This land is not ours alone

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This land is not ours alone

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“No one appreciates my contribution, and no one tried to understand me. I never expected anyone to recognize me, and I’ve never been boastful. But I’ve never had a grudge against anyone or had any regret. We thought we had to do it and we did it. My dear nation, please take my youth. I fall while defending the nation from enemies for the beautiful future of the next generation. I have no regret.”

An unknown student soldier who was killed during the 1950-53 Korean War left behind a letter. Every line penetrates deep into the heart. The 2013 information session on the Korean War KIA Recovery and Identification Project was held at the National Defense Club on April 30, and a video describing the letter was shown to more than 20 attendees, including families of people killed in the war, members of the Recovery and Identification Team (RIT) and forensic scientists. When the letter was read over black-and-white footage of the Korean War, some relatives shed tears. Their tears have not dried up even to this day.

The rusty helmets, rifles, empty cartridges, bayonets and shovels excavated by the RIT were exhibited at the entrance. A total of 162,374 ROK soldiers were killed or went missing during the Korean War. Only 29,202 bodies were recovered and buried at the National Memorial. There are 133,172 soldiers whose remains are unrecovered. The lonely souls are lying in some remote valleys across the Korean Peninsula.

The excavation and recovery of the soldiers killed in the Korean War is a fight against time. It’s been 60 years since the truce and the recovery and identification process will become harder as time goes by. Large parts of our land have been developed and covered with cement, making excavation impossible. Fortunately, the Park Geun-hye administration elevated the importance of the Korean War KIA recovery and identification as a government-level project.

Beginning with excavations in Pohang and Mungyeong on March 4, the hunt for soldiers killed in action came into full swing. Last year, military authorities identified 993 bodies of ROK soldiers across the country. Moreover, the remains of two United Nations soldiers, 19 North Korean soldiers and 31 Chinese soldiers saw the light of the day after 60 years. 198 bodies have already been recovered. Six additional remains were found two days ago and six more were recovered yesterday in Changwon, South Gyeongsang Province, Chilgok, North Gyeongsang Province and Yangju, Gyeonggi Province. The land we live in does not belong to us entirely. The lives and deaths, blood and sweat, cries and cheers of people who lived in the past permeate every corner of the land. Thanks to their sacrifices and devotion, we have been able to come this far. We must honor them.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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