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(News Focus) Korean War memories live strong in vets, fade among teens

All Headlines 12:00 June 25, 2013

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, June 25 (Yonhap) -- Long ago, the world stopped remembering the Korean War widely called "the forgotten war," but it's the war that has never really ended. It still matters because it has left the Korean Peninsula divided into two countries and influences today's international politics.

It began on June 25, 1950 after the communist government north of the Korean Peninsula's 38th parallel -- a line drawn after World War II to divide Korea between American and Soviet influence -- invaded South Korea.

It ended on July 27, 1953, with the signing of an armistice that left the demilitarized zone separating the two countries. Yet there is no peace treaty, and Pyongyang has repeatedly threatened to nullify the Armistice Agreement.

For veterans who fought up the sides of steep mountains and in rice paddies that turned into killing fields, war memories still live strong six decades later.

"There were several experiences where I came close to dying," said Larry Kinard, now 84 and the president of the Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA), who visited Seoul to attend the 63rd ceremony of the beginning of the Korean War. "When it comes that close to death, you remember it."

Nicholas Lopez, an 84-year-old veteran from Hawaii, says it took decades for him to get over post-war trauma and nightmares that haunted him with brutal memories and guilty feelings related to his lost comrades.

"I'd been dreaming bad dreams for years when I came back from Korea. I don't think I could put up with what I did. ... I didn't want to remember all that," said Lopez, who was dispatched to Korea at the age of 20.

U.S. forces already had repelled the North Korean army almost to the Yalu River on the border with China, causing China to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers into the war. With their help, the North Korean forces fought their way back south.

That's how the war went, inch by inch, mountain by mountain, veterans say, with one side advancing north of the 38th parallel, then moving back south of it, leading to the eventual stalemate.

Tensions continue today. In 2010, a total of 50 South Koreans were killed in a North Korean torpedo attack against a warship and the North's shelling of a border island in the tensely guarded western sea. Most recently, Pyongyang threatened a nuclear war against South Korea and the U.S. in response to their joint military drills held in March and April.

For young Koreans who read about the war in books and watch battle scenes in movies or on TV screens, the memories of the war are not as strong as those of the older generation.

Earlier this month, several surveys released by different pollsters showed youngsters' lack of knowledge of the Korean War.

A recent survey by the local daily Seoul Shinmun on 506 high school students nationwide showed that seven out of 10 said South Korea invaded North Korea to start the war.

President Park Geun-hye said the result was "shocking" in a meeting with her senior aides, saying her government will put more efforts to correct the wrong perception among youngsters.

Many, however, argued that the result was likely caused by confusion over the definition of "bukchim," meaning northern invasion, with students mistaking it as meaning that the war was started by the North.

Several other surveys showed that most youngsters knew that South Korea was invaded by North Korea, but many of them didn't know what year the war broke out.

According to Research & Research's survey conducted from May 25 through June 6 on 1,000 adults and 1,000 teenagers, 36.5 percent of adults and 52.7 percent of youths in middle and high schools did not know the year the war broke out.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Lee Yong-seok stressed that the government should step up efforts to remember the sacrifice of servicemembers of South Korea and allied U.N. members.

"You can't just erase history. You have to remember it so as not to repeat the same mistake in the future," Lee said.

With growing calls to strengthen history education, the defense ministry on Tuesday said it will describe the Korean War as being started "by North Korea's southward invasion" in its education materials and other official documents to make it clear which side started the war.

The ministry has also asked the education ministry to instruct teachers to use the longer term to avoid confusion among students.

"It is necessary to make it clear that the Korean War broke out due to North Korea's invasion of South Korea to clarify who's blamed for the war," a defense ministry official said.

On Tuesday, the South Korean Army carried out drills in units across the nation, which simulated North Korea's invasion in pre-dawn darkness.

Some foreigners were surprised to learn that many young Koreans did not have much knowledge about the war that took place on their own soil.

Ross McNeil from England, who visited Pyongyang two years ago, said South and North Koreans share similar characteristics individually, but the stark difference in standards and quality of life was "interesting" but "sad."

"Older people fought for the war for freedom Koreans enjoy now and the prosperity of this country," said Ross, who majored in history. "I think young South Koreans should fully appreciate what happened and what they accomplished."


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