Remembering the Forgotten War: Border tensions remain at DMZ
Our sister station NY1 was one of only 16 news organizations from around the world invited by the South Korean government to recently cover that country's events surrounding the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. In our first installment, NY1's Lewis Dodley takes a look at the still high tensions on display along South Korea's demilitarized zone.
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Along the 38th parallel, a single North Korean soldier can be seen watching those on the other side of the border. Those who visit the area are told not to point or make any gestures his way, a grim reminder that tensions are still high after a war that started six decades ago.
In the early morning hours of June 25, 1950, the North Korean barrage on the South caught the world by surprise and put almost the entire country in its grip.
The tide turned with General Douglas McArthur's bold counter attack at Incheon, allowing U.S. troops to sweep all the way to North Korea's border with China. But the victory was negated as the Chinese entered the war and turned back the 8th Army. Thousands of U.S. troops were killed. Among those surrounded was Congressman Charles Rangel who says some of his fatigued comrades even froze to death in their sleep.
"It was a massacre and it was a nightmare. And the fact that I had no clue as to what I was doing and I managed to get out because I had given myself up for being dead. There was no way I thought I could survive," Rangel said.
On July 27, 1953, the shooting stopped along what is now the DMZ or demilitarized zone. Since then, it has been simultaneously guarded by North Korea, U.S., United Nations command, and South Korean forces.
"Our alliance is strong and I have faith in my ROK counterparts," said U.S. Air Force Specialist Beth DelVecchio.
South Korean forces kept watch as veterans of the U.S. and UN forces recently paid a visit to the DMZ for their own remembrance ceremonies, including some from New York.
"I never thought I would come back here. I hope they get together somehow or another. It is my hope. We've been treated royally coming over here," said Korean War veteran Henry Sipila.
The real drama was saved for the arrival of the American bus -- an odd, largely symbolic stare down that one veteran said typifies talks between the two sides and dates all the way back to the 1953 Armistice.
"It took them two weeks to decide on the size of a table because they didn't want it where one side would have the appearance of being on top of the other side," said Korean War veteran Arthur Adonolfi.
But as the standoff between the North and South continues there are signs of hope, like the crowd that gathered atop the North Korean compound for their own anniversary ceremonies. Their friendly waves gave the sense that there is still hope for a united Korea, not from the barrel of a gun, but from the will of the people.