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93-year-old British veteran to sing Arirang to commemorate Korean War
Veterans say they hope to reunite with long-lost Korean friendsBy Lee Jung-joo
Published : July 25, 2023 - 17:06
When British veteran Colin Thackery first heard Korean military men singing Arirang on the battlefield during the 1950-53 Korean War, he could not have known what the song was about and that he himself would be belting it out 70 years later in the country he had fought for.
“When we first heard Arirang, we didn't know what it was. We thought it was a lullaby or a national anthem because we heard it so often. But it’s very familiar to everybody now. It has such a pretty tune,” said Thackery, who is in Seoul to commemorate their service during the war.
The winner of TV competition "Britain’s Got Talent" in 2019 is set to sing Arirang, a Korean folk song that speaks about leaving and reunion, sorrow, joy and happiness, at the 2023 Ministerial Summit on Veterans Affairs, which takes place in Busan on Wednesday. “When I was asked to sing it at the banquet, I was very delighted. I’ve been practicing by singing it to other experts. I hope I got the pronunciation correct and I hope I’m singing it right.”
Thackery is one of 64 Korean War veterans and their families invited to a program hosted by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice signed on July 27, 1953.
The 93-year-old British veteran said he was amazed at seeing Seoul's transformation.
"My colleagues and I remember the devastation we saw when we were here 70 years ago, but now it’s full of tall buildings. I congratulate the Korean people on their success and prosperity."
Speaking to the Korean media, Thackery sat alongside US veteran William Word and Canadian veteran Edward Buckner, who also shared special memories about Korea at war 70 years ago.
Word said he had a choice to not volunteer as a soldier because he was a farmer, but he decided to join the US Army anyway after he graduated high school.
“After receiving basic training, I was given a choice to go to the Far East or to Europe. I chose the Far East at the time and ended up coming to Korea,” Word said. “I wasn't sure if that was a stupid or smart choice at the time, but I now know it was a smart choice. I’d do it all over again in Korea if I had to.”
For Word and Buckner, among the reasons they enjoyed serving in Korea so much were the “wonderful people.”
“I did not meet a lot of Koreans during my service, but the ones I met were always very gracious to me,” said Buckner.
Both Word and Buckner are also hoping to reunite with long-lost Korean friends. Buckner wants to meet “Cho Chock-song,” who did cleaning work for his squad during his service.
“Cho helped us a lot when we had just arrived at our post in Busan, and also when we were waiting to go up to the north to join the fighting,” said Buckner. “He helped to keep our tents clean and get dirt off our floor.”
Buckner kept a photo of Cho to never forget him.
Word recalled meeting a boy who went by the name “Chang,” who he says was around 11 or 12 years old at the time. “Chang would come into our camp and ask the soldiers if we wanted our clothes washed or our boots shined. He would do anything for us.”
Word also said that he still thinks about Chang and wonders how he is doing. “He’s probably in his 80s by now. With all the information we have about Chang, we are trying to look for him.”
The 64 veterans will be in South Korea through Saturday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement that brought a halt to the Korean War.
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Address by President Yoon Suk Yeol on the 105th March 1st Independence Movement Day