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70 years after the Korean War began, we must not forget its heroic veterans

Too many of these amazing veterans are more forgotten than ever.

SHARE 70 years after the Korean War began, we must not forget its heroic veterans
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A boy wears a mask as he visits the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall on Memorial Day in Washington, Monday, May 25, 2020.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

A little more than 70 years ago, communist North Korea launched a thunderous artillery attack on democratic South Korea, crossing over the 38th parallel and leaving a trail of destruction on its way to Seoul. The June 25, 1950, brutal military invasion was an explosive culmination of simmering tensions that had been fermenting since the end of World War II, just five years earlier. The Western world, focused on healing and getting on with their lives, didn’t pay much attention to what they termed a “regional conflict” — after all, it was just a civil war, and shouldn’t the two Koreas resolve their differences by themselves? 

Four of my uncles were among the 5.2 million young Americans who once again answered the call of duty. All had served in World War II, as did my father, and they were ready and willing to protect our freedoms again — even if it meant going halfway around the world to do it; even though they had never met a Korean before. 

Seventy years later, veterans of the Korean War believe their heroic efforts to free the Korean people have been largely forgotten. These men and women selflessly answered the call and left their homes to fight alongside local troops to ensure the freedom of millions of Koreans. Today, their free and prosperous country stands upon the ashes of an all-too-often forgotten war as one of the world’s most powerful economies. 

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. No events, no ceremonies will recognize and honor the approximately 1.2 million Korean War veterans in the final years of their lives. More than 500 Korean War veterans die every day in the United States. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of these veterans are locked down in care centers — cut off from contact with their family and friends. These forgotten heroes are dying alone, without knowing how valued their service has been to our nation and the people of Korea. 

Before the pandemic, a significant nationwide initiative had begun to honor each of these veterans and ensure that they knew what their service has meant to the Korean people and what an astonishing country Korea is today as a result. Produced in partnership with the Korean and United States governments, this initiative consists of a 176-page hardcover book, “Korea Reborn,” and feature-length documentary, “The Remembered War.” Pre-pandemic, the commemorative had been distributed to more than 300,000 gratified Korean War veterans in all 50 states. 

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, this initiative has been delayed at a time when it is more critical than ever. Now the challenge is a race against the clock to get these commemoratives into nursing homes, assisted-living centers, VA homes and other long-term care facilities, where many of these veterans now reside, alone and isolated. 

As the 70th anniversary of the Korean War now commences, too many of these amazing veterans are more forgotten than ever. Despite the pandemic, we must celebrate, honor and thank these heroes before it’s too late.

Elayne Wells Harmer holds degrees from Stanford University and the University of Utah, and today is an attorney, writer and editor.