The first stop on his five-day trip was the memorial dedicated to the US veterans of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the 1950-53 Korean War. The battle, also known as Changjin Lake Campaign, raged from Nov. 27 to Dec. 13, 1950 and is considered one of the fiercest battles in the three-year conflict.
On Nov. 27, 1950, thousands of allied soldiers, including a few thousand from the US X Corps, suddenly found themselves encircled by an overwhelmingly larger number of Chinese soldiers, high in the mountains of Changjin, North Korea. A brutal 17-day battle, fought in extreme cold temperatures, soon followed and the allied forces eventually managed to escape the deadly trap, with heavy casualties.
|President Moon Jae-in and first lady Kim Jung-sook listen to an explanation during a visit to the Jangjin Lake Battle Monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia, the first scheduled event on his four-day visit to the United States. (Yonhap)|
For Moon, the battle has an even more significant meaning. In his own words he owes his life to the veterans of the engagement, as the battle enabled the evacuation of tens of thousands of refugees -- with Moon’s parents among them -- from Hungnam, a port city in North Korea.
During the evacuation, about 200,000 soldiers and troops were moved out of the port city.
In the operation, the US merchant marine ship SS Meredith Victory is credited for the largest rescue mission by a single vessel, as it carried more than 14,000 refugees to South Korea, giving rise to the name “Ship of Miracles.”
In paying his respects, Moon referred to the evacuation of Hungnam as “the most humanitarian operation in the history of civilization,” and thanked US military officials, veterans and their families attending the ceremony, including retired rear Adm. James Robert Lunney, who was part of the crew of SS Meredith Victory.
Moon highlighted his family’s connection to the battle, retelling the story of how his parents were among the evacuees.
“I was born two years later on Geoje, where Victory set down (the refugees). With the bravery of the Changjin Lake Campaign, without the evacuation of Hungnam, my life would not have begun, and I would not be here today,” Moon said.
“Beyond my personal and familial history, I am moved by the humanism of the American soldiers, who rescued so many refugees from North Korea,” Moon said.
“This is the reason why Changjin Lake Campaign and the evacuation of Hungnam is the greatest victory in the world’s history of warfare.”
Moon went on to relay his mother’s story of the US troops handing out candies on Dec. 24, 1950 to the evacuees aboard the ship. He said that he has always felt grateful for the soldiers’ warmhearted actions.
“Korea remembers the sacrifice and dedication of you and your parents. The memory of gratitude and respect will live on forever,” he added.
He went on to say that the “Korea-US alliance was forged in the fires of war” and that its meaning and integrity were greater than “promises made with signatures on pieces of paper.”
“(I) will move forward with President Trump. From the foundations of the great Korea-US alliance, (the two countries) will bring about the end of the North Korean nuclear program and peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
For survivors of the battle, Moon wished health and longevity.
“I heard there are only about 50 survivors. I hope you all live long to see the two Koreas unite again.”
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Korea Herald correspondent