Ambassador’s Message – Irish Memorial and Veterans’ Revisit
18 April 2013
We commemorate this year the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Korean War. Ireland was not a member at its outbreak and so we could not be one of the contingents fighting under UN Command. However, many men of Irish birth and heritage fought and died in the War, mainly with Commonwealth and US forces.
Next week we will unveil a memorial to them. Veterans from Ireland will form part of the Commonwealth Revisit. I would like to apprise you of the Irish dimension to the Revisit which is a new departure made possible by the Northern Ireland peace process and the historic reconciliation between Ireland and Britain.
Our Korean War veterans in Ireland are currently making their final preparations for their long journey here next week.
Old soldiers and elderly gentlemen, they are still game, joking that after seeing all the media coverage of [heightened tensions on] the peninsula recently they should pack their boots just in case they are needed again to defend South Korea. We are really looking forward to meeting them.
The Commonwealth Revisit programme will keep them busy with ceremonies and visits to battle sites and the UN Cemetery in Busan.
Veterans will travel on Tuesday to Jeokseong for the memorial to the Glosters who were annihilated at the Battle of the Imjin River in April 1951. The Royal Ulster Rifles’ dogged resistance, along with other elements of the 29th British Brigade, blunted the Chinese onslaught, allowed UN forces to withdraw in order, helped stymie the most concerted attempt of the War to defeat UN forces (these events are memorialised by Koreans as “1.4”). I am co-hosting a welcoming reception at the British Ambassador’s Residence that evening.
On Wednesday we will all attend the Commonwealth Memorial Ceremony in the morning and then travel in the afternoon to the site of the Battle of Happy Valley (January 1951).
After the ANZAC Dawn Service on Thursday morning, we will dedicate the Irish Memorial at the War Memorial of Korea. Guests will include relatives of the veterans, representatives of the Columban Order, Commonwealth Ambassadors and Defence Attachés and the Korean Minister for Patriot and Veterans Affairs, Mr Park Sung-choon. The Canadian Minister for Veterans Affairs, Mr Steven Blaney, will also attend: he feels a deep affinity with his Irish heritage and we are very happy to have him attend our dedication. That evening, the Minister Park will host a thank-you banquet at the Lotte Hotel for all the Commonwealth Veterans.
On Friday, our veterans will be part of the Commonwealth Veteran’s trip to Busan. On Saturday, they will visit the DMZ and conclude the day with a Reception at our Residence.
Meanwhile, our Korean sculptor is busy completing the memorial itself which we designed as a simply hexagon plinth topped with an image of the island of Ireland and with inscriptions on its facets embracing all those of Irish birth or heritage who lost their lives in the war, including soldiers and missionaries.
The Irish dedication ceremony will be an intensely personal one for the attending veterans. They came through some of the most intense combat of the twentieth century and saw many of their comrades fall. Sixty years may seem like a long time but life passes quickly and memories stay fresh. The memorial is just stone and words but it will help recover and preserve the contribution that these veterans and all those who died in the war made to Korea and to the success of the only war fought under the UN flag.