Mesa Musings: Koreas' war far from over

"In the spring … kings go off to war," the author of 2 Samuel wrote three millennia ago.

Lee crossed the Potomac and invaded the Union in June 1863; Hitler ran roughshod over France in May 1940; and North Korea invaded the South in June 1950. (The attack on Pearl Harbor is an obvious exception to this rule.)

Thank goodness it's December!

I'm guessing that despite the recent saber rattling on the Korean peninsula, North Korea isn't an imminent threat to push south. The peninsula has long been a volatile flashpoint for international politics but — trust me — it's cold there this time of year.

The North Koreans invaded South Korea in June 1950, precipitating a three-year war. A cease-fire was negotiated in July 1953, but, technically, the war goes on 57 years later.

I was stationed in Korea 15 years after communist forces invaded the South.

Many times our commanders reminded us: "Men, we're still at war."

I choose to label the 1950-53 confrontation a "war" even though officially it was called a "conflict" in order to get around a Congressional declaration of war. It was also referred to as a "police action."

As an Army correspondent in Korea from June 1965 through December 1966, whenever I slipped up and wrote "Korean War" in one of my dispatches, instead of "Korean Conflict," I was rebuked for it.

While stationed there I visited the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Panmunjom straddles the border separating the Koreas. Complex and often raucous negotiations have taken place there since the truce was ratified.

United Nations and North Korean troops guard the Joint Security Area. If you walk into the northern half of the compound, you're on North Korean soil.

American commanders routinely instruct their testosterone-powered young soldiers not to make eye contact with North Korean guards when visiting the compound. We were also warned not to flash derogatory hand signals, though the urge was palpable!

There have been numerous fights between soldiers on both sides of the DMZ over the years:

•On the evening of Nov. 2, 1966, an eight-man patrol of U.S. soldiers was attacked south of the DMZ by North Koreans. Six U.S. soldiers were killed, one South Korean soldier died, and a seventh American was left for dead.

•In January 1968, North Korean commandoes boarded and captured the U.S.S. Pueblo, a Navy intelligence ship. The Pueblo was taken to the port of Wonsan and the 82 crewmembers were placed in P.O.W. camps. The crew was released 11 months later.

•In November 1987, a South Korean 707 airliner was bombed in mid-air by North Korean agents, who had planted a bomb on the flight from Baghdad to Seoul. All 115 people aboard KAL 858 were killed.

•In 1999, North Korean patrol boats repeatedly violated South Korean waters and 20 North Korean sailors were killed.

• And this past March, North Korea sank a 1,200-ton South Korean warship in the Yellow Sea, killing 46 crewmen.

Back in November 1966, I managed the Public Information Office at Ascom City, a U.S. post near Incheon. We had the only U.S. Army morgue in the country, so the bodies of dead GIs were brought to our facility to be prepared for burial. Nearly 34,000 American troops died in the Korean War. The death toll — both military and civilian — probably exceeded 2 million.

Many more lives would be lost should another war break out on the peninsula again.

What happens there today matters to Americans because 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

North Korea's shelling of South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island last month is the latest of many provocations perpetrated by the communist North.

The peninsula remains a dangerous place. The war is far from over.

Grandsons now watch over the same ramparts their grandfathers defended.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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