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Article updated: 6/24/2011 11:57 AM

St. Viator, bank collaborate on Korean War memoirs

Kim Romano, 16, a senior at St. Viator High School, searches through “Lest We Forget,” for the chapter she wrote about Korean War veteran Don Smith. Smith, 78, of Prospect Heights, served in Korea in 1953 and 1954.

Kim Romano, 16, a senior at St. Viator High School, searches through "Lest We Forget," for the chapter she wrote about Korean War veteran Don Smith. Smith, 78, of Prospect Heights, served in Korea in 1953 and 1954.


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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After interviewing Roger Steingraber, Eileen Mallof understands what a sacrifice it was for a young father to serve in Korea and not see his new son for the first six months of his life.

The Korean conflict occurred thousands of miles away and almost half a century before the St. Viator High School senior was born, but she and her classmates know a lot more about it after interviewing suburban veterans.

"Lest We Forget," a book of 18 student-written memoirs of Korean War veterans, was launched Thursday night at an Arlington Heights village hall celebration where The Peoples' Bank and the school honored the veterans and students.

"I think it's important because they sacrificed a lot, and the families a lot also," said Mallof, impressed with Steingraber, a longtime coach and teacher in District 214. "It takes a special person to be able to do that and do it humbly and because it has to be done."

The Peoples' Bank officials got hooked on local history when they sponsored a calendar a few years ago, and then sponsored a similar book with St. Viator students about local veterans of World War II, said Frank Appleby, president. This is their latest collaboration, one he is very proud of.

"You will read about men who served as minesweepers off the Korean Shore, a soldier whose unit was encircled for over a week by Chinese adversaries, a physician who left his budding medical practice to serve, an immigrant who served before starting a career as a magician, and many others," Appleby said Thursday.

For their part, the veterans are impressed by the students, who come from an advanced American History class, and they are grateful for the book.

Their war, which started in 1950 and ended with a cease-fire three years later, came on the heels of World War II and is all but forgotten in the United States. That despite the deaths of approximately 36,000 Americans and almost 3 million people total.

"I'm very surprised," said John Meehan of Bloomingdale, who was interviewed by his granddaughter, Elizabeth Meehan of Des Plaines. "I thought that was all over with and everybody had forgotten about Korea. It brought back a lot of memories."

Steingraber, an Air Force veteran who lives in Arlington Heights, got to Korea so late he flew only six combat missions.

Meehan, meanwhile, was in the Army's military police and was close at hand during the bloody battles for Pork Chop Hill in 1953. Meehan and his granddaughter attribute his safe journey during the war to "Irish luck." He spent 11 months in the relatively cushy but boring job of standing by at Panmunjom at the demilitarized zone while peace negotiations dragged on.

Her grandfather's stories and pictures of the Korean boy who shined soldiers' shoes in exchange for food impressed Elizabeth Meehan.

"It's the human side of war," she said. "You hear this many people died in battles, but this is more human."

Steve Jensen, a St. Viator senior from Mount Prospect, also learned how important it is to appreciate those who serve when he interviewed Carl Brandon of Arlington Heights, whose seven major battles included fighting the Chinese after being surrounded for more than 17 days in a bitterly cold North Korea.

The book is available for $20 at the bank offices, 41 S. Vail Ave., and 1104 S. Arlington Heights Road, Arlington Heights. The money will pay for the book's production, and any profits will be donated to honor veterans.

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