Hoe Su Lee
Sixty five years ago, on June 25, 1950, North Korean Forces attacked south across the 38th Parallel igniting the Korean War. The United States entered the war six days later and the U.S. and ROK militaries have been committed to preserving the freedom of the Republic of Korea ever since. The article you are about to read is part of a six-part series on Korean War veterans living in the Republic of Korea today. Through the eyes of these veterans, we got a glimpse into an important chapter in Korean history.
~35th Air Defense Artillery Public Affairs Officer, Capt. William Leasure
With two brothers in the country he had sworn allegiance against and his hometown transformed into a battlefield, an elderly Korean man still speaks of his military service as a smile widens his face. As he speaks of what he calls the “6-25 War”, he pauses to chat with a friend on his cell phone. This modern convenience is something he could never have dreamed of as he shouldered a rifle back in 1950.
Hoe Su Lee was the son of a successful tailor in the once quiet city of Kaesong, now part of North Korea. He and his four brothers couldn’t have gotten into much trouble even if they tried. But six months after the Korean War broke out, Lee found himself fighting Chinese and North Korean troops in the once tranquil city.
Despite his family’s wealth, Lee was called to serve in the Korean Service Corps where he would later be assigned to 101st Division, 1-18th Regiment, 2nd Battalion as an administrative clerk.
Lee recalls his first mission after enlisting, a foot march of all new recruits from Changnyeong to their training grounds in Busan. The 106-km march tested the resolve of the unequipped recruits as they trudged 25 days into the bitter Korean winter.
He said he fondly remembers C-rations and the many American cigarette brands he had never seen before.
“Lucky Strike and Marlboro were my favorite,” Lee said. “The fuel packs were great for burning the brush to deter enemy attacks as well.”
After the war, Lee served as a radar operator at the Songtan base, K-55, concluding his service after eight years and later retired from Geumseong Corp., now known as the multinational conglomerate LG.
Now more than 60 years later, Lee said that he is thankful that he was young enough to recover from his labor-intensive time in the service.
His gratitude extends from his youth to the encouragement he felt watching U.S. Soldiers support his country. Lee said that it is this continued support that will see the country reunite one day.
A reunification could lead to allowing three brothers separated by war to once again come together.
Lee spoke with his brothers in 2009 as part of the 17th round of Republic of Korea – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea family reunions but said it was the first and now probably the last time he would hear their voices unless a reunification comes soon.
During the reunification, he noticed his brothers spoke in a different dialect and held vastly different political views than he did. And yet, beyond the wrinkles and gray hair, they were still the same brothers he left in Kaesong in 1950.
Lee speaks of reunification and peace with a soft voice and a subtle smile as he sits in the Osan branch of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs. He can be found most days sharing a laugh with comrades in arms and messaging friends on that cell phone; a luxury secured through the sacrifices made by him and his fellow veterans.
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