U.S. veterans of Korean War revisit for 1st time

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U.S. veterans of Korean War revisit for 1st time

For the first time in 61 years, nine U.S. veterans who fought during the 1950-53 Korean War visited Korea on Oct. 11 to see how much the nation they were willing to sacrifice their lives for has changed.

The veterans, now all in their 80s, became emotional during the nine-day trip, during which they saw how Korea has developed since the conflict that left it devastated.

George Rothfritz, 82, who used to be a U.S. Army technician, pulled out a 61-year-old picture at the Joint Security Area (JSA) - a part of the demilitarized zone that splits North and South Korea - on the fourth day of their trip. The photograph showed an empty field instead of the two buildings that currently stand there, which host truce talks between Pyongyang and Seoul.

“I never imagined that Korea would split into South and North back then,” said Rothfritz, pointing at the bridge that lies across the military demarcation line - also known as the Bridge of No Return.

Lee Suk-chan, head of the Korea Youth Association of America, came up with the idea to arrange a trip for the senior veterans.

“I wanted to provide the opportunity for American veterans who are 80 or more as their first and last visit to Korea,” Lee said.

Kenneth Thomas Florio, 84, stood at the stone monument where the names of UN veterans who died during the war were carved. He scanned it for a while until he found the name of a soldier he knew.

“He was my friend from the Bronx, New York City,” Florio said, pointing at the inscription. He stayed there a while.

During the third day of the trip, Jerome M. Rice, 82, burst into tears while singing along to military songs with former Korean Marine soldiers at the memorial tower in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi.

“The United States and Korean Marine Corps are brothers,” Rice, a former U.S. Marine, said. “I’m so glad to meet my brothers here.”

The senior veterans were invited to Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon’s office on the sixth day of the trip.

“This is my first time to have a meeting with U.S. war veterans since my inauguration,” Park said. “‘The Miracle on the Han River’ was possible thanks to your sacrifices. I wanted to express my gratitude.

“I have wanted to do something meaningful for the senior U.S. veterans because Uijeongbu city has the highest number of U.S. Army bases in Korea,” he said.

Uijeongbu plans to sponsor the refurbishment of a Korean War monument in Hudson County, New Jersey.

BY SEO HAN-SEO [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]

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