Fri, Jul 25, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Veterans look back at Korean War


Visitors yesterday look at a giant bronze memorial in Seoul, which will be dedicated on July 27 to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the 1950 to 1953 Korean War.


Fifty years after the last shots in the Korean War were fired, the bullet lodged in the bone of his right arm keeps the 1950 to 1953 conflict alive for Kim Kyung-Ho, 73.

As battles raged across the Korean peninsula, Kim was clinging to a ridge on a North Korean mountain in October 1951, exchanging fire with a Chinese soldier taking cover behind a rock some 30m away.

"As I was focusing on him, I lost sight of another one who shot me," he said of the firefight that occurred near Kumgang mountain on the east coast just north of today's inter-Korean border.

He and other South Korean veterans recall vivid memories of the war, many hoping the horror will never be repeated and that tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons drive will be defused peacefully.

Some veterans lamented what they believe was a lost chance to reunify the Korean peninsula under the South when the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. But others say they felt only relief that the fighting was over.

For Kim, the war will never be a "Forgotten War" as it has been commonly dubbed in the West.

"I still have that slug embedded in the bone here," he said, pulling up a sleeve and pointing to a deep scar on his right arm. "How could it become a forgotten war for me?"

He was among the lucky ones. The fighting in 1951 was so fierce, he recalled, that of the 126 men in his South Korean army company, only 30 survived six months on the battle field.

"We all fought like hell to take one inch more of land," he said.

He was recovering from war wounds at home when he heard the news that an armistice was finally signed between North Korea and China on the one side and the US-led UN Command on the other.

"I was so angry and disappointed ... We lost a chance to advance north and reunify Korea," he said.

The government of then South Korean President Syng-Man Rhee strongly opposed a ceasefire, insisting it would fight on alone rather than accept a truce that did not provide for the reunification of Korea under the South.

As a truce appeared imminent in June 1953, the South Korean Army organized a mass breakout of more than 27,000 "converted" North Korean prisoners of war in an attempt to wreck the armistice, according to historians.

Hundreds of North Korean POWs died and many others were wounded as US guards attempted to prevent them from scaling walls at seven prison camps across the country in the breakout on the night of June 18, 1953.

Song Chang-Sup, 71, lost a leg as he and North Korean comrades came under machinegun fire from US marines as they were scaling barbed wire at the Bupyeong POW camp south of Seoul.

"I have no hard feelings against the US but I think it should at least recognize the pain we have been suffering for the past 50 years and offers us words of condolence," Song said.

Both Song and Park Jae-Man, another North Korean who remained in South Korea after the war, said they were admirers of US General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the UN forces in South Korea in the early stages of the war.

He was sacked by then US president Harry Truman as the general wanted to expand the war into Manchuria in northern China.

"If Washington had listened to him, we would have been living in a unified Korea now," Song said.

However, South Korean veteran Park Chong-Ha presented a different view of war and peace 50 years ago.

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