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[Op-Ed] Freedom Fighters of the Korean War

Posted June. 26, 2009 07:31,   


Every year, millions of Americans visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. They pay floral tributes to fallen soldiers and reflect on the meaning of freedom. An estimated 36,000 American soldiers were killed in the war. Gen. Walton H. Walker, who commanded the 8th U.S. Army, joined the war with his son and the two died together. Gen. Van Fleet and Gen. Mark W. Clark lost their sons with whom they fought in the war. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the Normandy invasion in 1944, also lost his son in Korea.

“Freedom Is Not Free” is etched into the black granite wall in the memorial. A plaque has the inscription, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” The War Memorial of Korea in Seoul’s Yongsan district has a space to pay tribute to the 200,000 fallen soldiers in the Korean War. They include South Korean soldiers, those from U.N forces, and unknown soldiers. “Freedom Is Not Free” was also inscribed on an artwork in the main gate. The memorial hall is marking its 15th anniversary this year and sees 3,000 visitors a day.

The Korean War, however, is becoming largely forgotten among South Korea’s younger generation. Had it not been for those who fought in the war, the Republic of Korea would not exist. South Korea is forever indebted to them. Around this time, many U.S. cities hold events to honor Korean War veterans. Those who wear uniforms and decorations get cheers and applause from citizens and are treated as heroes. This is in a stark contrast to what happens in South Korea. Candles are lit in June, but they are for demonstrations, not for the fallen soldiers.

Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War next year, work to find the remains of fallen soldiers in the war will be conducted in the Demilitarized Zone. Some 3,000 remains were recovered over the past decade, but more than 130,000 bodies still remain missing. In May last year, the U.S. impressed by dredging the bottom of the Han River to look for the remains of a fighter pilot who fell into the river during the war. South Korea should learn from the U.S., which never forgets those who sacrificed their lives for their country. The South Korean government should mark the anniversary of the Korean War by finding ways to get back the estimated 538 South Korean POWs held in North Korea.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)