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Korean War veterans honored in annual ceremony

The "Turn Toward Busan" annual ceremony is held in Busan on Thursday. (Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs)
The annual ceremony honoring UN veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War will be held in Busan on Thursday.

The “Turn Toward Busan” event -- attended by Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez, UN Command Commander Gen. Paul LaCamera -- takes place in the city housing the first UN cemetery with 2,311 war dead from 11 countries. About 2 million UN troops participated in the war.

The ceremony, which has invited veterans and their families as well as top diplomats representing 22 countries here that helped South Korea, will involve a minute’s silence to pay respects.

Nov. 11 is a day of remembrance for fallen soldiers in many countries. Since 2007, Korea has marked the day as International Memorial Day for UN Veterans, having legally recognized the day last year -- a change that allows the Veterans Ministry to use more funds to hold the event.

Canadian veteran Vincent Courtenay, who first suggested commemorating the day, said “everybody who fell,” not just those buried in Busan, should have his or her service recognized, describing the one minute of silence as a way to keep their memories alive.

This year, the Veterans Ministry is also laying at the cemetery the remains of three UK soldiers it uncovered four years ago in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, a city just south of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will express his gratitude in a video message.

Philip Wood, a 91-year-old British veteran who was a sapper, or a military engineer, responsible for clearing minefields, said he still recalls wartime memories and was pleased to have been able to be in touch with the Korean government even so long after the war.

“This is my fourth trip to South Korea,” Wood said, adding he was amazed to see the fast-changing urban landscape every time he made the trip.

Courtenay, also 91, said he was grateful to the Korean government for having reached out to overseas veterans, like himself, even though disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have made exchanges harder than ever.

“I am just elated, very pleased to be able to come back,” Courtenay said. He joined the Canadian Army when he was 16 and said he flew here to support South Korea when it was invaded by North Korea.

He said he would gladly make the same decision to fight in the war if he were to make the choice again, because that would be honorable.

“I think everybody who was with me, they would do the same thing,” Courtenay said, referring to his friends who fought alongside him. “Even one of my good friends who lost legs. He was 19 years old, a football player.”

By Choi Si-young (