By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — Editor’s note: In anticipation of today’s Celebrate America event at Black Squirrel Golf Club, The Goshen News has profiled local Korean War -era veterans the past several days. We hope you enjoyed getting to know some of our local unsung heroes. Today’s event begins at 6:30 p.m. with a concert and a program honoring veterans. Fireworks will start around 10:15 p.m.
War changes things. That’s a statement Goshen brothers Lyle and Don Burtsfield know all too well.
Born in the early 1930s — Don in 1932 and Lyle in 1933 — the Burtsfield brothers were raised in a little home along U.S. 33 on Goshen’s south side with very little exposure to the outside world. That all changed with the arrival of the Korean War in 1950.
As the oldest of the two brothers, Don was first to enter the military, joining the Air Force in 1952. He went on to complete his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
“I’d never been away from home before,” Don said of the experience. “It was totally new to me. Then after that I went to school to learn how to build radio towers.”
Following basic training, Don worked for three months in California with a firefighting detail before being transferred to Washington, D.C., where he would remain until March of 1953.
“That’s when I was sent to Iceland,” Don said. “The war was going pretty strong then, and they sent me up there to build radio towers. We ended up being there for about five and a half months. You’d think Iceland would be bad as far as the weather, but actually the average temperature is 52 degrees. I do remember the first day of summer up there, though. We all stayed up, naturally, because the sun never sets. I’d never seen anything like it.”
After completing his radio tower work in Iceland, Don returned once again to the states where he was transferred to Massachusetts for another radio tower construction project.
“That’s where I finished up,” Don said of his military service. “I got home in December of 1955.”
Looking back on the nearly 60 years that have passed since his service during the Korean War, Don said he is proud of his time spent in the military and sees it as an experience that all young people today should have.
“If for nothing else, just to see how it is out there, to see how the rest of the world lives,” Don said. “And it’s just good training. I mean, just look at me. I’d never been nowhere before my military service. It kind of opens your eyes to things.”
For Lyle, his service with the military began in 1954 with his entry into the Army.
“I was 21 at the time,” Lyle said. “I volunteered for the draft. There were about six or seven of us from the area that went in at the same time.”
After making it through basic training in Missouri, Lyle left for South Korea in the fall of 1954, spending his first six months in Pusan before being transferred to Seoul. With the armistice having been signed in 1953, South Korea was in a period of reconstruction at the time of Lyle’s arrival in the county.
“I was a heavy equipment mechanic,” Lyle said. “The outfit I was in, they built roads and stuff, and we took care of the equipment so they could do that.”
Due to his arrival after the armistice, Lyle was fortunate never to have encountered any fighting during his military service.
“The fighting was over when I got there, so it wasn’t all bad,” Lyle said. “It was still not good up at the 38th Parallel (the division between North and South Korea), but where we was at, it was pretty decent. It wasn’t like home, of course, but we made due with what we had.”
Lyle’s military service officially ended in January 1956, a month after his anticipated discharge date of December 1955.
“We were supposed to come back in December, but they ended up sending a bunch of Koreans home so they could see how Christmas was here in the states,” Lyle said. “So we stayed over in Korea for another month, and they got to come home.”
Looking back now at his time in the military, Lyle said he’s proud of his time spent in the Army and thankful of the experience.
“I’m glad I went,” Lyle said. “There was no fighting when I was there, so it wasn’t too bad of a deal. Even if I’d had to go earlier, though, I’d probably have went anyway. But it worked out all right in the end.”
Today both Don and Lyle live within a mile of each other along C.R. 44.