When Maj. Billy Canedo went to Iraq, people were lined up in the airport to shake his hand as he headed for his flight.
When he returned from war, other people were waiting at the airport to applaud Canedo and his fellow Marines when they got off the plane.
That wasn’t happening 60 years ago. And that’s why Canedo was at Vancouver’s Veterans Affairs campus Thursday morning.
“To right a wrong,” he said.
Canedo is part of a three-year Defense Department mission to honor people who served in the Korean War.
As a member of the Defense Department’s 60th anniversary Korean War committee, he presented certificates of appreciation to about 20 local veterans.
Later, Canedo was planning to visit a nursing home on the VA campus and present certificates to veterans who weren’t able to get to the ceremony at the Clark County Korean War Memorial.
Sixty years ago, Canedo added, these service personnel weren’t even recognized as people who’d gone to war.
“They were told it was not a war: It was a police action,” Canedo said. “It was after World War II, and our country was tired of war. But they saw some of the most horrific fighting anyone in an American uniform has ever seen.”
The devastation wasn’t confined to combatants, added Vancouver veteran Cliff Booth. He saw entire towns wiped out by the Communist North Korean advance, Booth said.
He had some close calls of his own, acknowledged the Navy veteran. But the last person who put Booth’s life in jeopardy, he said, was an American officer — and it happened after the shooting had stopped.
Peace talks had started, said Booth, and “some of the brass wanted me to take them up to the front lines.”
Booth headed up the road with the officers. Then one of them told Booth to leave the road and take a shortcut. Booth declined; he had a lot more faith in the road than in an off-road jaunt through potential minefields and booby traps.
“We’re the guys who put the road in,” Booth said.
The backseat driver threatened to have Booth court-martialed, he said, but nothing came of it.
The ceremony honored veterans who were soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines during the Korean War, as well as some who served in Korea after hostilities ended.
Those vets aren’t always easy to find, Canedo said. Although the anniversary committee is part of a Pentagon project, a privacy law means it can’t access government databases to identify deserving veterans.
Some veterans don’t want anything to do with memories of their service. To be recognized, “Veterans must self-identify,” Canedo said.
The ceremony was coordinated by the Southwest Washington Richard L. Quatier and the Oregon Trail chapters of the Korean War Veterans Association.
Canedo also was able to schedule a similar presentation in Portland, as part of the 1st Marine Division Association’s 2012 reunion.