Generations at War: Korean War tank commander talks about fighting for freedom

After World World II, another international crisis in 1950 sent American troops overseas.

Communist-backed North Korea crossed what’s known as the 38th Parallel, invading South Korea.

Taking place between WWII and the Vietnam War, the Korean War ended in a stalemate.

Sometimes referred to as the “Forgotten War,” 37,000 Americans died in the fight and another 100,000 were wounded.

Naples resident Roger Zucker, who served as a tank commander in the war, spoke with us about his experience fighting for freedom.

Tank Commander Roger Zucker.

The big thing is, “you have to get used to the sounds,” Zucker said. “You get used to hearing which way the artillery is going. If it’s coming your way, it makes a different sound than when it’s going out.”

At 21, he had already earned three stripes: Sergeant First Class in the Army’s 32nd Infantry Regiment, Seventh Infantry Division.

“When I got to Korea, they had already been pushed back from the Yalu River and we were at the 38th Parallel,” he said. “And what we did there was patrol up into North Korea, but at night, we would withdraw.”

In the dead of winter, it was cold over there – really cold.

There were 25 men in his platoon; five per tank.

He said, “We never got out of our clothes for 30 days, nothing. We’d wash our hands, wash our face and shave, but never got out of our clothes.”

Zucker reminisces how the other four soldiers in his tank became like family.

“Roy Mikes was my driver, Frank Ferris was my bow gunner, Ken Livey was my gunner and Charlie Seacrest was the loader,” he said. “Isn’t that something… that you don’t forget.”

Especially Ferris, he recalled, whose humorous antics helped temper the heaviness of war, calling him “a real character”.

Safe Conduct Pass

He also said Ferris had “true” character the team could count on. “He was on guard duty, took a prisoner. A guy just wanted to surrender but he never even woke anybody up, just took care of it,” Zucker said. “That was the way he was.”

Enemy soldiers were encouraged to surrender using Safe Conduct passes that were airdropped and promised humane treatment.

Now 89, Zucker marvels at the memories that come flooding back when he looks at mementos like a $5 bill signed by every member of his platoon, and photos that serve as reminders of close calls.

$5 bill signed by every member of Zucker’s platoon.

“There’s a crater where they bombed us one day, you know, so they missed. They didn’t get me, they didn’t get anybody. They made a bit of a hole in the ground,” he said.

There were countless, sleepless nights on patrol. But Zucker says he was fatalistic and didn’t really feel the stress.

“I said a little prayer to myself when I went out and I said a little prayer when I got back—thank you very much,” he said.

But his Lieutenant never made it back; another somber reminder of the sacrifices of war. And yet so many, like Zucker, signed up and showed up to protect our freedom.

“It’s quite an experience to represent your country,” said Zucker.

In 1995, more than 40 years after the war ended, the Korean War Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. to the nearly 6 million Americans who served.

MORE: Collier-Lee Honor Flight takes veterans to Washington D.C. memorials
MORE: Collier-Lee Honor Flight trip of a lifetime for Korean War veteran

The seven-foot, stainless-steel statues are quite a sight to see. Zucker recently saw it in person as part of Collier-Lee Honor Flight, which transports local veterans to Washington to visit the memorials dedicated to honor their service and sacrifice.

Generations at War Series

Tank Commander Roger Zucker.
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