[Viewpoint] ‘Forgotten war’ must be remembered

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[Viewpoint] ‘Forgotten war’ must be remembered

In the United States, the Korean War is often referred to as the “forgotten war.”

Why would America forget a war in which hundreds of thousands of young Americans were killed or injured?

While there is no good explanation, the Americans grew tired of the Vietnam War, which lasted more than a decade from the 1960s into the ’70s, so the media may have intentionally stopped mentioning the Korean War.

However, no matter how often the media claims it’s been forgotten, Americans can hardly forget the Korean War. Many Americans whom I encountered in the United States remember the Korean War and are trying very hard not to forget about it.

As, at the government’s request, I organized the list of the U.S. Air Force pilots who participated in the Korean War, I could confirm a few new facts about it.

Major League Baseball player Ted Williams, who batted over .400 in a season and is often considered one of the five best players in history, left the game to participate in the Korean War as a fighter pilot. In fact, he also enlisted in the middle of the baseball season during World War II, when he then, too, fought as a pilot.

Maj. Gen. Stephen Sargeant of the U.S. Air Force is a close friend of mine, and his father served at the K-1 U.S. Air Base, today’s Gimhae Air Base, as a transport plane pilot during the Korean War. Coincidentally, my father worked at the same base.

The relationship between Korea and the United States that began during the Korean War is continued to the next generation.

When I was working for Manufacturers Hanover Corporation in New York more than 30 years ago, an executive named Morgan Proctor was especially nice to me. When Korea had a hard time raising funds in the international financial market in the early 1980s, he worked hard to make sure Korea could get funding.

He had expressed special attention and affection for Korea, and he, too, had participated in the Korean War as a fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force.

Moreover, when I play golf at a country club or shop for groceries in the United States, many Americans come up and greet me when they find out I am Korean. Even when I visit small cities, I meet many Americans who say they or their relatives participated in the Korean War. Whenever I meet the Korean War veterans, I could see that the Korean War and Korea still remain in the memories of Americans.

While the media calls the Korean War “forgotten,” Hollywood has produced a number of movies based on the Korean War.

“Pork Chop Hill,” starring Gregory Peck and George Peppard, is about the 234 Hill Battle, which became a decisive moment in the recapture of the Cheolwon fields during the stalemate of truce negotiations at Panmunjom.

“Battle Hymn” is based on the true story of Col. Dean Hess, a U.S. Air Force transport plane pilot played by Rock Hudson. Colonel Hess had evacuated more than 1,000 war orphans to Jeju Island during the Jan. 4 retreat. He founded an orphanage on Jeju Island, and when he came back to the United States and became a pastor, he donated operating funds to the orphanage every year.

“The Hunters” is about the air battles of F-86 Sabre fighters defending Korea from attacks by MiG fighters. Robert Mitchum, Robert Wagner and Richard Egan played the U.S. Air Force pilots.

William Holden and Grace Kelly starred in “The Bridges at Toko-ri.” Currently, films on the withdrawal from Heungnam and the Jangjeonho Battle are in production in Hollywood.

The U.S. Library of Congress has more than 1,000 books on the Korean War. When the Korean War is so well documented in books and films in the United States, I wonder how active Korea, the very interested party of the war, is in keeping records of the conflict.

Maybe because it is a story of ourselves and our families and we are all involved in it, Koreans have not written much about the war. Gen. Paik Sun-yup’s “My Experience of the Korean War and the Republic of Korea,” a series published by the JoongAng Ilbo at the beginning of the year, is a truly precious record.

At one corner of Grand Central Station in New York, you can find a space where senior citizens can record their experiences freely. Amazingly moving true stories are being recorded in the time capsule. NBC’s Tom Brokaw compiled these stories in his best-selling book, “The Greatest Generation.”

The experience and wisdom of one generation’s pain and suffering can become a precious foundation for the development of the following generation. We need to systematically keep records of the experiences of the Koreans who had personally lived through the Korean War. It must not become a forgotten war to Koreans.

*The writer is an honorary chairman of the U.S. Air Force Association’s MiG Alley chapter.

by Kim Su-ryong


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