Sandwiched between the worldwide devastation of World War II and the lengthy involvement in Vietnam, the Korean War can get lost in the folds of history.
The conflict has even been given the nickname the “Forgotten War.” But the service of the men stationed in the bitter cold and brutal terrain, and the more than 35,000 U.S. soldiers who died in the fighting, are a vital piece of history.
On the 63rd anniversary of the armistice signed ending the Korean War, one Greenwood veteran is helping to ensure the stories of those who served are preserved forever.
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Dr. Byford Lee Reed’s experiences in the war are preserved in the newest addition to the Indiana Historical Society’s Korean Digital Collection. The photographs, cards and letters to home that the 87-year-old kept in his attic will augment the society’s growing representation from the Korean War, a collection of more than 200 items from five Indiana veterans of the conflict.
“I am pleased to be part of the Korean story,” said Reed in a statement released by the historical society.
Reed, a longtime Greenwood dentist, was 23 years old when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He had grown up in the small town of Lamar, in southern Indiana, and had excelled at track, football and basketball in high school.
He had just graduated from Indiana State University when he learned he had been drafted to fight in Korea. Reed was assigned to the 15th Field Artillery Regiment, which was in charge of the massive 105-millimeter howitzers that provided artillery support for troops on the front lines.
Reed’s letters and photographs capture his time preparing for battle in Japan, then serving in Korea from 1952 to 1953. Soldiers are dressed in heavy parkas and fur-lined coats, the jagged mountains in the background.
One photograph shows fortified mountain bunkers covered in snow with a rugged Jeep parked nearby. Members of the 15th Field Artillery Regiment stand in front of the ruins of a Korean town.
But at the same time, Reed’s images capture the camaraderie and resourcefulness he and his fellow soldiers used to get through the difficult war. A series of photographs display some of the soldiers dressed up as women, laughing as they perform a show onstage.
Gathered in their tent one night, another image reveals a smiling group of young men drinking beer and blowing off steam.
“These photographs and letters that Dr. Reed had were just wonderful — filled with information and the Hoosier experience in the Korean War,” said Kathy Mulder, a digital resources assistant at the Indiana Historical Society.
The letters don’t reveal intricate details of the war, but instead show the day-to-day experience of being a soldier in Korea.
At the same time, his missives show how important maintaining that connection to home was during combat. Writing to his mother, he gave updates on when he received care packages, the weather they were experiencing and what kind of food to send.
“In reading some of the letters, you get a sense of what the daily life was like as a story in the U.S. military,” Mulder said. “A lot of it is the daily activities. Even though he’s in this very stressful situation in war, he still writes to his mother several times a month and still has this aspect of ‘life as usual.’”
When he returned from war in 1953, Reed earned a doctorate in dental surgery from Indiana University and opened his practice in Greenwood. He and his wife were married in 1957, and he worked as a dentist for 50 years before retiring in 2009.
Reed had kept the mementos from the war in a box in his attic for more than 60 years. But as he and his family prepared to move to a smaller home, the items were uncovered again.
Rather than keep them in storage, his family convinced him to share his history.
“Rather than bring these items to our new home when we moved and put them away, they could possibly be of interest to someone. That’s why we wanted to donate them,” said Jessie Reed, Byford Reed’s wife.
The Reed family worked with the Indiana Historical Society to donate the materials. Preservationists prepared the photographs and letters to be stored in the history center’s library, and Mulder helped digitally preserve some of the most important items.
More than 100 photographs and letters from Reed can be accessed on the historical society’s website. The donation helps bolster the society’s growing collection of Korean War materials, which becomes important as veterans from that war get older, Mulder said.
“It’s important that we’re collecting these things now because the men that did serve are getting close to the age where they either did already pass away or are getting older,” she said. “We want to collect the materials when they can still share some of their story.”
Byford Lee Reed
Family: Wife, Jessie; children, Julie, Stacy, Phil, and Brad.
Job: Retired in 2009 after being a Greenwood dentist for 50 years
Education: Graduated from Indiana State University in 1950; earned a doctorate of dental surgery from Indiana University in 1960.
Military service: Drafted into the U.S. Army; served with the 15th Field Artillery Battalion in the Korean War from 1952 to 1953.