중앙데일리

Memories fuel admiration for modern Korea

The Commonwealth veterans stood at attention to remember comrades who fell over 50 years ago.

Apr 23,2007
Canadian veteran John Leroux, right, explains a photograph taken during the Korean War.
For foreign veterans of the Korean War, coming back to the peninsula is an emotional experience. Last week, veterans from the Commonwealth countries in the United Nations allied forces visited Korea to view the changes that had taken place since their departure. Most were astounded by what they saw. When they left Korea 50 years ago it was a bombed-out and poverty-stricken wasteland.
“It’s amazing,” said Donald Wilis, who was part of the first Canadian battalion to fight here. “I was in awe. I never thought Korea would amount to anything.”
Canadian Ambassador Marius Grinius had the Canadian veterans to his home in Sungbuk-dong for a buffet supper. The ambassador’s residence overlooks the stunning urban skyline that is modern-day Seoul, offering a breathtaking reminder of what has taken place in the half century since they left.
Leo Joseph recalled that when he boarded the ship in Seattle it was March 1, 1953. “It was my 19th birthday,” he said, commenting that he was lucky enough to have arrived toward the end of the fight.
“When all the North Koreans and Chinese came out of their holes [after fighting ended], it was like the hills were swarming with ants,” said Wilis. “We said, ‘My God! We held all them off?’”
Some of the memories were more difficult to relay. “The North Koreans were cutting one breast off the women as they retreated so they would be unattractive to us,” he said, shaking his head. “Some of those memories just don’t leave you.”
Veteran Harry Marshall lamented the fact that the Korean War is often called the “The Forgotten War” in the West, despite the fact that 26,792 Canadian soldiers participated and 516 died. Three hundred and seventy eight of those are buried in the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan. “Up until about a year ago, the government didn’t recognize us. Now they teach it in schools,” said Marshall. In an effort to ensure that the war is not forgotten, he tours Canadian schools, giving speeches on his experiences in Korea.
Looking out at the view from the ambassador’s balcony, John Leroux became emotional. “At home and even when I was here, I always wondered why we came here,” he said. “Now, looking out at this amazing view, I know why we did.”
Two days later, in the pouring rain, the Canadians and other veterans of the British Commonwealth solemnly closed their eyes to concentrate on the sound of bagpipes and a muzzled trumpet. They stood at attention to remember fellow soldiers who had fallen half a century ago. Dressed in uniforms covered with medals, the 155 British, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian men, now in their 70s and 80s, were participating in the 56th British Commonwealth soldiers memorial event in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi province. Gapyeong was a battleground where many foreign soldiers died during attacks by the Chinese.
“These are tough men,” said Jon Steinback, an Australian, surveying his colleagues. “Rain or no rain they didn’t mind. All they cared about was showing their respect and seeing old friends.”

New Zealand veteran Ian Smith with Korean students who received scholarships from the New Zealand Scholarship Foundation.
Trevor Lynch, the 80-year-old Korea liaison officer of the New Zealand Korea Veterans Association, said many good men died for a good cause and every time he sees Korea’s progress he feels proud. For Lynch, this will be his last visit because of his age.
Ian Smith, who arrived in Korea when he was 18, said the remains of a fellow soldier, who had died not too long after arriving here, have still not been found.
“It is important to remember that the young servicemen and women of Australia and New Zealand, who responded to the UN’s call for help on behalf of South Korea, would have had very little knowledge or experience of the country they were coming to defend,” said Jane Coombs, New Zealand ambassador to Seoul, at the memorial event. “Their willingness to travel far from their homeland, to fight in a country they did not know, and for people they did not know, is a tribute to the strength of their commitment to the principles of freedom and justice.” A total of 339 Australians and 44 New Zealanders died during the Korean War.
The ambassador said South Korea’s development today contrasts sharply with North Korea, which she had visited the previous week. “The people there continue to live in extreme hardship and privation, under a leadership that is fuelled by a self-generated sense of paranoia.”
She added that she hoped the ongoing six-party talks would finally help North Koreans find a “path to peace and prosperity.”
The New Zealand and Australian embassies will be holding their own memorial event on Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.) Day at the War Memorial in Yongsan, Seoul, on Wednesday morning at 6 a.m. There will be a parade and opportunities to meet the veterans.


By Richard Scott-Ashe Contributing Writer/ Lee Ho-jeong Staff Writer [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]



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