Two decorated U.S. war veterans had a rare seat at a North Korean memorial ceremony today as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launched his country’s commemoration of the Korean War’s end.
The conflict, pitting North Korean and Chinese troops against U.S.-led United Nations and South Korean forces, ended with an armistice on July 27, 1953. But a peace treaty was never signed, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war and divided at the 38th parallel.
The Americans, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Hudner and former U.S. Marine Dick Bonelli, came to North Korea to revisit Jangjin County, better known to Americans as the Chosin Reservoir—the site of one of the deadliest battles of the Korean War. Hudner and Bonelli are hoping to find the remains of a fellow aviator killed during the war, and were given little notice of today’s event.
“It’s a very emotional occasion to be here with so many veterans—not only the veterans but also the people of the nation who turned out to show their support to all of veterans,” said Hudner, who received the Medal of Honor for trying to save his downed wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
The North Koreans refer to July 27 as “Victory Day,” though neither side officially won the war. Today’s event included a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil a new cemetery for North Korean war veterans. Foreign visitors, who arrived in Pyongyang in droves this week on the eve of the armistice anniversary, included American, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian journalists. China’s vice president arrived today.
Commemorations also are taking place in South Korea and the United States. South Korean President Park Geun-hye attended a memorial event Tuesday in the southern city of Busan to pay her respects to the troops who defended her country during the war. U.S. President Barack Obama will give a speech Saturday at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington.
But though the armistice was signed 60 years ago, tensions remain in the divided Korean house. Pyongyang threatened on Thursday to reposition troops at a stalled, joint factory park at a North Korean border town. The warning, which Pyongyang has made before, came after failed talks to reopen the site, once a rare symbol of cooperation between the rivals. North Korea shuttered the complex in April.