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Korea sends waves of gratitude to Korean War veterans

(Photo: Yonhap News)

A big “Thank You” is the keyword for this year’s commemoration of the Korean War (1950-53). The UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan where some 2,300 fallen soldiers lie buried is receiving twice the number of visitors from home and abroad and the government has this year extended more invitations than ever to overseas veterans who fought side by side with Korean soldiers during the Korean War.

President Lee Myung-bak has already sent contributions of gratitude to major media outlets in the 21 nations that either dispatched troops to rescue South Korea or offered medical and other humanitarian assistance.

The National Assembly in a plenary session proposed a resolution of gratitude for overseas veterans and participating nations and urged the government to come up with a policy that can properly express its gratefulness on a practical level. The resolution is expected to pass at the next sitting of the assembly by the end of this month. Amid all the big functions and exhibitions prepared for the 60th anniversary here are some of the significant gestures to honor overseas veterans:

Invitation from Korea

The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs has launched a Revisit Program for overseas veterans from nine nations from June 21 to 28. About 300 veterans and their family members from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Greece, Ethiopia and Luxembourg have been taking part in attending the Korean War 60th anniversary ceremony, visiting monuments, paying respects at the National Cemetery and touring a folk village. The ministry plans to hand out a “Thank You” plaque at the end of the trip.

Veterans from Commonwealth nations like Canada, Australia and New Zealand will visit Busan on Saturday (Jun. 26) to attend the unveiling ceremony of a monument for fallen British servicemen. Dutch veterans will have a flower offering ceremony at the post of the Regiment Van Heutsz, the infantry unit from the Netherlands that fought during the war. Veterans from Luxembourg will attend their own memorial ceremony that celebrates the opening of Luxembourg booth at the Peace Memorial Site at Dongducheon, Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province) the same day.  

Since 1975 the Korean government and the Korea Veterans Association has been inviting UN veterans and their families from overseas in order to thank them for their past sacrifices and to promote Korea’s brilliant emergence from the ruins over half a century ago. A total of 26,000 people came to Korea up to 2009. This year the government plans to scale up the size, inviting some 2,400 people from 21 nations between April and November.

Meanwhile, 19 media personnel from 14 overseas media organization in 12 nations are currently on a week-long tour in Korea for the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. Invited by the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOCIS), an organ of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, TV reporters and journalists from NY1 (United States), Jyllands Posten (Denmark) and others made a trip to the UN Cemetery in Busan on Tuesday (Jan. 22).

Signboard says ‘Thank You’

Since June 21 the Times Square billboard in New York City has been displaying an advertisement from Korea that expresses Korea’s heartfelt gratitude for the 16 nations that fought with Korea during the Korean War.

The video, which opens with the image of math and calculations that effectively hints at the number of Korean War veterans from overseas, ends with a note that announces that Korea will forever be grateful. The 30-second ad organized by Korea PR expert Seo Kyoung-duk will be displayed on the CNN News billboard about 350 times for another week from today. The same ad will also be shown on another signboard on West 32nd Street, Manhattan in the area known as Koreatown.

Furthermore, the commercial is also being aired by Arirang TV and Korea TV, the two channels that specialize in Korean TV content abroad. State-run Arirang TV will broadcast the advertisement 55 times from June 24 to 30. The private channel Korea TV, set up for Korea fans in the Middle East and Africa will display this ad 56 times during the same period.

In Atlanta, a Korean-American named Park Sun-geun erected his own billboard that expressed thanks to the noble cause of the Korean War veterans. The signboard set up alongside highway I-85 since June 16 reads “Americans Died to Defend South Korean's Freedom. South Koreans say…THANK YOU AMERICA!”

The signboard also depicts an American flag and a man in a Korean traditional hat -- symbolizing Korea and America -- holding up a torch of freedom. The signboard will stay there till July 20. Park is also planning a similar billboard for in Los Angeles, where the biggest Korean-American community can be found.

Returning the favor

(Photo: Yonhap News)

In 2002 officials of the Veterans Ministry and Korea Meteorological Administration came together to offer scholarships to descendants of Korean War veterans in Ethiopia. Since then it has become a state-run project that has come to assist students in the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa, Columbia and even a few others living in developed countries. Other government agencies including the Prime Minister’s Office and Seoul Metropolitan City have also expressed their willingness to participate.

Hwacheon County in Gangwon-do (Gangwon Province), which is currently supporting 61 descendants of Korean War veterans in Ethiopia, announced plans to extend its assistance to not only first generation children but also those of second and third generation. 

Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province) extended 30 million won to the international relief agency World Vision for building a well and improving school facilities in Ethiopia. Ethiopia dispatched 6,037 troops to Korea. The war left 536 wounded and 124 dead.

By Kim Hee-sung Staff Writer

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