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(LEAD)(Yonhap Interview) U.S. veteran's great-grandson says Korean War not over

All Headlines 11:04 March 13, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS photos)
By Lee Haye-ah

SEOUL, March 13 (Yonhap) -- Nearly seven decades ago, U.S. Marine Corps Col. Edward H. Forney helped evacuate about 98,000 Koreans during the Korean War. Now, one of his great-grandsons is here to continue that family history as a researcher studying the two Koreas and their relationship with the United States.

Ben Forney, 29, recently began working at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a private security think tank in Seoul, to assist in research mainly on North Korea and regional issues.

Speaking in an interview with Yonhap News Agency Friday, it was clear he intended to keep the family connection strong.

"I think of it almost as a personal quest or a personal mission to continue my great-grandfather's connection with Korea," he said. "I'm very happy to be working at a place like Asan because now I feel like I can contribute my own story, my own part of the story to my family's history with Korea."

The late Forney led the famous Heungnam evacuation in December 1950 to bring 98,000 Korean refugees from the North Korean port of the same name to the South.

"I think with the Heungnam evacuation, the thing that inspires me now and when I first heard it is that it's a story that's not really a war story and it's not really a story about politics," the Marine's great-grandson said. "And it's not really a story about soldiers, it's a story about saving people. It's a story about Koreans and Americans working together to do something that seemed impossible."

It was an unlikely operation involving too few ships. One of them -- the SS Meredith Victory, designed to hold 60 people --transported 14,000 refugees to safety in the largest evacuation from land by a single ship.

"I think it's a symbol of maybe the peak of Korea-American cooperation," Forney said. "I think it represents the shared values that we have and I think it represents everything we can accomplish if we work together."

He stressed, however, that the story is not over yet as long as the Koreas remain divided.

"I think the choices we make today will one day hopefully bring a happy ending to this story," he said. "By that, I mean I hope that the people that my great-grandfather evacuated, I hope one day they can go back to their hometown."

Forney said he believes working at Asan will be one way to help make the decisions that will shape the future of the people who are still alive.

"And also just for the situation on the Korean Peninsula. It's not going to get better unless we make it better," he said. "The fact that it's still an ongoing story, to me, is what makes this connection so powerful."

Forney first came to South Korea in 2009 as a Fulbright scholar teaching English in the southwestern port city of Mokpo. Since then, he has studied Korean at Seoul's Yonsei University and studied for a Master's degree in International Area Studies at Seoul National University.

He is currently writing his graduate thesis on the intricate links between the North Korean military and economy.

Despite his interest in North Korea, Forney said he has no immediate plans to visit the country. Not only would that generate tourism money for the North Korean regime, he said, but it could be dangerous given that he's done many interviews in the past.

"If it's useful and helpful, then yeah, I'd love to go, but not in the near future," he said. "They do kind of randomly arrest people. Obviously, in the future, I would love to have a beer in Heungnam."

Asked about his long-term plans, Forney was cautious, but hinted at a career in the U.S. government as a diplomat or policymaker.

"But for now, I think a few more years at least, I like living in Seoul and keep getting my Korean to a very professional level. We'll see what happens after that."

hague@yna.co.kr
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