|Retired Sgt. Maj. Gilberto Diaz Velasco of Colombia joins ― online ― the opening ceremony of his photo exhibition at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, June 26. / Korea Times photo by Yi Whan-woo|
Photos taken by then-S. American teen soldier being showcased at War Memorial of Korea website
By Yi Whan-woo
An online photo exhibition showcasing life during the Korean War through a Colombian soldier's perspective is running until the end of December to mark the 70th anniversary of outbreak of the war.
Hosted by the Colombian Embassy in Seoul, "The Korean War through the eyes of a Colombian veteran" can be seen on the War Memorial of Korea website.
The exhibition features 152 photos, mostly color, taken by retired Sgt. Maj. Gilberto Diaz Velasco during his 14-month service in Korea from June 1952. He was 18 years old when he arrived.
Fifty other photos provided by several other Colombian vets are also being showcased.
The exhibition is divided into six themes ― "Heading for Korea," "Straight to the line," "Everyday on the frontline," "In front," "Back to Colombia" and "Colombia veterans' present" ― that mainly show everyday life in camps and bunkers.
The images offer a glimpse into how more than 5,100 Colombian soldiers from an infantry battalion and a navy frigate served under a demanding environment.
|Colombian infantry pose in front of their barracks.|
|Two Colombian soldiers deployed to the Korean War stand outside in winter 1952.|
|Three Colombian soldiers in Korea sit among the flowers in spring 1953. / Courtesy of Embassy of Colombia|
"It was the first time I had experienced four seasons in my life," Diaz, 86, recalled when he joined the opening ceremony, June 26, at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, online from back home.
"It was especially tough and challenging to endure the winter, because we don't have those kinds of temperatures in Colombia."
The only South American country to send combat forces, Colombia was one of 63 nations that participated in the U.N. coalition.
The war left 140 Colombians killed, 71 missing and 609 wounded.
The Colombian battalion was assigned to the U.S. Army's 24th Infantry Division. Its key engagements were Battle in Advancing to Geumseong (October 1951), Battle of Kimhwa Hill 400 (June 1952), Battle of Hill 180 (March 1953) and Battle of Old Baldy (March 1953).
A survivor of the fierce Battle of Old Baldy at the height of the conflict in the border area of Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi Province, Diaz recalled losing one of his closest friends then.
|Colombian Ambassador Juan Carlos Caiza, fourth from right, pays tribute to Colombian soldiers who fought in the Korean War, during a ceremony at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, June 26, to mark the 70th anniversary of the war. The participating dignitaries are, from right, War Memorial of Korea Director General Lee Sang-chul, Patriots and Veterans Affairs Minister Park Sam-duck, Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, Carlos, and U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris. / Korea Times photo by Yi Whan-woo|
Meanwhile, also joining from Seoul at the ceremony were Colombian Ambassador Juan Carlos Caiza, other heads of diplomatic missions and military attaches.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, Patriots and Veterans Affairs Minister Park Sam-duck and War Memorial of Korea Director General Lee Sang-chul represented the Korean side.
"With this photo exhibition, we would like to recognize the great efforts made by our veterans and to honor the brave soldiers who gave their lives," Ambassador Carlos said. "I would like to extend my gratitude to Sgt. Maj. Gilberto Diaz Velasco for sharing his memories and photos."
U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris said, "Seven decades later, we can all now look back and be amazed and proud of the achievements forged in the defense of freedom and democracy."
Minister Jeong said the photos were a reminder of the "precious value of freedom," and that the "noble sacrifice and dedication" of Colombian veterans allowed Korea to keep its peace.
"Korea will forever remember the sacrifice your country made," he said.