Korean War buddies rekindle friendship

Sixty years ago they were a couple of buff, teenage Marines who shared the frontline trenches at the end of the Korean War.

Cpl. Donald Powell, the 18-year-old kid from a town near Cincinnati, carried a Browning Automatic Rifle.

Cpl. Vito Tomasino, 19, of Long Island, N.Y., slung an M-1 rifle with two bandoliers of ammunition and three hand grenades.

They were dug in along the 38th parallel when the three-year United Nations “police action” came to halt with the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953.

They left separately in the months that followed. Like many “Always-Able, Stable-Able” buddies from Able Company, 1st Marine Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, they drifted apart over the decades.

That was how it was until last month when Powell was sifting through some black-and-white photos from his Korean War days and said to his son, “I wonder if Vito Tomasino is still around.” And his son said, “Well, let’s find out.”

With the help of the Internet, they tracked down Tomasino and gave him a call.

“We talked for 40 minutes going over old things, and then he told me he was going to make it out to Vegas,” Tomasino said.

On April 23, Tomasino picked up Powell at McCarran International Airport to spend the rest of the week remembering the “Forgotten War.”

“It was really something special. I never dreamed something like this would ever happen,” Tomasino said.

Said Powell: “I cried. You think about 60 years, and then you see this person again. The emotion is awesome.”


Looking back to when the conflict began in 1950, both Powell and Tomasino were in high school when they decided to join the Marines for different reasons.

When Powell was 17, his father gave written permission for him to join after trying to talk him out of it.

“My cousin was killed on the Inchon landing,” he said. “I told my dad, ‘I’m going to go into the Marine Corps.’ He said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘I want revenge on John.’ ”

Like Powell, Tomasino also volunteered.

“I grew up during the second world war,” Tomasino said. “I felt kind of bad that I wasn’t able to do my part. I vowed that when I got out of high school, I was going to join the Marines and go to Korea.”

When his friends asked him why, he told them, “I just didn’t want anybody else taking a bullet for me. If it was meant for me, I wanted to be there to take it. It wasn’t so much patriotism or waving of the flag. I just felt it was my job to be a part of it.”

The “bullet” never found Tomasino although he endured suspenseful nights at his listening post and survived a few mortar strikes while eating a steak near the mess tent “a week to 10 days” before the truce.

“I don’t think they were trying to hit the tent. I think were just trying to let us know they were still there,” he said.

Powell’s scariest moment happened about the same time, July 17, 1953, when their buddy Pfc. William C. Lastinger was killed on a night patrol in the area around Hill 181 near the tooth-shaped ridge they called “the Molar.”

“We went on that one patrol, and we lost two men and got about six wounded,” Powell recalled.

“We had a lieutenant that was a little goofy,” he said. “We had lost our real lieutenant who was a mustang, a man who had come up through the ranks.”

The new lieutenant, who was fresh out of the service academy, “decided he wanted to go on patrol. So he picked my platoon.”

As they approached a knoll, the point man found a trip wire across the path.

“Well, he followed that trip wire, and he got shot. Then all hell broke loose.”

The skirmish with communist soldiers ensued as Powell’s platoon defended their position.

“My scariest moment was when I was coming off that patrol and they were shooting them 76 (mm) recoilless rifles at us. That’s like a cannon,” he said. “We’re coming back through that line, and those things are hitting all over the place. … One of them hit, the next thing you know I said, ‘Oh my God, my leg.’ ”

Shrapnel hit the two ammo magazines in his pocket. “I’m glad they didn’t go off. The corpsman came down there and looked, and he said, ‘Well, I don’t see no blood, so it can’t be too bad.’ ”

The next day, his captain asked for volunteers to recover the two bodies. Powell and eight others stepped forward.

“This time I took an M-1 with me instead of my BAR,” he said. “I was just hoping somebody would stick their head up, but it didn’t happen. And then we brought them back.”


After World War II, the United States was “war weary,” Tomasino said. That is why the Korean conflict was described as a “police action” instead of the war it really was with nearly 37,000 U.S. military deaths and about 7,900 who remain unaccounted for, according to figures the Pentagon revised in 2000.

“It was understandable that the American public would not be all that enthusiastic about entering into another war so soon after World War II,” Tomasino said.

“When we got back from Korea, there were no ticker-tape parades like in World War II. We just got off the boat,” he said. “I can understand that. Still, it was a whole lot better than the guys coming back from Vietnam, what they had to go through.”

Powell said after he got home to New Richmond, Ohio, “all the kids said, ‘Where you been?’ I said, ‘I’ve been in Korea, fighting.’ They said, ‘Korea? Where’s that?’ I’m thinking, ‘They don’t know what went on over there?’ ”

Decades later he was still frustrated. “It kind of irritated me that nobody seems to know what the Korean War is or what it was all about. … It’s been forgotten.”

After the truce, Tomasino saw jets flying low over the scarred landscape and thought, “That’s what I should be doing.”

So after his honorable discharge from the Marines, he joined the Air Force and spent 22 years flying fighter jets until he retired as a major in 1978. He flew 3,000 hours in F-100 Super Sabres including 128 combat missions in Vietnam in 1964 and 1965.

“Despite how I felt about the war, I knew that what I was doing was worthwhile because I was protecting my troops on the ground,” he said.

Powell used the G.I. Bill to study electronics but decided instead to pursue a career with the Postal Service, working 30 years as a letter carrier in Cincinnati before retiring in 1989.


Today, both men say the situation in North Korea hasn’t changed much since the armistice. The country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un , like his father, continues a dictatorship. The stakes are higher now, with Kim saber-rattling his nuclear capability.

“I think that what he’s doing is pretty much the same as what his father did before him and what his grandfather did before his father,” Tomasino said.

“He’s bluffing, and he has no intention of doing anything that might cause either the South Koreans or us to fire back at him. He knows if he does that, he’s going to be committing suicide,” he said.

Powell agrees but added, “I still don’t trust the man. I wouldn’t trust him for nothing in this world. I think he’s half crazy to start with, and I think if he got mad enough, he might try to launch a nuclear weapon.”

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance Lights memorial unveiled at St. Rose hospital
A dedication ceremony was held at St. Rose to unveil a memorial and to read the names of those who died on October 1, a year ago. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Wetlands promotes 2019 Wetland Walker Program
This year the park will be celebrating the Northern Flicker. The program is designed to teach about that bird, and encourage people to visit the Wetlands and walk the same distance the bird migrates each year.
Poet’s Walk Henderson introduces storytelling
Residents enjoy a storytelling activity.
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County educators debate alternative grading systems
Spring Valley High School principal Tam Larnerd, Spring Valley High School IB coordinator Tony Gebbia and retired high school teacher Joyce O'Day discuss alternative grading systems. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Grandparents on the fire that killed three family members
Charles and Doris Smith talk about the night an apartment fire took the lives of three of their family members. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like