Ed Slater’s Dodge pickup truck displays a bumper sticker that reads, “I remember Korea,” as an American flag waves near his front door.



On Friday – the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War – Slater, an Independence resident, wears a T-shirt that reads “Veteran spirit – forever strong.”

Ed Slater’s Dodge pickup truck displays a bumper sticker that reads, “I remember Korea,” as an American flag waves near his front door.

On Friday – the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War – Slater, an Independence resident, wears a T-shirt that reads “Veteran spirit – forever strong.”

Slater’s problem is that he cannot stop remembering what is culturally referred to as “The Forgotten War” or “The Unknown War.” At 80, Slater says he has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for years, a result of the months he spent as an American prisoner of war while serving the U.S. Army in Korea.

Slater regularly attends Heart of America chapter of the American Ex-Prisoners of War support group meetings at the Kansas City VA Medical Center. He shares his story to seek comfort and to help the younger soldiers who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Slater’s flashbacks have awakened him many times in years past – and they still do, he says.

He was captured on July 25, 1950, a member of the 21st Infantry Regiment – 24th Infantry Division. Slater had disappeared into the Korean countryside while fighting North Korean attackers.

He wandered the mountains for days, searching for a source of water and the American lines. At one point, he encountered a dark-skinned man, tied to a tree with his arms behind his back, blood pouring from puncture wounds across his body.

Slater says he still sees the man in his thoughts and in his dreams. “I ... could only hope that he was dead or had died fast. He must have suffered a lot,” Slater says in the 2008 book “Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors.”

Just before his capture, Slater, a machine gunner, entered a home where a couple offered him a large bowl of rice and a can of water. Two men entered and stared at Slater as he ate. He finished eating, stood up to leave and the two men grabbed Slater’s arms.
North Korean soldiers climbed over the wall that encircled the house and aimed their guns at Slater’s head.

“I was almost relieved that I didn’t have to run anymore,” Slater says in the book.

The soldiers tormented Slater until an English-speaking general came along and questioned Slater repeatedly. Slater said he worked in supply, not as a machine gunner. He said he knew nothing about a war.

The general told Slater he would get to go home soon – but first, he was to be placed with other prisoners.
He remembers the elements vividly. “I never washed my face in four months. The clothes were all ragged.”

Slater cut his pant legs off so he could wrap them around his feet since he was without shoes. He slept in gutters and fields. Sometimes, he managed to get into buildings.

He received one bowl of rice daily, “about the size of a tennis ball,” as his meal. “Some days, it was like, three or four days before you got that,” Slater says.
He clung to hope.

And prayer, though Slater says he hardly considers himself a religious person.

“Believe me, you prayed – almost constantly,” he says. “Everybody became religious at that time. Every prisoner did, I mean.”

Oct. 20, 1950, was among the worst days in a three-month living hell. A death squad shot men outside the Sunchon Tunnel. Slater remembers seeing body parts strewn about.

He lay in a pile of dying bodies, the blood of one of his friends dripping onto Slater. The survivors waited until the North Korean squads left, and then crawled from those bodies of men they called their friends.

Slater was found at the Sunchon Tunnel Massacre on Oct. 21, 1950, and was taken to a hospital in Japan for several weeks and then returned to the United States. He was awarded the Purple Heart with cluster, the Prisoner of War Medal and the Korean Campaign Medal, among other honors.

He served the U.S. Army from 1948 to 1956, and in the late 1950s, Slater was homeless for two-and-a-half years in Illinois and in Kansas City, unable to hold a steady job.

“When I came back, my life was in shambles,” he says. “For years, I just couldn’t get anything together.”

Then he found a talent where he could remain his own boss. Slater worked in sales for nearly 40 years, setting his own schedule and selling a variety of products like cars, vacuum cleaners and many others.

“I just thank God I got through it,” says Slater, adding that he maintained a good sense of humor. “It was a struggle. It was a struggle for many years until I went to the VA Hospital in Kansas City and got into their programs. Even at that point, 22 years ago, there wasn’t that much known about PTSD.”

Slater still shares his stories in schools. He always shares a caveat with teachers and asks how much they want him to share.

Their response is often, “Tell them everything.”
“It’s history – it’s part of history that they should know,” says Slater, who always asks students where Korea is on a world map.

Nobody ever raises a hand, he says.

“It took some years for the American public to realize that it wasn’t ‘The Forgotten War,’” Slater says. “The people that had been there didn’t think of it as ‘The Forgotten War.’ It’s anything but forgotten – when you think you lost 54,000 people there in a matter of three years, it’s pretty hard to forget that.”