John Robert McWaters was born in Perry, Georgia on January 31, 1934. A trained Combat Engineer, he began his time in Korea as a corporal. After attending advanced infantry training, he enlisted in the army and was initially stationed in Japan while preparing for a landing at Busan, Korea. As part of the 7th Infantry Division, he saw a great deal of Korea, eventually fighting in battles above the DMZ. He fought in the Battle of Old Baldy, worked with the Colombian army on various assignments, and helped many Koreans evacuate Hungnam and board the SS Meredith Victory. Later, he was elected President of KWVA Chapter 169 of The Villages, Florida, which at one time had over two-hundred members and was the largest KWVA chapter in the United States. He also established the Tell America program, which educates high school-aged students about the Korean War.
Korea, Then and Now
John McWaters compares his memories of Korea in the 1950s and Korea today. When he left Korea after the war, there were only three buildings still standing in Seoul. When he returned in 2016, he witnessed a very modern and highly developed city. He shares how continuously impressed he is by the changes Korea is undergoing.
Why Should We Study the Korean War?
John McWaters talks about why he believes students need to learn about Korea, and why it has become known as the forgotten war. He reflects on his experiences talking to high school students about the Korean War. He wants to correct the public perception of the forgotten war and frame it as an important victory, as we saved a fine country and enabled it to become the impressive nation is it today. He also recollects the brilliant reception he received from South Koreans on his Revisit Korea trip.
Origins of the Tell America Program
John McWaters describes the Tell America program, a program in which Korean War Veterans go into high school classrooms in central Florida to teach students about the Korean War. National Geographic provided maps for the program, which immediately sent him down memory lane. He remembered the towns and villages he visited. Thanks to the maps, he was able to grow the program.
While in the Combat Engineer Battalion
John McWaters shares that while near Heungnam, he provided jackhammers and an air compressor truck to some marines who needed help breaking up large rocks. He reported to General Oliver Prince Smith and assisted him with running the equipment. He recalls the general looking up and thanking god for his help.