WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — In 1963, 24-year-old Paul Sanford was drafted into the U.S. Army. He trained to become a radar specialist, preparing for a risky task in one of the most dangerous places in the world.
“We’d be actually in the middle of the DMZ on a South Korean outpost monitoring what the North Koreans were doing,” Sanford said.
As his radar unit’s leader, Sanford regularly led three men on a mile-long trek from base camp to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
“The main part of the, the radar that we had to carry was, was, was pretty heavy. The base part of it is, is a round, big round almost like tube,” Sanford said.
Each of Sanford’s patrols was under cover of darkness.
“At that time, according to the cease-fire agreement, there wasn’t supposed to be any new equipment or Americans in the DMZ,” Sanford said. “We could actually holler a little bit, and you could hear the North Koreans in, on their outpost across from you.”
Sanford carefully monitored the static coming from his equipment, learning each sound as one would learn a foreign language.
“The ground radar was pretty sensitive to movement and stuff. You could tell a Jeep, you could tell a truck, you could tell a tank,” Sanford said.
Sanford says one sound, in particular, haunts him the most.
“The people walking, it depends on where they were and what they were doing,” Sanford said.
Sanford says his unit saw multiple close calls.
“The two times that we had them come across the DMZ a little bit, they came across out, out of our radar where we were. They come across from a different angle, and so we didn’t know they were there until we started getting shot at. We shot back until the shooting quit, but none of us ever got hit,” Sanford said.
But it wasn’t just gunfire Sanford had to worry about.
“The DMZ is probably the most heavily mined, one of the most heavily mined areas in the country still today even after the war. Animals would set off mines almost every night,” Sanford said.
Despite the dangers he faced, Sanford says he has no regrets about his time in the service.
“I’d go back and do the same thing again,” Sanford said. “I’m proud that I can say I served in the U.S. Army, and so, I, I don’t think I would change anything.”
After 14 months in Wichita, Sanford was discharged from active duty. He was put in standby reserves where he stayed until 1969. He went on to become a state commander and a national vice commander with the American Legion.
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