The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 26, 2013

Korean War vets left proud legacy

South Korea was saved by 15 nations of U.N. forces

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This year is a special year for the veterans of the United Nations forces and their families along with the people of South Korea. It is the 60th anniversary of the Armistice, the end of open hostilities with the North Koreans.

It is time to again reflect upon those days. We veterans were part of the 15 nations, including the South Korean army and its people, that participated in the war.

The carnage was terrible, soldiers and civilians died by the hundreds of thousands.

The South Korean refugees fled south to somewhere. Old men, old women and, yes, children carrying their meager possessions on their backs streamed south in the cold — wondering where they would find shelter, find something to eat and, in some way, to somehow survive. Many died along the way.

What became of them is unknown.

With the Armistice the killing ended.

In time, the raw evidence of the war that resulted in horrible carnage has almost disappeared. There is a statue here and there and there are endless rows of the grave markers for those who sacrificed their lives for a just and noble cause.

For the rest of us, we will soon vanish and be forgotten.

New buildings have replaced the rubble in Korea and nature restored the tortured hills with tall grasses and trees that gently wave in the breeze.

Following the Armistice, the amazing, surviving, resourceful, South Korean people battled through the restoration of their country. Now 60 years later, they have emerged as a financially and technically powerful nation that will endure far into the future.

The beautiful, ultra-modern city of Seoul is the soul of South Korea and is filled with a vibrant, educated, dynamic citizenship that all nations respect. But this is not the legacy of those who fought, died or suffered the mental and physical wounds of battle.

The legacy of the United Nations forces is that these combined forces prevented South Korea from being absorbed into the horror that has befallen to the citizens of North Korea.

A recently-published book, "Escape from Camp 14 in North Korea," is the incredible story of a man who was born in the world’s largest prison camp. The book tells the story of what South Korea would be like if United Nations forces had lost.

It has been a holocaust for North Korea's people that has lasted for 60 years and will continue for many more. Millions remain in prison with no future or live in squalor, starving to death.

Korean youths will justly reap the rewards of our efforts and form the future of South Korea and, perhaps, someday North Korea.

The U.N. forces prevailed. We must admire the South Korean people who survived.

The book tells the story of what South Korea would be like if United Nations forces had lost. We veterans have indeed left a proud legacy.

Pell Johnson of St. Peter is an Army veteran who served with the 5th Calvary Regiment Division and was stationed in Korea from July 1951 to July 1953.