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Korea vets look back on bloody conflict; Petaluma Museum unveils exhibit

  • Paul Lewis of Petaluma served in the army during the Korean War. Lewis salutes during the National Anthem during the Korean War Remembrance Day ceremony held at the Petaluma Museum where an exhibit called "Korea, the Forgotten War" is on display until December 16th. Saturday, October 13, 2012. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Life was good for Paul Lewis in 1952 — the fourth-generation Petaluman was just out of high school, had a girlfriend and drove a 1939 Chevy with the best twin pipes in town.

But even as Lewis reveled in youth, hints of his future came to him through Korean War newsreels at the movies. Then, when some of his older high school buddies started dying in Korea, the war hit home.

Lewis, a country boy with a sharpshooter's eye, was eventually drafted and sent to Korea in 1953 just before the July armistice. During "mop up" operations, Lewis endured hours of patrols, shelling and a battle in which he and a soldier from Chicago survived an attack by about 20 inexperienced Korean "insurgents."

Korean War Remembrance Day

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With the cease-fire in place, that fight brought the the wrath of his superiors, and he remembers being told "soldier, it never happened." A photo of Lewis taken that day, shortly after the combat, is on display in the Petaluma Museum, part of a new exhibit called. "Korea, the Forgotten War."

"If you look at it real close, you can almost see the horror in my eye," said Lewis, who is among a number of local Korean War veterans who loaned the exhibit a treasure of war memorabilia that includes photos, newspaper clippings, military weapons and equipment.

On Saturday, Lewis, 79, and other Korean War veterans attended a ceremony on the steps of the Petaluma Museum to commemorate the opening of the exhibit and honor the veterans for their service.

Lewis, with his cane resting on the podium, read the names of his three high school friends who died in the war: Robert Bover, Joey Mendoza and George Poe, all 1952 graduates of Petaluma High.

There were 54,000 Americans who did not get a chance to grow old or use a cane like the one he now carries, Lewis said.

Museum president Joe Noriel told those gathered that, "The Korean War is often referred to as the Forgotten War, but on this day in Petaluma, it's remembered."

A city proclamation was read by City Councilwoman Tiffany Ren?. It established Oct. 13 as Korean War Remembrance Day in Petaluma.


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