CAMP BLANDING – For four years, Americans and many other allies fought alongside South Koreans in a war that many dubbed “The Forgotten War.”
The Korean War, in which U.S. troops fought from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1954, would see nearly 34,000 soldiers killed in action, another 20,000 killed as bystanders of the war and over 100,000 wounded. Many soldiers never returned home, only to be forgotten by the American people like the war itself.
However, there are those who did return home, such as Terry Fitzpatrick, 87, who served as a Sergeant at Arms for the Twenty Fifth Division of the Thirty Fifth Infantry Regiment for the U.S. Army. Fitzpatrick and others will never forget the lives the rest of the world no longer remembers.
On Aug. 6, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho and South Korean Ambassador H.E. Cho Yoon-Je made their way to Camp Blanding to honor Fitzpatrick and over 30 other Korean War veterans. They also honored the soldiers who are no longer talked about with medals made of wire from the Korean Demilitarized Zone that’s been melted down and coated in gold.
This event was originally scheduled to happen last spring, but due to scheduling conflicts, it was moved to August. One of the main advocates for rescheduling the event was Yoon-Je himself. According to a Camp Blanding representative, Yoon-Je believed this commemoration was too important to allow it to fall to the wayside. Yoon-Je wanted to present these medals to the veterans himself.
To receive the medal at all was an honor for Fitzpatrick, but to receive it from Yoon-Je meant the world to him. According to Fitzpatrick, Yoon-Je serves as a living example of why Fitzpatrick and his fellow veterans did what they did over 50 years ago.
“All of this means so much,” said Fitzpatrick, who fought in the Korean War from November of 1951 to September of 1953. “It’s been worth it, in what it’s done for Korea. [This medal] is just icing on the cake.”
Despite receiving the medal, Fitzpatrick, like many of the veterans sitting beside him that day, was there to receive the medal for not only himself, but for someone else as well.
“We’re here to remember the bodies we brought back, the ones that didn’t make it to today,” Fitzpatrick said.
Before bestowing the medals upon the veterans, Yoho and Yoon-Je took to a podium to explain the significance of the day in their eyes. For Yoho, who serves as the chair of the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee of Foreign Affairs, sees himself and Yoon-Je working closely together, remembering these veterans’ service as a way to celebrate the victory of the Korean War.
“The reason that I can stand here today...is because of the service, sacrifice, dedication and commitment you folks have made,” Yoho said to the veterans seated in front of him. “Not just you, but the generations that came before and the generations yet to come. That’s what preserves the foundational principles of this country.”
“We’re here for a very special purpose and that’s to honor those of the Korean War,” Yoho said. “You all signed a line on a document that said you would fight to preserve democracy, second to none, around the world and it’s because of what you have done that has allowed a strict demarcation between North and South Korea.”
Following Yoho, Yoon-Je spoke about how honored he was to be present for such an occasion, citing how important it is that not just South Koreans, and not just Americans, but everyone, remember the sacrifice they made. According to Yoon-Je, that sacrifice serves as the foundation for the relationship the U.S. and South Korea have today.
“You all fought to defend freedom in a country you never knew,” Yoon-Je said. “This is why we say that our alliance with the United States is proved in blood – it’s because of your immeasurable sacrifice.”
As each veteran came forward to accept their medal, it was clear that despite different origins, deployment dates and branches of the military, these men – with no women present – were part of a brotherhood, and each one stood tall. Yoho put it best later after the ceremony when he said these men stand proud, regardless of what they may be experiencing now.
“Some of these guys show up all the time at color guard events when you need a color guard,” Yoho said. “You see these guys, and they got a lot of miles on them, but when they put that uniform on, and when they’re holding that flag and marching, they are so prideful of the service they gave this country, and then you see the results of a vibrant economy and democracy, that you can’t help but get a tear in your eye.”