South Korean military official salutes U.S. veterans

WINCHESTER – Their ranks are thinning as they age, but Korean War veterans from the Winchester area are determined to keep alive the memory of the sacrifices they and their allies made during the bloody three-year conflict.

The local chapter of the Korean War Veterans of the Shenandoah Valley gathered Friday for its annual meeting and to hear a speech from Maj. Gen. Shin Kyoung Soo, of South Korea, his nation’s military attaché to the United States and the highest-ranking member of the South Korean military in this country.

A military attaché is a military expert who supports the work of his nation’s diplomats at overseas outposts.

A grateful Shin praised the 89 active members of the veterans’ group for their efforts in saving South Korea from an invasion by communist North Korea and its Chinese ally from 1950 to 1953. The war, parts of which were fought in murderous cold and rugged mountains, claimed the lives of 42,000 Americans, plus 800 who remain classified as missing in action.

Don Netschke, who was chosen as the association’s new commander at the meeting, served in the Navy in an aircraft carrier task force. He minced no words in describing the experience of defending South Korea.

“It was a brutal, nasty war,” Netschke said, adding that some of the fighting involved hand to hand combat with knives in foxholes.

Shin said South Koreans owe a debt of gratitude to American service members for the country that emerged from the ruins of the war and has since become one of the world’s largest economies, an important U.S. trading partner and a pillar of democracy in Asia.

“It reminds why I am here, and why I wear this uniform,” Shin said of the hardships endured by members of the U.S. military during the war.

The war never ended officially. The United States and its allies signed a truce in 1953 that continues to be punctuated by outbursts of shelling, shooting and hostile rhetoric from North Korea.

The U.S. keeps about 28,500 service members along the border of South Korea. Only two days ago, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un declared that his country had developed a hydrogen bomb, a claim doubted by experts in other nations.

A hydrogen bomb can pack hundreds of times more explosive power than an atomic bomb.

“They are a serious threat not only to Asia, but to the world,” Shin said of North Korea’s leaders.

Netschke was one of several members of the group to receive a medal from Shin for their service during the war.

Netschke told the veterans that, although their numbers may be dwindling, they have an important message that needs to be preserved for future generations.

“There’s still peril on that continent,” Netschke said of Asia, adding that the hard earned lessons of the Korean War must “live on in history books.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com