George King visits his son Stephen and family each year from the UK. photo by Jim Cornelius
George King visits his son Stephen and family each year from the UK. photo by Jim Cornelius
The Korean War is often called “The Forgotten War.” Falling between the great conflagration of World War II and the divisive conflict in Vietnam, the 1950-53 war is not well-understood in the United States.

George King was there — as part of operations most Americans know nothing at all about. First of all, King is British. While Americans made up the bulk of the United Nations forces assisting the South Korean military in the face of a massive invasion by North Korea, many other countries sent contingents as well, including the UK.

King served in the Royal Navy — and we seldom think of Korea as a naval conflict.

King visits his son Stephen King and his family in Sisters each year, and he sat down with The Nugget last month to describe some of his experiences.

Just 17 when he joined the Royal Navy in 1947, he signed on to make some money for his family in the midst of Great Britain’s post-World War II years of austerity. He spent 3-1/2 years deployed to the Far East. He survived in support of a counterinsurgency against a Communist revolt in Malaysia, and was stationed on a frigate just off of Pusan in the desperate moments when North Korean forces had the South Koreans and UN troops routed and pushed into a corner of the south end of the peninsula known as the Pusan Perimeter.

“One of our regiments, the Gloucesters, were stuck back in the hills there, so they were fighting for their lives all the time,” King said.

His frigate bombarded the perimeter to provide support to those beleaguered troops. The fighting was intense.

“We were in the highest rise-and-falling tide in the world then,” King recalled. “When the tide ebbed and flowed, you had the bodies floating past you all the time.”

The memories of those terrible days have stuck with King all his life, as have memories of coming under fire from Chinese forces during reconnaissance missions on rivers in North Korea.

King and his fellow sailors were tasked with rowing whale boats up into rivers at the 49th parallel to conduct surveys, and reconnoiter. By this time, the Chinese had intervened in the conflict and UN forces had been pushed back again down the peninsula.

“When the sea ebbed, so did the river, so technically you were stuck on a mudbank in the middle of the river with the Chinese firing on one side and the Koreans firing on the other,” King recalled. “And of course, you were sitting ducks. Crazy. Frightening. Very frightening. We lost a few people like that.”

King had met a young woman named Joan Ann during his stint in the Navy, and he left the service to marry her.

“You don’t have family life in the Navy,” he said. “You’re away all the time.”

Despite having come back from war “a nervous wreck” by his own estimation, King built a successful life for himself in the insurance business. He remembers Joan Ann, whom he lost to cancer, with great fondness.

Aside from family, his great passion in life has been music and performance.

“I have been entertaining for over 60 years,” he said. “At the moment, I’m with two choirs and an opera group.”

He’s performed with the Bristol Light Opera Club, doing Gilbert & Sullivan material and the like — which he delights in.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s been so nice.”

Stephen King, who is well known in the Sisters community for his business activities and service on the Sisters School Board, came to the U.S. from the Channel Islands with a company he was working with.

“That’s when we lost him,” his father said with a wry smile.

George has been visiting the U.S. once a year since. He greatly enjoys Sisters.

“I love it here,” he said. “I love going around the area. We go to the Rodeo, of course. I always enjoy it.”

The Kings attend Sisters Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, where George feels most welcomed.

“It’s very nice,” he said. You get to know everybody. Very nice indeed.”