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Five masks that moved French veterans

Posted May. 29, 2020 07:33,   

Updated May. 29, 2020 07:33


“South Koreans are the best siblings,” said French veterans who fought during the Korean War. “We take great pride in having helped Seoul.” They were gathered at the South Korean embassy in the 7th arrondissement of Paris at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Despite being in their 90s, the veterans looked exuberant in their uniforms, which sharply contrasts with the atmosphere in France where the accumulated deaths of COVID-19 are close to 30,000.

It was “masks” that brought the veterans together at the embassy in Paris. To honor the sacrifice of the Korean War veterans, the organizing committee commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War distributed one million masks across 22 countries that participated in the war, including France which received 20,000 masks. France sent 3,400 soldiers and lost 274 of them during the war.

Jacques Grisolet, 92, said he fought in numerous battles as a sergeant first class including “the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge,” which took place in September and October, 1951. The United Nations Command (UNC) won the battle and reclaimed three highlands. “South Korea has reached out to us even before social workers did,” said Grisolet. Serge Archambeau, who fought in “the Battle of Triangle Hill” in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province as a private, thanked Seoul for remembering them for the past 70 years. They were not shy about their love for South Korea. Grisolet was wearing a tie with Korean characters and said he sent his grandchildren to a camp for foreign students in South Korea. Archambeau asked how things were in the country. The mask donation has been covered by major French newspapers including Le Parisien, Ouest-France and France 3.

The reason why the event attracted a great deal of attention was because the South Korean embassy in France sent veterans a few masks before the 20,000 landed in the country. As the coronavirus crisis escalated in early April, the South Korean embassy in Paris collected masks and sent five each to 66 veterans they were able to contact along with a letter that said, “We still remember you.”

At the time, COVID-19 victims were soaring and the supply of masks was limited although the lockdown measures have been eased now. The veterans were moved by the embassy’s gesture because buying even one mask was difficult. They shared the masks with their wife and children who then posted pictures of them on their social media accounts.

Most commemorations for the 70th anniversary of the Korean War have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it might help to remember that small gestures, as opposed to big events, can go a long way when it comes to expressing gratitude as seen with the veterans who were moved by five masks.

Youn-Jong Kim zozo@donga.com