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PANMUNJOM, South Korea — The graying U.S. veterans and young uniformed U.S. soldiers who gathered here Sunday didn’t know each other, but they met having shared at least one experience: All have given part of their lives for Korea.

They gathered here to commemorate the time — half a century ago this month — when the guns fell silent, when the warring sides agreed if not to have peace, then at least to cease open warfare.

Some of the veterans still carried the souvenirs — the limps, the scars — of that brutal conflict; all carried burned-in memories of a relatively primitive land that was little more than rubble when they arrived and left.

Young servicemembers — whose parents may not have been born when the veterans were fighting on the peninsula — know a tech-savvy South Korea where grandmothers have cell phones and where skylines visible from U.S. bases are peppered with high rises and skyscrapers.

Yet veteran and current servicemember alike indicated a certain affection for this vastly different culture 6,000 miles from the United States. And most agreed: The continued presence of forces here is needed as a deterrent against North Korea.

Eight servicemembers, past and present, talked Sunday with Stars and Stripes about the war, the country and the U.S. role there. These are their thoughts.Spc. Matthew Willoretta, 26 Camp Humphreys

Should U.S. troops be here still?

It still provides a deterrent whether or not it’s needed — probably not as badly as it used to be. … It’s still helpful … more symbolic than anything. … It just reminds them [Koreans] the U.S. is interested in what goes on here.

Is there still a threat from North Korea?

I think so. I’ve never heard of Kim Jong Il doing anything serious but you never know … when he is going to up the ante.

What should the United States do about North Korea?

Intensify diplomatic efforts. A war here would be a waste of life.Sgt. Edwin Ramos, 21 Camp Humphreys

Should U.S. troops still be here?

They should push us back more and reduce our size. … Korea is the [No. 12 world] economy. I’m sure they can handle it. … We did our job. We still need a little presence probably, but they should push us back.”

Would North Korea go to war?

There always is a chance.

What should the United States do about North Korea?

It can’t be handled … like Iraq. We’re right here already. We can’t just bomb them. There would be a lot of casualties.Pfc. Marquita Hooks, 20 Camp LaGuardia

Should U.S. troops be here still?

We do need to be here.

Is North Korea still a threat?

Somewhat. … The way that we have everything set up in this country, I feel secure. I feel safe in this country.

What should the United States do about North Korea?

We are doing ... an excellent job right now.Pfc. Todd Phelps, 19 Seoul Air Base

Do you feel U.S. troops should be here still?

Most countries are scared of the U.S. We provide more protection.

Is there still a threat from North Korea?

Yes. They have nuclear ambitions.

What should the United States do about North Korea?

If they are trying to prevent us from knowing [whether they have nuclear weapons], then … we should intervene.James K. Abraham, 73 Chicago, U.S. Army explosive ordnance disposal

Duty in Korea: July 1950 - August 1952, Incheon landing, Chosin Reservoir

What did you know about Korea before the war?

My first time? Nothing. My company started out with 286 men when we went in at Incheon, 1950. In May of ’51, there were only 76 of us left. It was a little rough.

What is you most vivid memory during the war?

Saying goodbye when I left.

Did the United States do the right thing by committing to Korea?

Oh yes. But the politics didn’t work. Old Dugout Doug [MacArthur] wanted to go into China, but not me. I was up on the Yalu River looking across and I said, ‘That’s as far as I want to go.’ When they [the Chinese] came across, I ran south, and everybody else did, too. We went up to Chosin Reservoir to get the Marines out. It was an experience. I wouldn’t want to go through it again.

Should U.S. troops still be here?

They [the North Koreans] will come down if you don’t [stay here], and then you’ll have another communist nation.

What should the United States do about North Korea?

I don’t know about Kim [Jong] Il. He’s an animal. I don’t trust him about as far as I can throw Korea.Harry M. Thompson, 74 St. Louis, U.S. Marines artilleryman

Duty in Korea: August 1950 - September 1951, Incheon landing, Chosin Reservoir

What did you know about Korea before the war?

Nothing. Didn’t even know it existed. I don’t think this was my greatest idea of where I wanted to travel.

What is your most vivid memory during the war?

Up at the [Chosin] Reservoir. We lost a lot of guys.

Did the United States did the right thing by committing to Korea?

These people have done a magnificent job in 50 years in building their country. This is a credit to them.

Should U.S. troops still be here?

My real answer? No. Because as you get older, your feelings change. I don’t want these young boys over here anymore. … The Korean government, their military can handle things fine. We wouldn’t want anybody over in our country, would we, now? Not that we are an occupying force, but that’s just the way I feel.

Is there still a threat from North Korea?

Oh, definitely. It’s a lot more of a threat than Iraq.

What should the United States do about North Korea?

We ought to be hard-nosed but … we don’t see everything. It’s hard to me to judge.Shelby M. Barnett, 69 Roseburg, Ore., U.S. Marines rifleman

Duty in Korea: March 1953 - July 1953

What did you know about Korea before the war?

Not very much. I knew the war had been going on for three years and the communists were trying to take over the country, and the United Nations was resolved to stop them.

What is you most vivid memory during the war?

The day I got wounded. It was about like today. It was hot, humid wet day. I just got online that night. They just started hitting us with artillery.

Was the United States right to commit to Korea?

Without a doubt.

Should U.S. troops be here still?

Somebody’s gonna have to be here. I don’t know if the United States can afford to do that job all by themselves. After a while, any country doesn’t want soldiers to occupy its country. It turns civilians against you.

Is there still a threat from North Korea?

Without a doubt. It’s getting worse.Dean Davis, 73, Las Vegas U.S. Army platoon leader, company commander

Duty in Korea: July 1952-53

What did you know about Korea before the war?

I didn’t even know it existed until 1950. I guess I was just taken back by the devastation.

What is your most vivid memory during the war?

Probably when my radio man got killed right next to me.

Do you feel the United States did the right thing by committing to Korea?

Most assuredly. I don’t see we had a choice.

Should U.S. troops still be here?

As a military person, yes, I think that we probably should maintain a presence. It becoming sort of politically non-expedient but … little by little, we should probably ease off. You can’t really say that because you don’t know what the North is going to do. If there was some kind of stability, I would say definitely pull on back and let the Koreans take over entirely.

Is there still a threat from North Korea?

They say Kim Jong Il is psychotic. He may be crazy, but he is not a fool. He doesn’t make a move without a reason — kind of like a chess player. I think he thinks every time he rattles a saber we give him aid. I think probably we’re more on the right track now — the refusal to give in to those demands.

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