A once-forgotten war highlighted in tribute

Ceremony: The Korean War is the focus of the Veterans Day event held at Baltimore's memorial to the conflict.

November 12, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Some call it the forgotten war, but for Crofton resident Paul E. Kim, the description is anything but accurate.

"It's memories all my life," said Kim, 73, a former South Korean Army soldier who fought alongside American troops to protect his homeland from communism. A bullet found him during a ambush by a Chinese unit, and Kim believes he is fortunate to be alive.

"My young days are there," Kim says of the Asian peninsula where the United States fought for three years in a conflict never elevated beyond the status of police action by President Harry S. Truman. "I lost my high school classmates."

Yesterday, Kim participated in a Veterans Day ceremony in Baltimore that focused on the Korean War, a half-century after its end. In recent years, veterans say, Americans have grown to appreciate sacrifices made half a world away, and the Department of Defense recently completed a yearlong commemoration of the conflict.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told a crowd of 200 buffeted by brisk winds at the waterfront Maryland Korean War Memorial in Canton that the war held special significance because it marked the first time that desegregated American military forces fought and lived together in the fight for freedom.

"Never once has an American soldier set foot in a foreign land for the purpose of ruling its inhabitants," said the governor.

Ehrlich urged a group of schoolchildren attending the ceremony to pause for reflection as they enjoyed a day away from classroom.

"Remember who gave you that freedom -- our veterans," the governor said.

Mayor Martin O'Malley, another participant, agreed.

"I don't think we pause enough to reflect on the gift of liberty we have," O'Malley said. "That reflection might put our own personal struggles in better perspective."

Waged from June 1950 to July 1953, the Korean War served as a bloody test of the Truman Doctrine, which sought to contain the spread of communism. The United States led a coalition of 16 nations under the aegis of the United Nations to contain an advance by North Korean communists backed by China.

O. Faruk Logoglu, Turkey's ambassador to the United States, said his nation's participation in the war forged a partnership that has endured for decades.

"We know we were there to defend the same values we cherish today," Logoglu said yesterday. Turkish troops have more recently joined Americans in Bosnia and Afghanistan, he said, adding: "We are not yet together in Iraq, but that still may come."

Likewise, South Koreans consider themselves close allies of the United States, said Han Sung-Joo, ambassador from South Korea.

"Your precious sacrifices during the Korean War were not given in vain," Han said. "It is time for you to be proud of your accomplishments."

Bel Air resident Arthur W. Garrett, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who has a combined 50 years of military and civilian service, delivered a keynote address that recounted the grim toll of battle after battle across the peninsula.

"That country, the Republic of Korea, that we helped fight for freedom, is still free today," Garrett said. "Perhaps that is the greatest reward for any soldier."

As the clock hit the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month -- the end of World War I for which Veterans Day was originally created -- Highlandtown resident Lou Billing, 81, had a simple message as he sat on bench at park's edge.

"All I can say is, we should back the veterans," said Billing, who fought in the Pacific in World War II as a Marine. "Not hurt them. Back them."

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