Let's be thankful for our veterans
November 22, 2018 By:MHS Piper
By Alan Torres
McNary celebrated Living History Day on November 9, a chance for veterans to come to McNary and share their experiences with the students.
Two of the veterans this year were Bob Whitman who served in Korea during the height of the war from 1950-53 and Paul Sundermier who served in Korea from 1966-67.
In 1949 Whitman didn’t want to be drafted so he enlisted and joined the Navy. He went to San Diego where he trained to be a military doctor at a Navy hospital. In 1950 he was sent to the Korean war as a doctor for the Marine Corps (the Marine doctors are all Navy).
The Korean war had 1000 American deaths per month, and the battalion Whitman served in had a 65% casualty rate.
“I’ve had the privilege of talking with some of the people I’ve treated.” said Whitman. For example, he recently was in Boulder, Idaho where he talked with a man who he treated for shrapnel in his leg back in the war.
Whitman shared some stories he remembered from his time in the service. Some were humorous; for example, Whitman was at first issued an M-1 rifle, and he found it cumbersome to carry along with his medical gear. So he asked if he could carry a pistol instead. They didn’t have any extras on-hand, but when one of his superior officers got drunk and started shooting his pistol in the air, Whitman was given that pistol.
Some stories were about hardship, like his friend on the front lines, who had his line overrun by North Koreans and he had to work his way back to South Korean lines on a three day walk with nothing to sustain himself but water and some rice.
And some stories were about tragedy, like Whitman’s friend who was killed when a South Korean line was overrun, and the lieutenant who got separated from the group and was killed when he walked into a Turkish minefield.
Another soldier named Jack was hurt in this explosion, whom it was Whitman’s job to treat. Jack’s leg was bent the wrong way, and his arm was barely attached to his shoulder, but he refused to let Whitman amputate. Jack was evacuated to a Japanese hospital where his arm was repaired well enough that he can play tennis now.
Whitman left Korea in 1953 when the war ended.
Whitman had a difficult time adjusting to life once the war ended. He went to the school at the University of Oregon.
While there, he lived with a man named Al Reynolds, a member of an underwater demolition team for the US Marines. Whitman said that while he may technically be navy he’s formed a brotherhood with the Marines and they both looked after each other, from Whitman lending Reynolds his car on date nights to Reynolds helping Whitman set up a mattress in his closet to help him tone down his nightmares.
Sundermier went to Rutgers University. Back then the school only had 5000 students, all of them were men and 3500 of them were in ROTC. In 1965 Sundermier won a National ROTC drill championship, and left college to join the Army that same year.
In 1966 Sundermier went to Korea as a military policeman.
Sundermier’s main jobs were to be in South Korea in case North Korea attacked again, and to guard the transportation of nuclear weapons into the country.
Sundermier spend most of his time in and around Seoul. Back then Seoul was not a pleasant place to live. It was mostly destroyed from the war, and it was very rural and poor.
In 1967 Sundermier went back home to North Carolina, a few months after his return was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Sundermier, along with many other military police were sent to help put down the resulting riot in Washington DC. Police departments were very bigoted back then, so following these riots many of them hired military police to help change that. Sundermier got one of these jobs at which he stayed for a little while
After this Sundermier went back to college in New Jersey where he trained to be an investigator. As an investigator Sundermier frequently dealt with crimes such as auto theft and arson, often perpetrated by the mafia. Sundermier considered this work exciting.
While he was an investigator Sundermier made friends with several lawyers who he worked with frequently. They talked him into law school. Sundermier came from a blue collar background and had never imagined himself as a lawyer but was convinced to move to Salem with his wife and kids where he studied law at Willamette University.
Upon graduation Sundermier worked for the Department of Justice for 29 years, then went into private practice for three years. Now he works on condemnation cases similar to the one involving the Salem-Keizer School District and St Edward’s Catholic Church. He’s worked both sides of these cases and enjoys it.
Both of Whitman and Sundermier talked about discrimination they faced after they came home because of their veteran status.
While Whitman was at the University of Oregon the school was filled with draft dodgers who called him names like “baby robber” and “baby killer”
Sundermier faced similar discrimination. Even though he was stationed in Korea, and even disagreed with the Vietnam war, people still assumed he was a “Vietnam baby killer”.
Before the Vietnam war Sundermier said if a hitchhiker wore a military uniform, anyone would be willing to pick them up and go out of their way to take them wherever they were trying to go. After the war veterans could no longer hitchhike. Instead Sundermier would have to fly anytime he wanted to travel long distances, and since veterans are expected to wear their uniforms if they want a discount he would face judgement anytime he went to the airport.
Sundermier says that it’s gotten better now. People are expected to respect veterans for their service. Sundermier said it’s important to separate the politics of war, and people who just have to do what they’re told.
Whitman also recommended the book Hilltop Dock by Leonard Adreon. The book was written by a Korean vet, and details the experience of being a medic in the Korean war. The book can be found in the McNary library.