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War veterans return to Korea

On May 24, a group of former soldiers and their families crowd around an outdoor exhibit of faded photos at the Memorial Hall for the Incheon Landing Operation. A month ahead of the 62nd anniversary of the Korean War, the veterans from the United States, Denmark, and the Philippines are paying their first visit back to Korea since their service in the United Nations Command some 60 years ago.

Flanked by a towering 46-ton M-47 tank, an armored amphibian LVT, and various guns and other weaponry used during the pivotal September 1950 invasion of Incheon under General Douglas MacArthur, the visitors exchange stories about where they were that day.

The Memorial Hall for the Incheon Landing Operation (left) displays artillery and tanks used during the famed 1950 operation. A U.S. veteran (right) stands in front of a list of names of fallen soldiers at the War Memorial of Korea (photos courtesy of the Ministry of Patriots' and Veterans' Affairs).

"I wasn't at Incheon, but I remember hearing about it," says U.S. veteran Carlos Quijano, who points out on a nearby map the area by the 38th parallel where he was stationed in 1952. At the sound of papers fluttering in the wind, Quijano looks over to see a wall covered from top to bottom with handwritten letters and cards in both Korean and English.

A Korean student volunteer explains that the hundreds of letters are messages of gratitude for the soldiers who fought during the war, written by Korean visitors to the memorial. Quijano, who was injured during his service, stands in silence for a moment.

"You've done a great job with the country, you and your people," he says. "It's amazing, what you've built. I'm proud to have been a part of the beginnings, but it wasn’t us -- you did it."

Old memories and new discoveries

Quijano is among 122 veterans and family members who arrived in Korea on May 20 for a five-day invitational tour organized by the Ministry of Patriots’ and Veterans’ Affairs. The veterans stopped at sites such as the War Memorial of Korea, the Seoul National Cemetery, and the Demilitarized Zone in Panmunjom to pay their respects to fellow soldiers who lost their lives during the war and to gain a better understanding of the current state of affairs on the peninsula they left behind so many years ago.

Scenes from the five-day visit by Korean War veterans and their families, clockwise from top left: a model depicting the Incheon Landing Operation; U.S. veteran Carlos Quijano listens to a presentation about Korea's development; the wife of a veteran wears Hanbok during a commemorative ceremony; thank-you messages cover a wall at the Memorial Hall of the Incheon Landing Operation (photos courtesy of the Ministry of Patriots' and Veterans' Affairs).

"I was stationed at Panmunjom during the signing of the armistice, not more than a hundred feet away from where they were carrying out the negotiations," says U.S. veteran Edward Aloe. Aloe, who arrived in Korea in 1953, tells his son Steve, who has come with him on this trip, how he and the other soldiers at Panmunjom had waited for hours on end for news about progress in the negotiations.

"I remember what Seoul was like when I was here," continues Aloe. Together with the other veterans, Aloe and his son spent a large part of the previous day traveling to the capital city's traditional and modern landmarks.

"I remember the dirt roads, the ruins, the damage caused by all of the fighting. It's completely different today," remarks Aloe. "To see what the city looks like today is just enchanting -- it's enough to take your breath away."

On the 22nd, the veterans took part in a traditional incense-burning ceremony at the Seoul National Cemetery to honor the fallen soldiers. Stopping next at the War Memorial of Korea, the group was met by over 200 local preschoolers waving flags and waiting to present them with carnations. Several families traveled also to the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan to pay their respects to their relatives and friends buried there.

At Seoul National Cemetery (left), veterans pay tribute to the memory of fallen soldiers at an incense-burning ceremony (right) (photos courtesy of the Ministry for Patriots' and Veterans' Affairs).

On the bus ride to Panmunjom the next day, the veterans were accompanied by 30 students from a local girls' high school. During the trip back and forth from the DMZ, the former soldiers shared stories about their service with these members of Korea's next generation, also exchanging with them their impressions of Korea’s present as well as its not-too-distant history.

“I always wanted to come back,” says veteran Walter Lynch, who served in the U.S. Navy as part of the fleet that headed to Busan from the waters off of Japan in 1951. Lynch explains how his daughter and son back home in the U.S. weren’t surprised when they heard that he was finally making a trip back to Korea.

“I have always been proud of my service and my family and friends have known it and been proud with me,” continues Lynch. “I always imagined that I’d come back. I wanted to see how things had changed. And boy, have they changed.”

Left: A veteran looks across to North Korea from Dora Observatory at the DMZ. Right: A veteran is greeted by a local preschooler at a special event at the War Memorial of Korea (photos courtesy of the Ministry for Patriots' and Veterans' Affairs).

An unforgettable legacy

The Revisit Korea program for veterans who served in the Korean War began in 1975, and as of 2011, a total of 28,500 veterans and their family members have come to Korea as guests of the program. In April, over 200 veterans from the armed forces of the British Commonwealth visited Korea, paying tribute at ceremonies commemorating the Battle of the Imjin River and the Battle of Kapyong, both of which saw UN brigades of mostly Commonwealth soldiers staving off the Chinese offensive in April 1951.

Also in April, as part of the Revisit Korea program, the ashes of Canadian Korean War veteran Archibald Hearsey were brought to Korea to be placed, according to his last wish, alongside those of his older brother Joseph Hearsey, who died in battle in 1951 and is buried at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan. Over 200 Canadian officials, veterans, and veterans’ families attended a special ceremony held by the Ministry of Patriots’ and Veterans’ Affairs to commemorate the return.

Veterans from the United States, the Philippines, and Denmark pay their respects at the Seoul National Cemetery (photo courtesy of the Ministry for Patriots' and Veterans' Affairs).

On June 24, 121 veterans and their families from the United States, Turkey, Ethiopia, and Colombia arrived in Korea as part of the Revisit Korea program, and will be taking part in various events throughout the week to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the war.

“All of the soldiers who came to Korea as members of the UN forces risked their lives for the peace and security of our country,” said President Lee Myung-bak at a meeting with 200 Colombian veterans and veterans’ family members on June 24 during his state visit to Colombia. “The Korean people will never forget your sacrifice, and you will be remembered forever with the deepest gratitude in our hearts.”

Participation by UN forces in the Korean War was the first collective action taken by the UN in accordance with “the principle of collective security” stipulated in the UN Charter. A total of 21 countries participated in the war efforts. Sixteen countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Canada, Turkey, and Australia dispatched combat troops, and the other five countries, including Denmark, India, Italy, and Norway, sent medical units and humanitarian assistance.

More information on the history of the Korean War and events honoring war veterans can be found in the About Korea menu ( and the website of the Ministry of Patriots’ and Veterans’ Affairs (

By Kwon Jungyun Staff Writer

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