July 2013 will mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that marked the cease-fire in Korea. It is often referred to as America’s “Forgotten War.” Indeed it was a conflict that marked a turning point in modern warfare. It was a war sanctioned by the United Nations and resulted in an outcome of something less than unconditional surrender of the enemy. Korea marked the first stalemate of the Cold War and it was not to be the last. Difficult to comprehend; it was a war of geopolitics and hegemony played out under the pall of an unthinkable third world war. Indeed, the threat of additional conflict in Korea conflict lingers to this very day.
How could Korea become The Forgotten War? How could America forget the 2 million casualties of that intensely brutal war that lasted a mere 37 months? How could America forget its 34,000 sons who died at the rate of nearly 1000 per week?
I am here to tell you the story one man from a small town in Massachusetts who went to Korea as a mere mortal and returned with a touch of immortality, never to be forgotten. He was an extremely bright and charming young man who left college early to enlist in the Marines in September 1950. He returned to Hopedale briefly that Christmas after completing basic training at Parris Island and deployed with the 1st Marine Division in Korea on January 28, 1951.
By now, the Communist Chinese Army, the Red Army, was fully engaged in the conflict and had been since their unexpected entry during the previous winter at Chosin Reservoir that nearly drove the Marines Corps into the sea. Now the 1st Marine Division were up against them in an area known as the Punchbowl, a dormant volcano lying in treacherous mountain terrain. The fighting was as fierce as it was at Chosin. Many new replacements were now engaged in seemingly constant battle against the enemy. The Marine Corps Gazette reported it this way:
Mountains were no novelty to Marines with Korean experience but they had seldom seen as chaotic a landscape as the one stretching ahead. Peaks of 3000 feet brooded over a wilderness of seemingly vertical ridges rising from dark and narrow valleys. Few roads were available and the frequent spring rains turned these native trails into bogs.
Battles took place daily against a fierce and entrenched foe. Day long battles were fought for territory gains of only several thousand yards. During the first 10 days of June 1951, the 1st Marine Division lost 67 men killed in action. Those loses were higher than any other month in the war; higher than during the famous Chosin Reservoir operation.
Among those dead was Corporal Richard J. Griffin. He received shrapnel wounds in battle on June 9, was evacuated and died aboard the hospital ship USS Haven on June 16, 1951. He had been a Marine for less than one year, in Korea for less than 5 months, and now he was coming home to be laid to his final rest.
Dick Griffin lived on Cemetery Street, just a few hundred yards from where we stand and his grave is in this cemetery where we honor him today along with so many others who fought and died in defense of our country. We in Hopedale have not forgotten our son from The Forgotten War.
In October of 1964, the Town of Hopedale dedicated a new 40 unit apartment complex for the elderly in his honor. Richard Griffin had been remembered once again for the lives that he had touched. A young attorney who knew Dick Griffin presided over the dedication. Perhaps these words capture the soul of the young man who died too young. He said:
Whoever coined the ancient proverb that ‘the good die young’ had such as Dick Griffin in mind. Dick had all the gentler qualities- loyalty, modesty, courtesy and a sense of the appropriate- to a degree unusual in a person so young and an unselfishness unique in a person of any age…He was truly one of those whom William James call ‘the once born.’
That young attorney was our own Judge Francis J. Larkin. Colonel Francis J. Larkin. We thank him for keeping alive the memory of his dear friend Dick Griffin and for keeping him closer to our own hearts. And we thank him for keeping alive this fine tradition of commemoration with our Memorial Day parade. He has shouldered this great burden for many years and is now ready to pass the torch to another generation of thankful Americans.
Finally, in November 1994, this monument was dedicated to all of the veterans of Hopedale, some 159 of whom served during the Korean War era. This stone behind me commemorates the memory of Richard J. Griffin, forever etched in granite, as the single Hopedale resident killed in action in Korea.
This member of “The Silent Generation” who fought in “The Forgotten War” shall never be forgotten in Hopedale. Corporal Richard J. Griffin, may you rest in eternal peace alongside and with your fellow comrades-in-arms. So long as this granite stone bears your name and Americans remain grateful of their heritage the memory of your life and service shall never fade.