Korean War vet hopes to build memorial for all who served
Like many of his fellow veterans, Joe Lipscomb is quick to note that the Korean War was essentially America's great "forgotten war." Its veterans' ranks, like their World War II counterparts before them, are starting to rapidly dwindle.
The 86-year-old Tualatin resident served in Korea for 22 months on the front lines of the Korean demilitarized zone, more commonly referred to as the DMZ.
Fearing he would be drafted, the Litchfield Park, Arizona, native enlisted in the Navy.
A hospital corpsman second class, he served in the U.S. Navy Fleet Marine Force.
After six months of training as a medical corpsman, he would later go to the Naval Training Center in San Diego.
"A corpsman is like being a nurse in the Navy," he said.
Lipscomb would end up in Korea in 1953, attached to H Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
"It was quiet when I got there in that sector," Lipscomb said. "There wasn't any combat at that point."
While much of the fighting had died down by the time he arrived, Lipscomb said it was still an "up and down" scenario depending on where you were located in the country. He would spend his entire time in Korea on the DMZ's front lines, north of the Imjin River.
Lipscomb said he and his fellow Marines would keep an eye on their Chinese counterparts on the other side of the DMZ, watching them through binoculars.
"We watched them every day," he said. "We were on our front line, and they were on theirs."
What he recalls about his time in Korea were hot, brutal summers and frigid winters. The winters were so cold he recalled soldiers having to get up in the middle of the night to stomp on the fuel lines outside their tents so they wouldn't freeze. The other danger was the potbelly stove catching the tent liners on fire, which they occasionally did.
Lipscomb said time has scrubbed much of his memory of details about exactly what the country looked like at the time.
"It was just a place," he said. "I don't recall much about it."
Once in Korea, he said his troop had no contact with the Korean people, the only outside contact being with members of the Queen's Own Rifles from Canada, whom they socialized with.
"They were on the right flank on the front lines," he recalled.
Lipscomb said he wasn't particularly surprised when the Korean armistance was signed because there had been talk of such an agreement for more than a year.
Still, he was happy when it happened.
"I don't need to get shot," he recalled thinking. "It was nice to come home."
Not long after returning from Korea in 1955, Lipscomb resumed his college plans by studying architecture, first at Arizona State University, and later at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, California. He eventually ended up working as an urban planner.
Lipscomb has never been back to Korea —"just not on my list of things to do" — he said, although his son has visited South Korea. Still, Lipscomb has visited both the Korean War memorials in Wilsonville and Washington, D.C., and was impressed with both.
Meanwhile, he said he has no idea what the future of North Korea holds or if there will ever be a formal end to the war.
"I'd like to see the war ended, but I don't expect I will," he said. "But you can always be surprised."
Today, Lipscomb is pushing to get an All Wars Memorial located in Tualatin, which would commemorate all the wars America has been involved with.
"The 'Visual Chronicle' would tell a brief story of various major and other wars, engagements and interventions," he wrote in a proposal he shared.
His goal would be to tell a series of stories similar to those told along the Ice Age Park in Tualatin, with hopes of locating the memorial in Tualatin Commons Park. Lipscomb said there is language in the city's parks master plan talking about such a memorial.
"I've talked to a lot of veterans groups … and everyone loved the visual chronicle (idea)," he said.