Sacrifices made six decades ago were rewarded Sunday when Korean War veterans were presented "Ambassador for Peace" medals from the South Korean government.
An estimated 550 people watched as 130 vets were presented their medals at the Korean Society of Vancouver event in the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Sifton. The occasion was called Korean Liberation Day and Korea-U.S. Friendship Benefit.
The program was presented in English and Korean.
Some of the recipients were in wheelchairs, and some walked slowly to have their medals placed around their necks. The average age of the Korean War vet is 84, said the Rev. Jerry Keesee, 77, commander of the Korean War Veterans Association of Southwest Washington.
Kenneth Blodgett, 82, of Canby, Ore., received his medal. He served in Korea from 1950 to 1952.
Navy yeoman second class Blodgett served on several ships, including the George Clymer, APA 27, a troop carrier.
"They loaded the troops in the landing crafts and put them on the beach," Blodgett said. "We hit Inchon, Wonsan and Hungnam and all those (sites) had been mined."
As the war raged, "We were hearing what was going on, and it was pretty brutal. We lost a lot of men."
Blodgett said he had "top secret clearance" and remembered taking orders to generals.
When he came home, he married his wife Millie, who was at the ceremony with him. They celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in December.
Blodgett spent 32 years as a police officer before retiring.
He said he was happy to receive his medal and his war years are "something I'll never forget."
Retired Maj. Gen. Curtis A. Loop reminded the audience of the difference between North Korea and South Korea today.
Of North Korea, he said, "they have incredible weapons of mass destruction" but a poor health care system where many suffer from malnutrition.
He said South Korea has the 12th largest economy in the world and in 2013 elected its first woman leader, Park Geun-hye.
After more stark comparisons, Loop asked, "Which nation is the better?"
Things looked dark during the war, with China supporting North Korea, and Loop called the result "one of the greatest triumphs in human freedom."
Choi Chul Ho, Republic of Korea counsul in Seattle, thanked the vets for their sacrifices, and Vancouver Councilman Larry Smith said Korea is "a war that should never, never be forgotten."
Keesee said the Korean awards have been given for the last three years, matching the 60th anniversary of those war years, and said he doubted such ceremonies would happen again.
Did you know?
Hostilities between North Korea and South Korea lasted from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953. A peace treaty has never been signed, so the Korean War is said to have never ended.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the United States suffered 33,686 battle deaths, along with 2,830 non-battle deaths during the Korean War. South Korea reported some 373,599 civilian and 137,899 military deaths.
There are more than 7,900 American soldiers still missing in action from the Korean War.