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October 2020
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Northeast Asia Peace Initiative

Korean War Veterans Become Ambassadors for Peace

Those who have experienced the horrors of war are often the ones who understand most deeply the need to work for peace. This was evidenced at the first conference of the United Nations Peacekeeping Korean War Memorial Federation (UPKMF). This new and very meaningful association was born from the ranks of veterans from 16 nations who gathered in Seoul, Korea on July 25, 2005 to memorialize those who were lost in the Korean War and to rekindle the commitment of those 16 nations for the reunification of Korea.

Those nations are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

More than 250 veterans gathered, creating a delegation representing all the nations who sent troops into battle representing the UN for what has often been referred to as the “forgotten” war.

The U.N. forces from these 16 nations fought with South Korea after it was nearly completely overrun and occupied by North Korea, backed by China and the Soviet Union. The war suddenly began on June 25, 1950. The fighting stopped on July 27, 1953, as the U.S.-led U.N. Command signed the armistice agreement with North Korea and China, whose 1 million troops supported North Korea.

U.S. casualties from the three-year war included 36,940 dead and 92,000 wounded. Some 4,000 soldiers from other U.N. countries were killed and more than 10,000 wounded.

The conference schedule was very rigorous for the veterans since it included travel to the National Cemetery, the War Memorial site in Cheorwon, the UN Memorial Cemetery in Pusan, The DMZ, a commemorative banquet at the famous Korean Little Angels Performing Arts Center, sight-seeing, plenary sessions and planning for future activities and meetings. During meal times, in between trips, there was an “open mike,” and many tearful stories were told and moving reflections were given, stimulated by the various experiences in the conference.

At the opening banquet, Dr. Cheol-Seung Lee, the president of the United Nations Peace Forces of the Korean War Memorial Federation (UPKMF), asked: “Were it not for the intervention of the UN army, what would have happened to us today? We would not have enjoyed freedom and prosperity, nor would we have seen the successful hosting of the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the 2002 World Cup. The Republic of Korea would never have risen to become the 11th most economically developed nation in the world.”

As we traveled throughout Korea, the veterans constantly remarked on the amazing development of the country and how obviously hard-working the Korean people are. Every patch of available land was cultivated and producing food for the population. The veterans could see the tangible results of their sacrifices made fifty years ago. After the opening banquet one American veteran, Robert B. Steele from Ohio, remarked, “Seeing the shining eyes of hope and happiness of the Little Angels is the most wonderful gift for me to take home from this trip. When I was here, the Korean children during the war suffered terribly and their eyes were filled with despair and deep suffering.”

Among the exhibits at the convention was: "GIs and the Kids - A Love Story: US Forces and the Children of Korea 1950-1954." This is a deeply emotional exhibit for those who witnessed the trauma of the Korean War, conveying in photos the story of how many individual American GIs and units assisted and supported the orphaned children of Korea.

Our first lengthy trip was to the border of the North and South, the DMZ, i.e., “de-militarized zone.” The inter-Korean border is still a flashpoint. North Korea keeps 1.17 million soldiers, the world's fifth-largest military force, to face off against 690,000 South Korean troops, who are augmented by 32,000 U.S. troops. In the most recent confrontation, which took place in July 2003, front-line soldiers from North and South Korea exchanged gunfire in the DMZ.

The 2.5 mile-wide, 156-mile-long DMZ is still dotted with mines, concrete walls, electric fences, bunkers and other military facilities. It has been the site of numerous infiltrations and violent confrontations over the decades.

Before we arrived at the border we went to a large army base. Here we were welcomed by the 6th Infantry Division of the ROK Army. South Korean General Cho, General Kim and Congressman Chi, who have become the core advisory committee of the UPKMF, secured official and extensive welcome ceremonies at each place for our delegation. Our bus was guided by a military convoy as we neared the base, and soldiers were lined up along the road waving flags of all sixteen nations. There was a brass band, and the active-duty ROK soldiers greeted the delegation and shook their hands warmly. The veterans were deeply touched and many remarked that the welcome they received here far surpassed anything they ever received when they returned home to their countries fifty years ago.

On the third day we went to the UN Memorial Cemetery in Pusan. Veterans from the Turkish brigade (who were praised by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur and President Dwight Eisenhower for their bravery and great fighting spirit) were part of our delegation to the UN cemetery. Upon returning from this outing, they told this story: they were looking at the graves of their comrades from Turkey and they found their best friend. The Turkish veterans told how the four of them had grown up together from grade school. They did everything together as boys. In sports and in school, these four were inseparable. The four went to Korea for the war. They were traveling in an army vehicle that hit a land mine. Their friend was seriously hurt, and as they were frantically trying to take him to a hospital, he died in their arms. They left him at the hospital, and they never knew what happened to their friend and brother.  It always left a deep emptiness in their hearts. Suddenly at the UN site in Pusan, they now found his grave site engraved with his name. They all began to cry. They had finally found their buddy after fifty years, and they prayed and they thanked God that they could "visit" him one last time. They felt they were totally liberated and that he also was liberated. They could finally begin the period to heal their hearts.

The fourth day of the conference was spent at the hotel with lecture presentations given to the veterans by Dr. Thomas Walsh, Rev. Michael Jenkins and a number of other representatives of the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace. The veterans heard Rev. Moon’s vision for world peace and were very fascinated. Particularly inspiring to the veterans was the explanation that the Korean War was not a simple "political" conflict but became the most central battle line between the forces of atheistic communism and the God-affirming free world. Therefore, it could be said that this war was a holy struggle that had great bearing on the course of the history of the free world. Also significant was the work of the Ambassadors for Peace movement to embrace the North in the last 15 years. Based on the theme of “loving your enemy,” this movement has become an important contributor to the peace process.

These veterans are people of strong families and strong moral values. Many of them remarked that it was an enormous breath of fresh air to hear people promoting strong families and respect for all races and peoples. The family was presented as the cornerstone for world peace. Many took it to heart that the same methodology must also be applied to the battle with terrorism. The battle must not be fought now with weapons, but rather with truth and love.

The spirit of God was felt and acknowledged throughout the conference. The veterans spoke to the difference in tone that  this conference had, compared to other veterans’ conferences. That the democracy which was created in America was founded on the underpinnings of faith and holding "these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal" are essential foundations of the dream of self governance. Those who are internally governed by moral principles and faith in God can truly manifest a just society.

They attended the opening ceremony of the World Culture and Sports Festival and a speech by the founder, Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon. Upon returning, a veteran shared after dinner that when he heard Rev. Moon use the term, “true love” he wanted to share an experience that he had which sums up the meaning of “true love” to him. He had been on an advance team to "call in" artillery and he was deep inside enemy lines.  They started to climb up a mountain; bodies were everywhere, and his small unit of a few men came upon a Korean mother who was tightly grasping her two young children. All three had died together. They couldn’t tell who died first, the children or the mother. This veteran said that he imagined how desperately that mother must have been to save her  children while trying to climb up the mountain. Hearing the term “true love” this picture of this little family came into his mind and he immediately was deep in tears. Even though their situation was so urgent, as the waves of Chinese were almost upon them, they all felt the spirit of God. They felt, “We must lay this beautiful Korean mother to rest with her children. We must give her honor and dignity.” They buried her there with her children and were overwhelmed with the feeling that they must pray to God to sanctify their resting place.

The UPKMF was founded by the Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon, who noted, “The fighting of the UN peace troops in the Korean War was the first heroic and sacred struggle for world peace that was launched by the United Nations on a global scale.” He also acknowledged the appropriateness of remembering and honoring “those who fought not for the sake of their own country nor for their own personal benefit, but for world peace and for God’s providence.”

Rev. Dr. Moon’s own life was saved from execution at Heungnam, a death camp in the north, shortly after the UN forces landed in Incheon in September 1950. When the captors heard of the advancing forces they felt, giving the surviving inmates the opportunity for freedom.

The high spirit and sincerity of the Korean War Veterans was very moving to all who encountered them. At the final banquet, these very special UN Peace Forces veterans received certificates commissioning them as Ambassadors for Peace.

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The following reflections were written by the veterans at the close of the conference:

"Using your own principles-let us now meet with veterans of the Korean War from North Korea and China. You have inspired me to seek them out when in Beijing in September. “love your enemy”—I will try." (USA)

“I wish my country had made as much progress as Korea in the past 50 years1” I propose that each of the participating nations organize their own country’s chapter of UPKMF so that we can encourage our next generations. Other veterans can also participate and learn many things such as the values taught here and illustrated by Korea. I am eager to be an Ambassador for Peace." (Philippines)

“It was a rich and wonderful week. I thank all those responsible and I congratulate them for the idea of bringing to Korea the soldiers who fought the communist hordes of  North Korea. I always said that the division of Korea after the second world war was a big mistake. We, around the world should continue to work for a unified Korea. This should be a primary goal for the United Nations. The lives that we lost protecting this country (I lost my cousin in a hill called Jackson hill) were not lost in vain. This country was completely destroyed with the war and the hard working and dedicated citizens of Korea have made it now one of the strongest economies in the world. I was completely surprised to see this change. This representation of the 16 nations and Puerto Rico, a part of the US, saw first hand the change that has taken place and can go back home and tell their people!” (Puerto Rico)

"I have learned so much and I will keep it for the rest of my life. To tell the truth, I did not expect that I would get such a lesson when I came to Korea. Seeing is believing and I admire the development of Korea as I compare from 50 years ago until now. It was the result of democracy for peace and hard work. I hope I will be your ambassador for peace in my country. Also telling the people the results of democracy for peace." (Ethiopia)

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