I turn 80 today. Sixty years ago, on my 20th birthday, an event occurred that changed the lives of my generation. The Cold War turned hot as North Korea invaded its southern neighbor. For kids like me who were not old enough to serve during World War II, this would be "our war." It's often called "the Forgotten War." For us, it will never be forgotten. Nor did America forget us when we returned to civilian life.
During the Korean War, I was a Marine, serving as a member of the Camp Pendleton Post Band. Marines headed for combat shipped out monthly from San Diego, and our band playing martial music and a few relatives at the dock were their only send-off. Their return was even less ceremonial.
But at the end of our service, we returned to civilian life with the generous assistance of U.S. taxpayers. In my case, the three years I spent as a grad student at UC Berkeley were subsidized by the federal benefits for Korean War vets. The state, through Cal Vet benefits, paid for typing my dissertation.
Our educational benefits differed from those in the original G.I. Bill, which covered college tuition — both public and private — for vets returning home after World War II. Korean vets received higher monthly living allowances but had to pay their own tuition. That encouraged enrollment at state schools, and led in part to the great expansion of the California State College, now University, system.
I also took advantage of another veterans' benefit, this one from the people of California. After five years of marriage, my wife and I had enough saved to buy a lot in suburban Southern California. With the help of a Cal Vet loan, we built the house my wife designed. It's been the Shaffer home for 46 years. The loan, which started out with a mortgage payment of a mere $89 a month and an interest rate of about 2%, included both earthquake and property insurance. Over the years the payment ballooned to slightly more than $100 a month. Initially the state even paid the postage for our monthly payments.
The justifiable criticism of the Veterans Administration for its treatment of the wounded returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has overshadowed the generous assistance that this nation and our state have provided to most vets since World War II.
On this anniversary of my war, I want to thank all Americans and especially Californians for their unflinching aid to former service men and women of all wars. To the taxpayers' credit, they have not only offered the traditional benefits to current vets but now also pay for the rapidly rising cost of tuition at our state's colleges. And the folks at Cal Vet still proudly tout the inclusion of earthquake insurance with its extremely low-interest home loans. We have this benefit through bonds voted on by California taxpayers, who have never rejected a Cal Vet bond issue since its inception after World War I.
At the same time, let's not forget that for nearly 100,000 Americans who went to the Korean conflict or who have fought since then in other hellholes, there was no college education, no home loan, no reunions to attend. Their only benefit was a spot in a national cemetery.
Ralph E. Shaffer is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona.