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Allegheny

Korean War veterans hopeful, but realistic, about peace

| Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, 5:39 p.m.
Judge Livingstone M. Johnson opens a banquet for Korean War Veterans hosted by Starkist in Pittsburgh. Aug. 14, 2018.
Judge Livingstone M. Johnson opens a banquet for Korean War Veterans hosted by Starkist in Pittsburgh. Aug. 14, 2018.

More than 65 years have passed since a Demilitarized Zone was established along the 38th parallel as it cuts across the Korean Peninsula.

That zone, born as a result of an armistice signed July 27, 1953, ended the fighting of the Korean War but not the war itself. It stands as one of the most heavily guarded borders on the planet, still separating a once unified nation, and strong in the minds of its veterans.

On Tuesday, nearly 100 surviving members of the Korean War Veterans Association of Western PA and their families joined with South Korean-owned Starkist at the Sheraton at Station Square in Pittsburgh for a banquet aimed toward remembering those lost and to continue the wait for peace.

Retired Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Livingstone M. Johnson is one of those who wait. Johnson was an Air Force pilot who flew 58 combat missions over the Korean Peninsula.

Johnson, who led the opening ceremonies for the banquet, said the Korean War isn’t any closer to being over than it was 65 years ago.

“I hope that what has been proposed is able to be accomplished, but I don’t believe what has been proposed will be sufficient for us to see a total peace,” he said of recent agreements between the two Korean governments regarding an official end to the conflict and a denuclearized peninsula. As far as Johnson is concerned, President Trump hasn’t convinced him the plans will work.

“I don’t believe the current president has approached this with the seriousness it deserves,” he said. “I don’t think he comprehends North Korea’s duplicitous nature.”

Beyond that, Johnson said, the president doesn’t understand what renewed tensions would mean to the U.S. military.

“As someone who has fought in a war, as someone who has lost friends in a war, I know the cost of warfare,” he said. “Those costs are something I have to contemplate when I weigh decisions which might end in conflict. I don’t think the president is seriously contemplating those costs and the sacrifice required by our military.”

Andrew Choe, president and CEO of Starkist, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, said it is impossible for the tuna giant’s parent company, Dongwon, of Seoul, South Korea, to forget about the sacrifices made by America’s military.

“Our offices in Seoul are right by the war memorial,” he said. “So it always serves as a reminder of the sacrifice made by the American military. It’s good to do this for these men.”

Choe is hopeful renewed peace talks will come to fruition, but he was quick to point out this is not the first time the North and South have sat to speak, only to have tensions return to new heights.

“I’ve been through this before,” he said. “I’m hopeful but, in terms of belief that peace will come, I’m realistic. It was always an on-and-off relationship with the North. I’m not so sure that has changed.”

Choe said it is an extremely good sign to see North Korea returning the remains of soldiers lost in the war.

Chuck Marwood, 87, of Brentwood found himself in Korea soon after the fighting started. An electrician’s mate not even old enough to buy a beer, he arrived in Korea on Aug. 3, 1950, and would spend 18 months there.

“We all would like to have this resolved,” he said. “It’s getting close, if you can believe them. We would like to see something official.”

Marwood said, despite the hostility to this day on the Korean Peninsula, the Korean community within the U.S. — and especially in Western Pennsylvania — always has supported the veterans of that war. Marwood said that goes double for Starkist.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much Starkist has done to partner with our association,” Marwood said.

The war has been called the “Forgotten War,” because of the lack of publicity it received during wartime operations and since. The conflict claimed the lives of nearly 200,000 American soldiers and resulted in the deaths of more than a million civilians, according to historians.

In June, Trump met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un for an historic summit in Singapore. The meeting has been described by the White House as the first step toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, though some experts have expressed doubt regarding the north’s sincerity.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Matthew at 724-226-4675, mmedsger@tribweb.com or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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