INCHEON, South Korea — After watching a ceremony and re-enactment Saturday marking the anniversary of the Inchon Landing, 81-year-old Korean War veteran John Fleet Sr. choked up and struggled to express himself.
“This is a wonderful thing,” he said, noting how especially touched he was to hear a South Korean choral group singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in English.
Asked why his emotions had gotten the best of him, he said, “I guess because I still love my country and I love the Korean people.”
Fleet, of Mesa, Az., was one of 77 U.S. Korean War veterans on the deck of the South Korean warship Dokdo watching Saturday’s festivities, which marked the 62nd anniversary of the battle many consider the turning point of the war that ran from 1950-53.
The veterans on hand, and the officials speaking during the ceremony, sounded a common theme — pride in what happened during the three-day battle in September 1950, and frustration that North Korea continues to pose a threat to the safety and security of the Korean peninsula.
“Inter-Korean relations are at a historic low,” Incheon Mayor Song Yeong-gil told the several hundred on board the Dokdo. “The future of the Korean peninsula without peace is very dark.
“Without peace, it is difficult to safeguard our national interest and maintain our dignity,” he said.
The re-enactment off the shores of Wolmi Island, near the city now spelled Incheon, featured an array of South Korean land, sea and air equipment.
The North and South remain technically at war, since the conflict was ended by an armistice. No formal peace treaty was ever signed.
The Inchon Landing, led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, cut off North Korean forces from their supply lines, which had extended deep into the southern part of the Korean peninsula. Soon after, allied forces liberated Seoul and pushed into North Korea, halted by a massive intervention of Chinese troops aiding the communist North.
Lu Caldara, 77, of Ossining, N.Y. — a U.S. Marine who was on a ship in the Pacific Theater when the armistice was signed — called the Inchon Landing “a miracle by MacArthur.”
“It cut off the communists and allowed the South to fight their way back,” he said. “It could have been (the end) of what we know now as South Korea.”
George Pritchard, a U.S. Army infantryman who participated in the landing, said he had no concept of the battle’s importance at the time.
“It was just another day really,” he said.
Marine veteran John Ohman, 81, of Springfield, Va., said he takes pride that he and two brothers were involved in the Inchon Landing and thus were “a little part” of South Korea’s rise from the ashes into one of the world’s leading economies.
Referring to North Korea, he said, “They are just a mean, despicable group of people, and you’ve got to wonder — with all the good things that have happened — why they’re still in the ancient age.”