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“It’s Service Number 9302070!”

Posted June. 24, 2005 05:54,   


“It’s service number 9302070, Staff Sergeant Ma Tae-jin,” said the aging veteran as he received a medal. He clearly remembered his service number and rank, even though his body is old and sick, as he was conferred a medal for his participation in the Korean War after half a century.

The 53rd Division of the Korean Army conferred Hwarang Merit Medals to seven Korean War veterans in front of 1,000 elementary students at the division’s drill ground in Haeundae, Busan on June 24.

The seven veterans who received their merit medals before the day of the Korean War’s 55th anniversary include four survivors, Ma Tae-jin (81), Jang Sang-jo (75), Lee Hwa-se (76) and Seo Moon-byeong (79), and three posthumous medal winners, Han Bong-yul, Jo nam-yong and Kim Hyang-gon. On behalf of the three deceased award recipients, their sons and wives were conferred the medals instead.

Ma, who was 26 years old then, voluntarily joined the army in mid-October 1950, after saying to his family “I’m going to go out for a moment,” to make his family not worry. After joining the army, he participated in numerous battles including the battles for Angang and Hyangno-bong. He is known to have been living for more than 50 years with shell splinters from combat in the battle for Hyangno-bong still inside his body. He clearly remembers his service number and class even though he can’t remember his resident registration number and home address due to his recent schizophrenia.

The old soldiers appeased their sorrow by parading in full dress to the congratulatory music of a military band. The reason why they were denied their medals for more than half a century was that their home addresses were not identified after their retirement when the army began conferring medals to active soldiers starting in March 1955. They were conferred tentative medals during the Korean War.

The army’s 53rd Division delivered 296 medals in 2002, 55 medals in 2003 and 27 medals in 2004 to deserving veterans by using computer network and in cooperation with the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.

Yong-Hwi Jo silent@donga.com