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Vets return to Korea to help mark 60th anniversary of armistice

SEOUL — Korean War veterans say all they have to do is see the country’s prosperity today to realize their efforts and hardships were worthwhile.

“It’s remarkable coming back to Korea and see all the progress,” Donald D. Lanternier, a retired New York judge, said during a ceremony Friday to mark the end of the conflict 60 years ago and pay tribute to fallen South Korean troops.

“When I went through Seoul, it was devastated,” he recalled. “It had changed hands four times during the Korean War, and there wasn’t much left. It’s a miracle what Korea has turned out to be today.”

Reflecting the multinational effort during the war, about 200 delegates from 21 countries were on hand for the ceremony at Seoul National Cemetery. For many, it was their first return to South Korea since the armistice was declared in 1953.

Paul P. Overgaard, who served with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, was pleased that his effort in defending South Korea is still respected here.

“The Korean government has honored us by their expressing their appreciation 60 years later for what we did,” Overgaard said. “It helps to make what we did worthwhile.”

Many of his war experiences had been pushed below the surface of his memory, he said. “It’s been a long time, but being here brings back some memories that have been repressed for quite a while.”

John W. Merrell, one of the American delegates at the ceremony, was selected to place incense that was burned before the Memorial Tower.

The former member of the 25th Infantry Division often wondered about the meaning of the war until he visited South Korea later. Tears welled in Merrell’s eyes as he explained.

“I was here for a ceremony in ’95,” he said. “A little kid walked up to me with an M&M in his hand and offered it to me. That told me where I needed to be. I was glad to be here, thanks to that little kid.”

limon.armando@stripes.com

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