As the sun rose over the peaks of Zion last Wednesday – July 27th 2016 – I stepped back several paces from my tall flag pole, turned and rendered a smart slow hand salute to the two flags waving in the morning breeze. At the top the 48-star American banner under which I proudly served in uniform, and beneath whose stars and stripes I lived the first 27 years of my life. Just beneath it flew the national flag of the Republic of Korea, the two connected by the sinews of mutual courage, struggle, the shedding of blood, and a historic experience which stands as a truly unique American moment. Unique meaning “only once”
Three days later, I was privileged to be able to tell this story in my own words to Jeon Jun Yeong, of Cheongju, Jung Yeo Jin of Jeonju and Kim Yeon Jae from Seoul, Korea, all three exchange students spending summer in Cedar City while attending Southern Utah University; three lovely, healthy vibrant and confident young women who are in their own way as much products of American generosity and love of liberty as the local citizens who welcome them into our homes. To sit with them in my office surrounded by mementos of my connection with their land and the life which that association has largely
inspired was profoundly meaningful. I fear I wasn’t entirely successful in hiding the tears which were never far away as I was so spiritually moved by this living testimony to the correctness of U.S. intervention in a far-away conflict so long ago. (And yet so recent!)
Following the end of WWII, world-wide communism went on a march inflicting itself upon country after country, filling the political and social void left in the wake of six years of upheaval, dislocation and the unwise cave-in by the Allies to partitions and realignments demanded by the Soviets.
. (Editorially, I must observe that the U.S. State Department in 1945-46 does not seem to have been exactly overburdened with people who knew and understood world history or possessed an abundance of wisdom!)
Korea’s turn came in June of 1950 as swarms of Soviet-trained and supplied North Korean troops and tanks crossed the artificial border created by one of those unfortunate pacts. The capital city of Seoul fell quickly and the entire peninsula lay open to occupation. The U.S. took the lead in hustling peacetime troops (mostly untrained) from Japan while pushing the still-young United Nations to mount a war declaration and an international defense force. Because the Soviet Union was temporarily absent and unable to veto Security Council action, 21 nations eventually came to South Korea’s aid.
From the beginning the U.S. provided both the bulk of the fighting force and equipment for a war effort which saw China enter the fray with a major ground offensive pushing the defenders almost into the sea. In the three years of brutal warfare, America suffered more than 34,000 battle deaths and more than 110,000 wounded; the highest level of casualties in such a short period of time of any U.S. military encounter in history. More than 8,000 are still missing in action six decades later. I explained to my three Korean visitors that “these American boys are still in your country, their remains mixed with the soil of your land. They will not be coming home. But they were long ago welcomed ‘home’ by their Heavenly Father, to whom each is known and numbered.”
Those of us who were lucky enough to return to our native land, received little in the way of recognition and thanks from a population long ago weary of war and attuned to a world which had moved on without us. Yet – in the eyes of history – what we accomplished is indeed unique. We helped to purchase for a country with a thousand years of proud history, a new birth of freedom which has given rise to one of the modern world’s most vibrant and successful democracies, and generations of children who have grown up bright-eyed and free. This is something we have not accomplished so successfully in our long history of fighting on foreign soil. This has in fact only happened this once. What a national oversight we display when we accept the notion that Korea is anything other than our greatest FORGOTTEN VICTORY.