Korean War veteran Sid Morris of Cedar Falls can laugh at the unpleasantness of military service, but takes pride in having served his country.
"I never questioned it," Morris said. "It was my duty."
The Korean War is called the forgotten war in part because many veterans returned home without fanfare or public thanks. Also, the fighting ended without a clear sense of resolution. South Korea remains independent, but the peninsula is volatile today.
"Guys just sort of went home, and it slipped from the collective memory," said Bob Neymeyer, oral historian coordinator at the Grout Museum.
Veterans attending Saturday's event said they don't want hoopla or parades. But they are grateful the sacrifice of their comrades, given in the name of freedom, is remembered.
"It's refreshing that we made an impact," Lintsch said. "We didn't win the war, but we helped stem the tide of communism."