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[Herald Interview] Prize of war is peace, freedom: Colombian veterans

Alvaro Lozano, a Colombian veteran who took part in the 1950-53 Korean War, looks at North Korea from the Peace Observatory in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, near the Demilitarized Zone on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Alvaro Lozano, a Colombian veteran who took part in the 1950-53 Korean War, looks at North Korea from the Peace Observatory in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, near the Demilitarized Zone on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Peace and freedom was the prize of the Korean War that South Korea earned, and it should be a reminder for all South Koreans that its vibrant democracy with a strong economy came at a cost, Colombian veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War said Thursday, during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

Separated by the Pacific Ocean, Colombia is the only Latin American country to field ground troops and a warship to help South Korea fight back North Korea and China during the war, which still leaves the two Koreas at an armistice without a peace treaty.

An estimated 580,000 South Korean soldiers were either killed or injured and roughly 40,000 UN soldiers lost their lives during the conflict. About 700 Colombian troops out of 5,100 were killed, injured or captured.

“South Korea is built on the sacrifice and look where it stands today. I admire this country for peace and freedom it fought for,” said Alvaro Lozano, a Colombian Korean War veteran, who is one of two veterans South Korea invited this week to recognize their service on the sidelines of a state visit by the Colombian president.

“The war should be a reminder for South Koreans as well as Colombians that the way of life we embrace and the luxuries we enjoy today will be a thing of the past, if we forget what cost us in the process, what we achieved together,” veteran Guillermo Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, 91, was a career officer in the army who volunteered to fight with South Korea because he had wanted to help counter what he said was a North Korean ambush. “I really hoped to feel this country up close,” he said, adding he had been aware of the inter-Korean standoff.

“The one memory that still comes rushing back to me is when I came back home alive,” he said, noting he never feared death because he knew the risk when he joined the military. “Yes, the thought that I could die any minute crossed my mind, but it never scared me.”

Rodriguez called South Korea an innovative country with diligent people, because Seoul was a different city every time he visited. This marked his eighth trip here since 2008. “Peace is that precious. Without it, you don’t have stability, like jobs.”

Colombian and South Korean war veterans who took part in the 1950-53 Korean War pose for a picture after an interview with The Korea Herald at Millennium Hilton Seoul on Thursday. From left to right: Alvaro Lozano, Kim Ki-jae and Guillermo Rodriguez. (Yonhap)
Colombian and South Korean war veterans who took part in the 1950-53 Korean War pose for a picture after an interview with The Korea Herald at Millennium Hilton Seoul on Thursday. From left to right: Alvaro Lozano, Kim Ki-jae and Guillermo Rodriguez. (Yonhap)
Meanwhile, Lozano, 86, said he had not known of Korea but his friend inspired him to step up. Lozano volunteered for the Korean War as a conscript in the army and fought the first battle here with that friend, who did not survive it.

“When I was young, I had always wanted to apply myself. So when a friend of mine told me about this Korean War, I knew I had to act,” Lozano said

Lozano and Rodriguez, who were awarded peace medals by President Moon during his meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque on Wednesday, thanked South Korea for its recognition of their service. When asked if that came too late or short of what had been owed, the two veterans said it had not.

“Honestly, before 1971 when South Korea opened an embassy in Colombia, Seoul had not been in the place to extend help to us veterans here. It was dealing with its own problems back then, economically,” Rodriguez said, referring to the aftermath of the Korean War.

But the Korean Embassy in Colombia played a major role in bolstering exchanges that brought together local war veterans, according to Rodriguez, who now is president of a local veteran group representing officers.

Lozano, who heads a separate association of Colombian veterans, said he still talks about the war with fellow members. Memories of the war -- good or bad -- help them revisit a key chapter of their lives, he added.

“Few are alive to this day. But we will be here as always working for the two countries until we take that last breath,” Lozano said.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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