Colorado Korean War veterans skeptical of efforts to build better relations with North Korea

SEOUL, South Korea — The Trump administration continues trying to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear capabilities.

I traveled to the Korean Peninsula as negations played out over the summer. My visit was part of a Korea Press Foundation and East-West Center Fellowship. The experience allowed me to meet North Korean defectors who fled their homeland as a result of decades-old tensions lingering from the Korean War.

In the summer of 1950, communists in the north invaded the south. President Harry Truman sent in American troops hoping to contain the spread of communism.

“Two different times, we hauled a lot of wounded guys,” Army veteran Marv Eakes said.

Eakes, who lives in Broomfield, was in charge of an ambulance company. He worked to save American service members until the very end of the more than 3-year-long saga.

“My guys were hauling wounded kids onto the MASH ... for no good reason,” he said. We knew no one was going to win that thing at that time. It was a stalemate.”

In South Korea, the American and international sacrifice is honored at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. I was honored to visit it during my fellowship in July. I also made time to pay respects at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan where 36 American service members are buried along with hundreds of other service members from countries around the world.

“We were trying to prevent World War III from starting,” said Navy veteran George Brandt.

Risking their lives to make sure tensions would not spread beyond the peninsula was a goal for Brandt and his fellow veterans who routinely gather at the Broomfield Veterans Museum to share war stories. They recall what life was like some 65 years ago south of the 38th Parallel.

“People were scrounging around to make a living— doing pretty much anything they could to survive,” said Army veteran Alan Johnston.

But today, Seoul and the rest of South Korea boast a thriving economy— entirely different than the current economic situation in North Korea. Many Koreans told me they want a unified peninsula. They see the US/North Korea summit as an opportunity to unite a people who share a common history, language and culture. But there’s also plenty of skepticism both in Korea and Colorado.

“[The Kim regime] might be pressured or they might just be putting on a show,” said Navy veteran Joe Lutz.

The amount of distrust that North Korea has for America and vice versa demands a sensitive approach.

“It depends,” Navy veteran Donald Fox said. “We may have a good relationship— which I hope we do— but you never know.”

Colorado veterans are not sure how much progress, if any, they will be able to witness. Meanwhile, they say they will be paying close attention to developments.

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