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The Worcester Telegram & Gazette   - September 18, 2000 

Korea veterans are remembered in city's salute

                                                                                By Margo Sullivan

WORCESTER-- The rows of small white crosses pitched along one of the ěforgotten hillsidesî in Korea have marked one of the burial grounds of war dead for almost 50 years since the Korean War ended in 1953.

         A photograph of the graves flashed on a movie screen during last night's tribute to the war's veterans at Mechanics Hall. Some of the men in the audience, veterans themselves who saw buddies die in that Far East war, wept and dabbed at their eyes when they saw the hill again.

         The stories of the soldiers who never came back from Korea -- and the heroic deeds of the men who fought and did return -- were remembered last night during a salute to the Korean War heroes. The stories will be told again and again over the next three years, as the nation begins to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the war, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said.

         Sens. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, D-Mass., Gov. Paul Cellucci, and U.S. Reps. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, and J. Joseph Moakley, D-Boston, were among the many political and military leaders from 14 nations attending the Spectacular Salute to Our Korean War Veterans.

         Organized by the Korean War Memorial Committee of Central Massachusetts, the $40-a-ticket event was designed to raise $100,000 for the Korean War Memorial planned for Washington Square. Francis R. Carroll, chairman, said previously that the salute was also being combined with a day of reassessment to consider the legacy of the Korean War, the first flash point in the Cold War between the superpowers that lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

         Mr. Kerry, the keynote speaker, said he hoped the tribute would ěcorrect the terrible injusticeî done to the Korean War veterans since Korea was labeled the ěforgotten war.î

         Mr. Kerry said he was 8 years old when the first wounded veterans began coming home from the battlefields. They were returning to a country that was tired of war and eager to move on with life, he said. People did not want to hear the stories about the battle for Outpost Harry. They wanted the homecoming veterans to put their uniforms on the closet shelf and join in the good times and prosperity, he said.

         Yet, the stories of this war are so compelling, he said, people must look at Korea with ěawe.î The doctors, nurses, chaplains and soldiers served their country, he said, and the battles in Korea are as important to our nation's history as Valley Forge or the Battle of the Bulge.

         ěThey are heroes,î Mr. Kerry said, adding they should never again be considered ěforgotten heroes.î

         Toward the end of last night's emotional salute to Korean War veterans, Mr. Kennedy stopped his speech for a moment to ask the audience a question.

          The senator, who was escorted onstage by former Worcester Mayor Paul V. Mullaney, took a long look out over the rows of people who had been rocking Mechanics Hall with cheers for veterans of the Korean War. Then he said, ěHasn't tonight just been something else?î

         The salute had lived up to every bit of its advance billing, judging from the reaction of the people who heard Mr. Kennedy's question and answered with loud applause.

         The cheers for Mr. Kennedy were not the night's only emotional high point. John McDermott, one of the original Irish Tenors, sang ěOne Small Star,î about the loss of loved ones. When the U.S. Coast Guard band played a military medley, veterans of the various branches of the armed forces spontaneously clapped along, then rose from their seats, clapped harder and sang the words.

         There were more cheers when Gumersindo Gomez, president of the Puerto Rican Veterans Association of Massachusetts, said Worcester was the first in the nation to pay special recognition to the men of the 65th Regiment, the most decorated in the Korean War.

         Mr. Kennedy also announced new legislation to offer asylum in the United States to North Koreans who return a living American prisoner of war. The offer includes asylum for their families, he said, calling it unacceptable that 8,100 soldiers are still unaccounted for in Korea.

         The Sept. 15 landing at Inchon is regarded as the start of the three-year war that claimed 54,000 American lives, he said. Inchon was one of the boldest and riskiest amphibious landings in military history, second only to the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion when the Allies invaded Europe, said Mr. Kennedy, himself a veteran of the Korean War.

         Gen. Douglas MacArthur took the enemy totally by surprise when the United Nations forces came ashore behind enemy lines, the senator said. The troops eventually routed the North Korean army which, backed by the Soviets, had pushed almost all the way to the tip of South Korea by the time the Americans arrived, leaving only Pusan, near the southern tip of the peninsula, unconquered. Gen. MacArthur told President Truman the war would be over by Thanksgiving.

          But on Nov. 25, 300,000 Chinese soldiers, hardened from years in the communist revolution, started a second war, crossing the Yellow River into Korea and driving the American and U.N. forces back below the 38th parallel. The two sides fought to a stalemate until the fighting finally ended with an armistice in 1953. By the end, three million Koreans were homeless; and besides the 54,000 U.S. soldiers killed, more than 100,000 Americans were wounded and 8,100 were declared missing in action.

         Mr. Kennedy also said the veterans of the Korean War deserved to receive full benefits, and he demanded that the Congress budget more money for the Veterans Administration. Veterans represent ěAmerica at its best,î he said.