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[Opinion] Owners of Unclaimed Medals

Posted June. 06, 2005 06:25,   


“I have lived my life to the fullest in order not to be ashamed of myself. Honey, you know I have lived life that way, right?” This is the last line of “Saving Private Ryan,” which has already become a war-film classic. In the scene, Ryan, who has now become an old man, recalls the past days along with his family members in front of Captain Miller’s tombstone. This movie, which tells the story of Captain Miller and eight members of his unit who are searching for a U.S. infantryman, Private Ryan, to send him back home, revisits the true meaning of patriotism.

What is quite impressive about the film is the U.S. government’s decision that it should not sacrifice the fourth and youngest son of the Ryan family, which had already lost three sons killed in action. In the end, they saved Ryan at the expense of the lives of several unit members. After the end of the war, however, Ryan led an exemplary life, demonstrating that the death of those fellow soldiers were not in vain.

The fact that the nation never forgot even one family’s tragedy was the reason why the soldiers sacrificed their lives for this particular mission. One who survived at the expense of such sacrifices made every effort to live an unshameful life. There lies an ideal example of a “state-citizen” relationship.

Today is Memorial Day. In the Korean War alone, over 158,000 Korean soldiers were killed or missing in action, and more than 450,000 were injured. It is these fallen patriots that laid the foundation for what Republic of Korea (ROK) and its 47 million citizens are today. However, can we really tell our fallen patriots proudly that we are “living an unshameful life?” Is the state fulfilling all its responsibilities? Recently, the wife of a soldier who died in the inter-Korean naval clash in the Yellow Sea emigrated to another country, saying she “hates Korea.” The government, however, kept silent. Or it might be just looking away out of unbearable shame.

Slightly encouraging news is that the military authorities will launch a campaign in earnest to “find the owners of unclaimed Orders of Military Merit.” According to its account, the Korean Army has continuously carried out the campaign so far, but 90,800 medals have yet to be sent to their owners. Even more, there are approximately 6,100 cases where the bereaved families of those killed in action or on duty are unidentified. Such a campaign should not end up in a mere showcase for June, the “month of patriotism and veterans.” The significance of patriotism will be ever more strengthened if even a single additional family member of a fallen patriot is found.

Song Mun-hong, Editorial Writer, songmh@donga.com