Therese Park

American Troops Heading home

The Troops are Coming Home!

During his recent State of the Union AddressPresident Obama declared
thatall of the U.S. combat troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this
August. "We will support ...and will continue to partner with the Iraqi
people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But...this war is ending,
and all of our troops are coming home," he said.

While the audience cheered, I, a Korean-American, wondered
whether President Truman had made the same promise to the Americans troops
fighting in Korea, nearly six decades ago.

The day the U.S. troops left our town of Pusan in early fall
of 1953, I watched a long line of American military trucks passing us with a
mixture of feelings. Then a seventh grader, I was sad and scared at the same
time; sad because we kids had been demonstrating against all Americans in
our country and now they were leaving; scared, because we did not know when
North Koreans would launch another "surprise attack" on us.

A large crowd had gathered in the town's square for the
occasion, and there was a sense of festivity. A band was playing the
American anthem over and over, and American and Korean flags were flapping
from the tall flagpoles, side―by―side. Several airplanes were cruising
overhead, each dragging a long tail of white foam, like on a national
holiday.

Unlike the day American soldiers had entered our town three
years earlier, we school kids were not mobilized to salute the departing
soldiers. All summer long, we had been demonstrating in front of the U.S.
army base on the outskirts of the town or on the street, shouting, "Move out
Americans! We'll fight until the last man! We want reunification!"
Grownups―religious groups, teachers, labors' unions, and even women's
organizations--did, too, marching, carrying placards, and shouting
slogans.

Our 78 year―old president, Syngman Rhee, had engineered all
anti American demonstrations nationwide to stop the cease fire negotiations
between the American and Chinese leaders. Life Magazine's June 22, 1953
issue reads, "After about 35 months of bloodshed and 23 months of haggling,
the combatants of Korea at last achieved every essential of a truce, except
the agreement of one supremely stubborn old man. South Korea's 78-year-old
President Syngman Rhee cried that truce between the UN and the Communists
means death to his country and threatened to fight on alone to expel the
Chinese Reds, and take the entire Korea. "If you have to leave us, we're
sorry to see you go," he said. Meanwhile, the United Nations gravely faced
the fact that, if Rhee's threats were carried out, he might very well wreck
the truce beyond repair."

Despite our protest, the truce was signed by American and
Chinese leaders on July 27th, and now, we were waving at the U.S. troops for
the last time. I didn't know what to think or feel. I wished I could shout
my apologies for demonstrating.

The soldiers waving to us from the trucks were those who handed
us kids a Hershey bar or a pack of Juicy Fruits whenever we bowed to them.
Some even took photos of us. They were the ones who built a sturdy metal
bridge over the creek, after the log bridge had floated away during the
flood. Some of them might have seen us from the airplanes as we studied on
the mountain, on bare dirt, like a herd of mountain goats, after our school
had been confiscated by the South Korean army to use it as a makeshift
hospital. Some of them had attended the mass at our parish church on
Sundays, their military boots still on, dropping clods of dirt on the wooden
floor. And one or two might have served as Santa Claus on Christmas eve,
wearing red suit and laughing Ho, ho, ho.

Looking back now as an American citizen, American troops'
contributions to my motherland was unmeasurable. At the time when despair
was inevitable, they gave us kids hope and the sweet taste of life, and most
importantly, broadened our view of life. The "kids" in that turbulent era grew up and rebuilt South Korea on a sturdy foundation.

Thank you, all Korean War veterans. Your sacrifices during the
Forgotten War will never be forgotten by those who lived through it.

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