Remembrance of Korean War Draft: Sentiments From a former U.S. Army Volunteer in the Medical Corps

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Steve Gilbert is a 76-year-old father of three who avoided the Korean War draft by volunteering for the U.S. Army and working in the Medical Corps.

With Remembrance Day passing just over a month ago, and a few poppies still on coats and hats, importance lies in reflecting on what Remembrance Day is about. Though it generally gives remembrance to those who have fought, some must be paid to those who have lived their life with wars happening all the time.

An Anti-War Activist Comes to Town

Steve Gilbert is a 76-year-old father of three in Toronto. He has lived through wars and recalls his feelings around the time of the Korean War, at which point he lived in the United States.

Steve Gilbert was 21 years old when he heard President Harry Truman announce the Korean War draft. Soon after this announcement was made, Pete Seeger, anti-war activist and singer, arrived in Portland, Ore., where Gilbert lived.

War: What is it Good For?

Gilbert attended his first anti-war rally that day and stood on stage alongside Seeger. He wore a shirt that read, “Join the army and see the world in ruins,” a play on the U.S. army’s slogan, “Join the Army and see the world.” Wearing the shirt sent his parents into a state of dismay; they were horrified and saw the act as “tantamount to treason,” Gilbert said.

“There was a lot of anti-war feeling,” Gilbert said. “We just got over Word War II and there wasn’t much anti-war feeling during (the war), but all of a sudden there was another yet to come.”

How he Avoided Being Drafted

When Gilbert found out about the Korean War draft, he knew he did not want to be drafted to fight on the front lines and that he could not qualify as a conscientious objector. Instead, he volunteered to work for the U.S. Army, which meant he was able to choose the department in which he would work. He volunteered to work in the medical department, believing that this placement would keep him safe and deter him from having to kill anyone.

The Killing Game

“I was naive again,” Gilbert said. “Being in the medical corps didn’t mean I was never going to kill anyone. We trained with rifles and threw hand grenades and everything like that – I guess we were getting ready to kill people.”

The Medical Side of War

Gilbert worked for three years typing psychiatric reports of soldiers who had returned to the U.S. Though he never had to physically fight in the war, he felt the effects of shell shock experienced by other soldiers. Having lived a life that saw many wars come and go, Gilbert is glad to be alive.

“People in my company were going to Korea,” Gilbert said. “It made me very grateful for life when many of my contemporaries were killed.”

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