GLOCESTER – The annual Ancients and Horribles Parade will be led by a special Grand Marshall this year: Korean War Veteran Commander Richard Mende, 91.
“All you basically do is lead the parade,” downplayed Mende. “I guess they said, ‘we need to find someone.'”
Mende, born in Rhode Island, was drafted in 1952 into the U.S. Army and deployed to Japan at first, before being reassigned from infantry to engineers and shipped to Korea. Assigned to the 54th Engineer Field Maintenance Company, he spent 16 months in Korea providing needed supplies to allied units. He finished his tour in 1954 and was discharged. He serves as the commander for the local Korean War Veterans of America.
Looking back, Mende says he was just glad to be able to help out at the time.
“It’s something I look back at, and I am glad I was able to be there to help,” says Mende.
President Harry Truman referred to the clash as a “conflict” at the time. Mende, however, says it was no, “conflict.” It was, “a full blown war.”
“I think it was because it was so soon after World War II,” Mende recalls. “They didn’t want to call it a war. It was a terrible war.”
According to Brittanica.com, the Korean War began with the invasion of South Korea by North Korea in June, 1950, eventually drawing in support for North Korea from both China and the Soviet Union, with the United States supporting South Korea’s independence. United Nations forces were also involved. Over 2.5 million people died in the conflict.
“I got to know Korea well,” Mende said. “I’m glad I was able to get back in one piece.”
Some people still remember, he adds.
“Korean people think the world of us,” he said. “They come up to us and say if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be around.”
Mende said a delegate from Washington, D.C. representing South Korea recently gave additional medals to recognize Korean War veterans and the roles they played, adding that one had to have been in Korea during the war to receive them.
“I don’t wear my medals,” Mende said. “I have a number of them.”
As the years go by, there are less and less Korean vets to receive them. Mende admitted that the number of members of local chapter #3 continue to dwindle.
“We’re the only chapter left in Rhode Island still in existence,” he added.
One member passed away only a few months ago. There are only about 20 members now.
Mende said he has walked in a number of parades over the years, but the Glocester parade is his favorite. He tries not to miss it.
A vintage WWII Jeep is schedule to provide him transportation for the parade.
What will the 91-year-old Korean War Vet be thinking as he leads the parade?
“I’ll be thinking that I am very proud to be an American,” said Mende.