South Korea presents medals to 120 local veterans of Korean War

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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After almost six decades, memories of the Korean War still brought tears to the eyes of some local veterans Saturday.

They were among 120 former service members honored in a Vancouver medal ceremony.

Local veterans’ groups joined the Korean Society of Vancouver and a consulate official as South Korea presented medals to local veterans of the conflict.

The ceremony at LeRoy Haagen Memorial Community Park was part of the annual observance of Korean Independence Day and Korean-American Union Day.

“What a privilege it was to participate,” said Jerry Keesee, chaplain of American Legion Post 14 and one of the event’s organizers. “To see some of these men with walkers and canes; some were crying as they received their medals.”

Keesee, an Air Force mechanic during the Korean War, said he and Dick Quatier put together the list of veterans to be honored.

“We consulted with every veterans’ group in the county; that’s 15 groups,” Keesee said. The war started June 25, 1950; hostilities ended July 27, 1953.

Quatier served in the U.S. Army’s 6th Infantry, 3rd Division, during the war.

“My older brother is still over there,” Quatier said. “Robert is missing in action.”

Quatier added that he and his four brothers all enlisted in the military when they turned 17, although their father wasn’t very happy about it.

He eventually got to see his father’s discharge papers, Quatier said. Their dad was 17 when he joined the Army to fight in World War I.

Saturday’s event drew almost 400 people, Keesee said — at least, based on the food that was part of the celebration.

“They served 372 meals,” Keesee said.

South Korea was represented by Choi Yeong Han, a member of the consul staff at the consulate general in Seattle.

Not all the veterans on the list received their medals on Saturday, Keesee said. Organizers will put together another medal ceremony at a date to be determined by South Korean officials.

Korean War veterans who weren’t on Saturday’s list and want to be included in a future medal ceremony can contact Keesee at 360-573-1035.

A few of the veterans invited to Saturday’s ceremony didn’t live long enough to receive their medals, by the way.

“We have been working on this since July 5, and three veterans died since then,” Keesee said. “It hurts; we just weren’t fast enough.”