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French Vets of Korean War Share Experiences

Posted March. 08, 2010 09:45,   


Gray men in their late 70s and early 80s gathered at a Korean restaurant near Champ de Mars plaza in downtown Paris at noon Feb. 18.

They wore a U.N. French battalion badge with an olive branch and the badges of crossed-flags of Korea and France on their chest. They brought old scrapbooks and photo books. Whenever a member arrived, they greeted by kissing both cheeks.

They are the members of the Korean War Veterans Association, a gathering of French veterans who fought during the Korean War. Sixteen out of 30 members living in Paris and its nearby region upon hearing that Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo came to France to cover their story.

When a veteran saw this reporter, he showed an old “France Soir” newspaper, saying, “Look, this is the story that says we arrived at Busan Port.” Andre Dachari, 78, proudly put old colored pictures on the table. He said, “These are the pictures of the Han River, Yongsan, and Namdaemun that I took in 1951. Today’s Seoul is like New York, but it was like an old village 50 years ago.”

War was not unfamiliar to them who were only late-teens and early-20s 60 years ago. French youths knew about war very well because their land was the stage of the First and Second World War. Cor’ee, a country that newly gained independence was a land of unknown, however.

“I did not know about Korea at all. I volunteered for the country because I was already serving in the military. I saw Korea on the map for the first time,” said Henry Lamoussure, 82. Following him, Marcel Benoir, 80, said, “It was after I came back from the Indochina War, and friends told me Korea is not as hot as Indochina. That’s why I volunteered to go there.”

The French Battalion arrived at Busan Port on Nov. 29, 1950, 36 days after it left Marseille Port, and was deployed to the front on Jan. 5, 1951, the next day of the Jan. 4 Retreat. Since then, it had fought in many battles including Jipyeongri Battle (Feb. 13-15, 1951), “Heartbreak Ridge” Battle(Sept. 13-Oct. 13, 1951), and the Battle of Arrow Tip(Oct. 6-10, 1952).

Though most of them were experienced veterans during the World Wars and the Indochina War, they had to pay the price. France sent a total of 3,421 soldiers, replacing three battalions three times until July 1953 when a peace treaty was signed, and 262 were killed, 1,008 were injured and seven went missing. More than a third of soldiers were killed or went missing.

Serge Archambeau, 80, said, “When we got a rocket attack from the Chinese army in Feb. 1952, a comrade in front of me was split into two by the rocket attack on his back, and another comrade right behind me fell down. I was the only one who survived safe and sound after the attack.”

What is Korea to the veterans who were crossing the boundaries of life and death on the foreign land? Jacques Grisolle, 80, gave us a clear answer.

“Watching the long line of refugees heading for the south, I thought ‘Is there any future in Korea?’ But Korea has made a miraculous development to become the envy of the world. I am proud that I did my best to safeguard Korea.”

Pierre Mavillo, 82, said, “I commend everything that Koreans have achieved since the Korean War. I am very proud that I joined the Korean War. France is my fatherland, and Korea is my second fatherland.”

The Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA) has 366 members now, and 151 of them participated in the war themselves and the rest are bereaved families. France has many veterans who joined the Indochina War and the Algerian War, but the KWVA is the only veterans association that has a regular meeting in France.

When we asked the reason, Stanislas Sali, 79, said, “This is because it was the holy war we fought for the universal values of peace and freedom as the descendants of the French Revolution warriors.”