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Local Marine recalls ‘forgotten war’

Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War — a date that is forever etched in Lally Bates’ memory.

But over the decades, the Korean War has become known as “the forgotten war” as it tends to be overshadowed by other major conflicts and events that have occurred in more recent history.

But for the troops who served there, the reality of Korea is still very real. Bates, a resident of Clanton, was injured three times in Korea — he was shot in the leg, struck by shrapnel (fragments from an exploded artillery shell) in the head, and hit in the right hand.

Bates served for about six months, from January to July 1951, in the 1st Marine Division. He was sent home after being treated for his head injury.

“They picked me up in a helicopter on a mountain and flew me to a med station, and then flew me to Japan to another hospital,” he recalled.

Bates fought in some of the war’s deadliest battles, including Hoengsong, Chipyong-ni and the Soyang River. His Purple Heart with two stars pays tribute to his bravery. He received a Bronze Star after he threw grenades into a bunker and silenced a machine gun nest.

Bates knew four men personally who gave their lives on the battlefield. These were Cecil Coker of Clanton, James A. Cox of Clanton, James R. Culp of Clanton and George D. Gillespie of Maplesville. Six other fallen veterans with Chilton County ties died in Korea — James H. Ball, Emmett J. Carter, John Franklin Jr., William E. Marold, Jerry H. Ratliff and Olen B. Williams.

Bates remembers when the local National Guard unit was mobilized.

“They shipped them out by train here in Clanton. My mother wrote and told me about it. I was already over there,” he said.

Efforts have been made both locally and nationally to see that those who served and died in Korea are not forgotten. The Chilton Veterans Memorial in front of the courthouse includes the 10 names listed above.

Bates went to Washington, D.C. for the groundbreaking of the Korean War Memorial and returned in 1995 for its dedication. At the dedication ceremony, he represented the 1st Marine Division and had his picture made with former President George H.W. Bush.

When asked what he would want people to remember about the Korean War, Bates said it was significant that it was the first war fought under the United Nations.

“I think that’s really what stopped the Communists’ aggression by defeating them there,” he said.