Uncle Ralph, the Rosary and the Korean War
I love praying the Rosary. It always has given me peace whenever I have recited it, and my family prays the Sorrowful Mysteries together each Lent. However, the person who had the greatest devotion to the Rosary in my family was my Protestant Uncle Ralph.
When I was growing up my family lived next door to Uncle Ralph and his family. Uncle Ralph was my favorite uncle. He always had a sense of fun, loved to shoot the breeze with kids and did a hilarious Donald Duck imitation. My Dad’s family were all Protestant; my brother and I were Catholic because my Dad had married my Catholic Mom, so I was surprised one day during my teen years when Uncle Ralph pulled out his rosary and told me how he came to always carry it.
Ralph was a homesick 19 year old in 1951. His Army National Guard unit had been called up for duty in the Korean War. He was stationed in California waiting to be shipped out, when, one Sunday, he had dinner with a Catholic family under an Army sponsored program to give troops some home-cooked meals. Ralph enjoyed himself immensely. The family treated him like a long lost son and brother, and the meal was superb. Ralph was relaxing after the meal when the father of the family, a WWI vet, handed him a Rosary. “Here son, this got me safe back from France and I hope it does the same for you in Korea.” Ralph wasn’t sure what a Rosary was, but he was touched by the gesture and he took the Rosary.
The war that Ralph was going to fight in began on June 25, 1950, when the North Koreans, at the instigation of Stalin, invaded South Korea. The US, under UN auspices, intervened under General Douglas MacArthur. In a brilliant campaign, MacArthur led the American and allied forces to victory, largely destroying the North Korean Army and conquering most of North Korea. Massive Chinese intervention led to a see-saw war up and down the Korean peninsula, with a stalemate ensuing from July 1951-July 1953. Eisenhower got the North Koreans and their Chinese and Soviet backers to finally agree to a truce by threatening to use nuclear weapons in Korea.
One reason that the war dragged on is because many North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war did not want to be repatriated. Harry Truman, to his everlasting credit, refused to send them back against their will: “We will not buy an armistice by turning over human beings for slaughter or slavery“. Eventually, in a stunning rebuke to Communism, some 46,000 North Korean and Chinese soldiers refused repatriation. Conversely, only 22 Americans and 1 Brit refused repatriation, with almost all of them eventually returning after the war.
The Korean War was one of the deadliest conflicts fought by the US: 33,746 dead and 103, 284 wounded, with the vast majority of the casualties sustained in the first year of the war. It was also a frustrating war, as this film clip from the movie Pork Chop Hill (1959) well illustrates:
That film is perhaps the best depiction of the surreal quality of the war, as the US and its allies fought against the Orwellian regimes of North Korea and China, with the Soviet Union hovering in the background.
Ralph fought in several bloody battles after he arrived in Korea. The Chinese would attempt to take hills and Uncle Ralph and his division would do their best to hold on, or retake captured hills, and he did a fair amount of fighting and praying. When he prayed he would hold the Rosary in his hands and it became a source of hope for him.
Ralph made it back from Korea in one piece, raised a family and had a good life. He and the Rosary remained inseparable. Ralph passed away in 2010. If I should get to Heaven, I wouldn’t be surprised if I see Uncle Ralph strolling the streets of Heaven with a Rosary in his hands.
Here’s to you uncle Ralph, and to the men you served with! In a tough, bitter and often thankless war, you stopped Communist aggression and saved tens of millions of human beings from living under one of the worst tyrannies ever devised by fallen Man. Some people call Korea the Forgotten War. It will never be forgotten by me.