The war that never endedJun 01, 2020 12:54PM ● By Carole Ann McKelvey
Kenneth Hughes, a veteran at Horizons Care Center in Eckert, recalls his experiences in Korea. Photo by Michael Lawton
Korean War vet reflects on military service
Kenneth Hughes had just turned 22 when he was drafted into the Army for a two-year tour in Korea. Although the Korean Conflict ended 67 years ago, he still remembers it like it was yesterday.
It’s been a long road for the 91-year-old vet from Eckert. For him, it was a war where a boy grew up despite never having to fire a single shot. He felt lucky to have been assigned to the Signal Corps and became a radio operator after a two-week course. That’s how he spent most of his time on the demarcation line in South Korea.
“Never picked up a gun,” Hughes said. “We were rationed personal firearms, but they weren’t long guns. Smaller carbines, just in case we had to use them.”
Memories of service
“But they never dropped a bomb on us. Guess we got lucky,” he said. “We would lay at night in our bunks and hear firefights nearby.”
Since returning from the conflict, Hughes has been a lifelong member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). He proudly displays photos he shot in South Korea with an old Brownie camera of him and his buddies in their fatigues and some photos of the Korean people.
His most vivid memory of the war was the weather.
“The bitter cold and snow. We were hunkered down with camouflage nets over our buildings in a valley and it was so very cold,” he said. “Much worse than I ever experienced in my life.”
Hughes grew up on a 160-acre farm in southwest Oklahoma homesteaded by his grandfather and his father. The youngest of eight, he is the only one still alive.
He vividly remembers escorting his older brother’s body back when he was killed in World War II, which Hughes was too young to fight in. When he left for the Korean conflict in 1950, his mother feared the same fate for him.
“She was really upset,” he said. “I was the youngest one, and there I was going off to war.”
Back to civilian life
Hughes counts himself among the lucky ones to come home from the war all in one piece.
Afterward, he considered staying in the Army, saying he could have retired as a corporal. Many of his buddies chose that direction. But Hughes had had enough of war and just wanted to come home.
Hughes headed to California and eventually ended up in Bakersfield, where he worked as a welder and met his first wife, Bernice. After having two children and 38 years of marriage, Bernice contracted lung cancer. Hughes cared for her until her death.
After years of grieving Bernice, Hughes met his second wife, Juanita, whom he was happily married to for about 10 years.
Hughes ended up in Colorado after taking a trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to visit his daughter and granddaughter. Now, he lives in Horizons Care Center in Eckert, a community run by Volunteers of America. These days he’s in pretty good health, except for the oxygen tube he’s tethered to 24/7, due to the high altitude.
In 2013, Hughes received a commemorative book as a gift from the Korean government.
“Korea Reborn A Grateful Nation” provides a visual and written narrative of the Korean conflict and South Korea’s gratitude to those like Hughes, who gave freedom back to that country not so long ago.Read more stories about veterans.