50 years after war's end, gratitude for teamwork is strong
Stars and Stripes June 3, 2003
PUSAN, South Korea — Under a cold drizzle aboard the USS Fort McHenry on Friday, 150 Korean War veterans and 300 others gathered to remember those who suffered and died on the peninsula 50 years ago in pursuit of freedom.
“Freedom is not free,” said retired South Korean Navy Adm. Young Kwan Kim through his interpreter. “We will forever praise the peace and security you guarded for us.”
The shipboard commemoration marked the 50th anniversary of the end to the three-year Korean War and honored the U.S. Navy’s involvement in that conflict.
U.S. and South Korean officials, admirals and veterans prayed together for those who died and for those who today live under continuing tension with the North. They prayed for peace on the peninsula.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas J. Hudner recounted some of the horrors he and fellow servicemembers endured, including frozen limbs, short supplies and the death of friends and shipmates.
Hudner, who served with a carrier-based squadron off the Korean coast, received a medal of honor for crash-landing his plane to save a squadron mate behind enemy lines.
Rear Adm. Gary R. Jones, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea, noted a unique relationship between two audience members: the Rev. Antonio Sungeon Kang, who led the invocation, and retired U.S. Navy Capt. J. Robert Lunney, a sailor aboard the American Merchant Marine ship SS Meredith Victory.
In December 1950, the unarmed, cargo-filled Victory crammed aboard 14,000 Korean refugees and carried them to safety. Among them were 9-month- old Kang and his family.
Fifty years later, Kang thanked Lunney for giving him an opportunity for a safe and secure future.
Veterans from both nations bowed their heads as Hudner recalled the war’s horrors. He said after World War II no one expected another war; many Americans were unaware of the conflict.
“Especially as a veteran,” he said, “I’m disappointed that ours was a forgotten war.”
Speakers each noted where Korea might be today without U.S. involvement in the conflict, noting that 50 years later tensions linger.
“It is almost a sense of déjà vu,” said Hudner — who predicted that democracy and peace again will prevail on the peninsula.
The ceremony was part of several days’ commemoration of the Navy’s role in the Korean conflict. Four U.S. Navy ships, including the Sasebo, Japan-based McHenry, came to Pusan for the commemoration.
Sailors aboard the McHenry spent a week preparing the ship for the event, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Lowder, a ship serviceman.
Before his ship was selected for the ceremony, Lowder said, “I hadn’t known much about the Korean War.” Sailors were given a quick history lesson before arriving in Pusan. Lowder added he hoped to hear some of the veterans’ views of the war, especially from a sailor’s perspective.
That the McHenry was chosen for the event made him happy, he said: “I can’t think of a better ship for this.”