Veterans of “America’s Forgotten War” received a homecoming Saturday morning in Washington that was 60 years in the making.
A crowd estimated at over 300 people gathered at Krog Park to hear veterans, political leaders and representatives from South Korea pay tribute to those who served in the Korean War on the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting.
The political leaders included Gov. Jay Nixon and Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer.
About 50 area veterans, most in their 80s and some in wheelchairs, received several standing ovations during the observance which was organized by the recently formed Chapter 324 of the Korean War Veterans Association.
The observance was held adjacent to the Korean War Memorial in the park on an unseasonably cool July day that Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer called “glorious.”
Veterans, seated in front of a stage erected near the memorial, donned special caps and received a Korean War medallion during the ceremony, which included patriotic selections from the Washington Brass Band and stirring renditions of the national anthem and “God Bless America” by Connie Jones.
“Some six decades ago, thousands of young Missourians were returning to their homes, in farming hamlets, small towns and big cities across this very diverse state — including towns like Washington, Pacific, Gerald, Union, Sullivan, St. Clair and New Haven,” Gov. Jay Nixon remarked. “Through their service so many miles away, they forged an extraordinary, enduring bond. Now, well over half a century later, some of the members of that exceptional band of brothers are with us — their bond still unbroken. They are the reason we gather today.”
Nixon arrived at the event early to meet with veterans and personally thank them for their service. Following his speech, the governor placed a wreath, which was donated by the state, at the Korean War Memorial.
In an interview prior to the ceremony, Nixon said that the observance in Washington was believed to be the largest of its kind in the state.
“It’s important for us to be here today to show our support for Korean War veterans in your county and for veterans across the state and the country,” Nixon said. “I’m confident Washington will make a strong showing for our state, this town always does.”
Nixon said one of the proudest moments of his life was when he had an opportunity to pin a Korean War Service Medal on his father a few years ago on Thanksgiving.
In his remarks, Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer praised the sacrifices of the veterans saying their efforts have protected freedom for the people of South Korea and given them the ability to pass that torch of freedom on to their future generations.
“. . . that is why we are here today,” Luetkemeyer said. “To remember, to honor, to pay our respect to those who served in the Korean War. We owe you a debt we can never repay. And can only commit ourselves to continue to protect and promote our freedom and say to each of you a heartfelt thank you.”
Frank Williams, state commander of the Korean War Veterans Association, praised the local chapter for organizing the event. “It’s simply amazing what they have accomplished,” he added.
Two representatives from South Korea spoke at the ceremony. Suann Taylor, who lives in Union, said she appreciated the rare opportunity to stand before those who made her freedom possible to personally say thank you.
“Thank you for being a shining example of what a hero is,” she told the veterans.
Han Ko, St. Louis, representing the South Korean government, said that his country was indebted to you (veterans) forever and that your sacrifice and courage will never be forgotten by the people of South Korea.
Ko helped pass out the service medallions to the veterans. He introduced his mother and his son saying “Without your sacrifice and courage we would not be here today.”
Les Eckelkamp, a Korean War veteran from Washington, shared some of his personal experiences during the war in a speech that had the other veterans nodding in agreement.
Allen Willey, a Korean War veteran from Warrenton, said the observance was “awesome.”
“I thought it was fabulous,” he said. “It was well put together, the speeches were all great and to the point. How many cities can get the governor to come in and do what he did? That’s impressive.”