Moneta resident Charlie Walker was just 19 when he enlisted in the Army. His mother, who played bridge with the leader of the local draft board, had been warned that her son’s number was coming up soon.
“I didn’t want to go and be drafted,” Walker, now 87, recalled.
After going through tank training at the U.S. Army Armor School in Fort Knox, Kentucky, he was shipped off with the 2nd Infantry Division to serve in the Korean War. It was the spring of 1953, just as the war was winding down.
“It was the last combat engagement. It was tapering off,” Walker said.
After returning to the U.S., Walker continued serving with the Army’s active reserves for a total of 26 years before retiring.
And last month, Walker was one of 10 veterans selected by the nonprofit advocacy group, the Greatest Generations Foundation, to participate in commemorating the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War after his name had been submitted to the foundation by his friend and fellow Korean War veteran Bob VandeLinde.
Highlights from the two-day, all-expenses paid event included meeting with South Korea’s ambassador Lee Soo Hyuck at the White House, watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery and attending a wreath-laying ceremony with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at the Korean War Memorial.
On the morning of the ceremony, Walker recalled the memorial, which was closed to the public, was teeming with Secret Service agents and members of the news media.
“Flags and a color guard were already in place as were 10 chairs reserved for our group of vets,” Walker recalled. “Twenty minutes after arriving we heard the motorcycles and saw the multitude of black SUVs followed by the ‘beast,’ the president’s vehicle.”
After presenting a wreath to honor veterans of the Korean War, the president and first lady met and spoke with Walker and his comrades.
“The president approached each of us as we saluted and he returned the salute,” Walker said.
Later that day, Walker’s pastor called to tell him that he had been spotted on national news.
The following day, the group visited Arlington National Cemetery where they were welcomed by U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“To honor us, he was wearing the uniform worn by officers of our time,” Walker said.
While Walker didn’t know any of the other veterans who attended, he said he enjoyed spending time and “exchanging war stories” with them.
Holding a handful of challenge coins he received, Walker said, the trip was an experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
In fact, he said, it sparked an interest to give back as a volunteer with the foundation, which, according to its website, works “to return combat veterans to their former battlegrounds, cemeteries and memorials to ensure their legacies are recorded and retold in perpetuity for future generations.”