South Korean military leader thanks US Korean War veterans

by Howard Altman
Tampa (Fla.) Tribune (TNS)

(Tribune Content Agency) — Lt. Gen. Chun In-Bum, commander of South Korea’s Special Warfare Command, has only known the prosperity his nation has enjoyed after the Korean War, which raged from 1950 to 1953 and took more than 52,000 American lives.

Monday afternoon, Chun took time out from visiting U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. — where’s he’s hoping his county eventually can join the international special operations coordination center that operates from the command — to thank Americans who helped make South Korea’s success possible.

“I was born in 1958,” Chun told a crowd of about two dozen Korean War survivors gathered at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum. “I want you to know that ... we have enjoyed the most prosperous period of our time because of not only the sacrifices you’ve done for us during the Korean War, but the support that the United States has given us after the Korean War.”

Thanks to the U.S., Korea is now the world’s 10th largest economy, Chun told the audience, mostly men in their 80s who lived through battles ranging from Inchon to the Chosin Reservoir.

“We try to share with you a common value of freedom and liberty,” Chun said. “We’re still not there yet; it seems democracy takes a long time to get there. We are about halfway, but because of many of you, we Koreans enjoy the freedom God has given to all man and has destined us to enjoy, and I want to thank all of you.”

After speaking, Chun signed a guest book, then paid homage to the park’s Korean War memorial, commemorating Hillsborough County, Fla., residents who died in the conflict, which came to a halt on July 27, 1953, with the signing of an armistice.

After a short ceremony, Chun shook hands with the veterans, many of whom shared stories of their time in the war.

“I was at frozen Chosin,” George McMaster, a Marine Corps veteran, told Chun.

“Do you have all your fingers?” the South Korean three-star general asked McMaster, a reference to the brutal 17-day battle in frigid cold with U.N troops surrounded by more than 60,000 Chinese soldiers at the Chosin Reservoir.

“All but this,” said McMaster, 84, of Brandon, Fla., showing Chun his mangled right pinky.

Twice wounded, including once that earned him a Purple Heart Medal and a bullet still inside him, McMaster said that his finger was nearly severed by a Russian-made machine gun.

Other veterans had messages for Chun.

“Kamsahamnida,” said Richard Hardgesty, 83 of Tampa, Fla., said to Chun, using the Korean word for “thank you.”

An Air Force chief master sergeant who once met South Korean president Syngman Rhee during the war, Hardgesty smiled at being able to remember a little bit of the Korean language.

“Not bad for an old guy after more than 60 years,” he said.

After the festivities, Chun told The Tribune he was at SOCOM to “reaffirm the alliance that we have and the cooperation that we have.”

That cooperation “is robust and healthy,” Chun said. “Coming here changed ideas. Updating the current training program is important for us. We came here to do that and it was a very successful trip.”

Facing a common threat in North Korea, Chun said, he hopes his nation will soon join the international special operations coordination center at SOCOM, known as the J-3I, in which representatives from more than a dozen nations work inside the SOCOM headquarters on international special operations issues.

For South Korea, the threat from the north, is ever present.

“For us, the challenges we have from our northern brothers is a big challenge for us,” Chun said. “As you know, they have a considerable special operations capability, cyber capability, weapons of mass destruction. It’s a great challenge for us to prepare for contingencies and deter them from any provocation.”

How concerned is Chun about war on the Korean peninsula?

“The American alliance we have is strong and it is robust, but I am concerned about it,” Chun said. “The fact that we are all human beings and judgments can always be wrong. I am just worried that bad judgments will lead to bad actions.”

©2015 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)
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