When the Korean War erupted on June 25, 1950 — 68 years ago in June 2018 — Master Sgt. Thomas B. Hutton soon found himself serving there with the Eighth U.S. Army as a first sergeant in an automotive maintenance unit, duty that gave him a rare chance to see the land and people of Korea up close as the country went about its daily life amid the privations and perils of war.
Hutton was an avid photographer and during 1952, he turned his 35 mm lens to preserving what he saw, snapping hundreds of photos — in color — that afford a rare look and feel of the country at that time.
The photos show ordinary people — country folk and city dwellers — going about their daily tasks — washing clothes in a river, bustling past a railroad station, making their way down a country road, standing in a rice field and watching a passing train haul tanks to some distant railhead.
Hutton died in 1988 and hundreds of his slides ended up in the Texas home of one of his daughters. As it happened, her son was Army Col. Brandon D. Newton, who until June 2018, served two years as commander of U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud and Area I. He'd digitized his grandfather's Korean War photos, kept them on his smartphone, and one day in 2017 showed them to a Korean Army sergeant major who sat next to him at an informal dinner.
The sergeant major was amazed. Color photos of the Korean War were rare enough, but these truly captured Korea's history. They showed what the country looked like. What the people looked like. And they even included rare shots of some of the earliest members of two organizations that are part of the U.S.-South Korean military alliance to this day: the Korean Service Corps and the KATUSAs — South Korean Soldiers who serve shoulder-to-shoulder with U.S. Soldiers in U.S. Army units in Korea.
When the sergeant major asked Newton if he'd be willing to donate the photos to the Korean Army, Newton immediately said yes and soon gave the slides — 239 images — to the Korean Army.
The Korean Army was thrilled and got right to work on trying to pin down where the photos were taken and just what they showed. To get it right, they enlisted the aid of professors, museum curators and other experts.
Then on June 5, 2018 Newton, his wife and son were the guests of the Korean Army's Personnel Command in Gyeryong, South Chungcheong Province, for an exhibition of some of Hutton's photos and a ceremony marking the donation.
The photos will be preserved in the Korean army's official archives and copies would be distributed to museums and other institutions, the Korean army said during the ceremony.
During brief remarks at the ceremony, Newton said of the photos:
"First, they provide a very accurate and important history of what Korea was like in 1952, not just for the American Army, the Eighth Army, but also for the ROK army, Korean Service Corps and the KATUSAs. Second — most importantly — they demonstrate the strength of the alliance and an alliance that's been in place for 68 years. And it helps us understand that our alliance is not just about the relationship between the militaries but also between our people, between the people of the United States of America and the people of the Republic of Korea. It's a relationship that not only is about our service today but it's about spanning generations from grandfathers and fathers and sons."
This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.