Vets without legs make war real to S. Korean visitors


WASHINGTON -- Jong Yun Baik wants to understand a war that happened two decades before he was born.

"All I know about the Korean War is what I learned in the history books," said Specialist Baik, a flutist in a Korean military band. "I came here to participate in the ceremony. I can feel how many U.S. soldiers died. I see soldiers without legs, I saw with my own eyes. I now understand how so many U.S. soldiers died and their dedication to Korea."

The 22-year-old specialist is one of 210 servicemen from South Korea's armed forces who have come to Washington this week to help dedicate the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

Most of the hand-picked group are like Specialist Baik, whose only understanding of the Korean War has been stitched together from stories passed down by parents and grandparents, from lessons given by grade-school teachers and through films that have made the war part of Korean mass culture.

"Parents tell me during the war it was hard to live, there was no food, it was hard times," said Specialist Baik, whose grandfather fought in the war and still has bomb shrapnel in his shoulder.

The servicemen called the war "tragic" and "the heartache of the Korean nation" because it pitted family against family and claimed nearly 2 million Korean lives.

"It's very horrible. My mother's sister died because they refused to let her go to South Korea. She couldn't find medicine," said Korean air force 1st Sgt. Kwang Jun Choi, 27.

For the last 100 days, the Korean soldiers, sailors and airmen have practiced marches, drills and songs for the three days of ceremonies. Yesterday, Korean servicemen marched and played alongside U.S. servicemen.

Today, the Koreans will participate in a mass muster in front of the Washington Monument, and tomorrow they will parade down Constitution Avenue.

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