Tuesday, June 6, 2006

감사합니다. (Thank you)

Today is 현충일, Memorial Day, in Korea. It's a holiday and there are no doubt hundreds of thousands—if not millions—out pickinicking and partying here and there, but there are also many people heading for cemetaries and other gravesites to honor those who died defending the Republic of Korea or fighting alongside its allies, such as the United States in places like Vietnam.

Wherever they were, the sirens sounding at ten o'clock this morning were a sobering reminder of what today has been set aside for.

At one time, US deaths in the Korean War had been put at 54,246, though this was revised decades later to 33,686 (the original number had included deaths in all theaters where US forces were operating). These deaths occurred in three years, making the Korean War deadlier per day than the Vietnam War was.

During the same period, some 150,000 or more South Korean
soldiers lost their lives. A total of one million or so South Koreans—the vast majority civilians—died during the conflict.

These ROK soldiers were career soldiers (some who got their start in Japanese uniform), brave volunteers, and often scared conscripts. They included old men and even children. Women also fought and gave up their lives.

Along with the US and the other UN partners, these South Koreans helped preserve the Republic so that it could survive to become an economic powerhouse and a thriving democracy. The freedoms enjoyed by all of us living in South Korea today were bought and paid for with the blood and sweat of all these people.

Thank you.

On this day we also honor South Korean soldiers who fought in other wars. During the unpopular Vietnam War, South Koreans were the largest "coalition partners" the Americans had. While the US lost 58,191 men (and women), South Korea experienced 5,000 deaths in Vietnam and 11,000 injuries.

The "Forgotten War" was never forgotten in Korea, and during the Vietnam War era less than a generation later, many young ROK men welcomed the chance to fight the communist enemy which was responsible for ravaging the Korean Peninsula.

Today is also a day to remember those who, since the armistice in 1953, have died while facing the North Korean military poised to do harm to us here, such as ground troops who have died trying to capture DPRK spies and seamen who were killed in maritime battles as recent as 2002.

Top photo: ROK soldiers march toward front lines of Pusan Perimeter in 1950.

Middle photo: The battle for Seoul in September 1950 was characterized by brutal door-to-door fighting .

Bottom photo: South Korean civilians in Taejon massacred by retreating North Korean forces.

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