A stranger in London deserving of gratitudeI never really thought much about the Korean War, and the sacrifices made by the foreigners who fought here, until a few years ago, when I was in London visiting a friend.
I had gone alone to the Tate Museum, and was resting on a bench in an exhibition hall after a few hours of taking in the art. Suddenly an elderly gentleman with a cane limped over to me, said hello and asked where I was from. His eyes lit up when I told him "Korea."
He told me that he had fought in the Korean War, then asked if I would join him for a coffee down in the museum's cafeteria.
We talked for about an hour as we sipped coffee. He seemed really happy to talk to someone about his experiences in Korea. He told me about the places he had been, and how he remembered Koreans as being wonderful and dignified people. Also, he explained that his leg was injured in the war by a bomb explosion, and that's why he walked with a cane.
Unfortunately, I didn't recognize most of the place-names he told me about, and couldn't really talk knowledgeably about the war. In my family, we never talk about the war; my parents don't remember it and nobody in my family is from the North or wound up in the North afterward.
So, as I thanked the British gentleman for the coffee and the company, I felt like I had let him down somehow.
After returning to Korea, I resolved to learn more about the war. In a history book I read how British forces came in to help the Americans in November 1950 after the massive counterattack by the Chinese. I read how a Royal Marine commando force of 1,000 troops sent up near the Chosin Reservoir to repel the Chinese was ambushed, and only 350 survived. I imagined the gentleman I met at the Tate as a young man and part of that force, fighting far from home, watching his friends being killed.
Seeing a real face from the Korean War really changed my attitude about our history, and made me truly grateful for the sacrifices that so many people have made for Korea's freedom.
We must never forget them, the American, British and other soldiers who made up the UN forces, as well as our own Korean veterans. They are all heroes.
by Seo Ji-hyung
The writer, a graduate of Sogang University, works for a fashion accessories retailer.