Friday, March 30, 2012

Reliving memories of Korean War heroes

FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City – Recognizing the invaluable services of the Filipino soldiers who served in the battlegrounds during the Korean War, an edifice that is built in their honor was inaugurated yesterday, March 29, a military official said.

Major Harold Cabunoc, the Army Spokesperson, said that the inauguration ceremony was held in the compound of the Philippine-Korea Friendship Center in Bayani Road here.

The momentous event was spearheaded by President Benigno S Aquino III and Korean Ambassador Hye Min Lee.

Senior government officials, Korean War veterans and military officers led by Army Chief Emmanuel Bautista, also attended the ceremony at around 1:30pm yesterday.

War Heroes

Insignificant as it may seem to others, the PEFTOK (Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea)-Korean War Memorial Hall holds the memories of our Army soldiers who fought alongside Korean troops in the blood-spattered foreign soil in the 1950s.

Records of the PEFTOK Veterans Association Incorporated (PVAI) show that there were 7, 420 soldiers who served in the frontlines during the war, as members of the so-called Battalion Combat Teams (BCT).

It can be recalled that it was in a painful winter cold of June 1950 when hostilities broke out in the Korean peninsula due to ideological differences among the Korean people.

Then Philippine President Elpidio R Quirino, heeding the calls from the United Nations, promptly sent a contingent of soldiers to help the South Koreans defend their territory.

Quirino reckoned that the Philippines should stand its ground against global communism and Korea was the place to be at the time.

Revisiting his words to the Filipino soldiers who were about to be deployed in the war, Quirino said, “Poor as we are, this country is making a great sacrifice in sending you there, but every peso invested in you is a sound perpetuation of our liberty and freedom.”

First to set foot on the Korean mountain warfare was the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) under the late Gen Dionisio Ojeda (1950-51). Following them were the 20th BCT under Col Salvador Abcede (1951-52), 19th BCT under Brig Gen Ramon C Agese (1952-53), 14th BCT under Col Nicanor Jimenez (1953-54), and 2nd BCT under Battalion Commanders Gen Antonio de Vera and Gen Reynaldo Mendoza (1954-55).

Louie Gonzales, the grandson of President Quirino, said that his father and uncle were among the Korean War heroes.

He said that they were among those who readily volunteered to serve in the war. Then Air Force 1st Lt Luis Chito Gonzales, the husband of President Quirino's daughter, Victoria, was his father.

Inspired by the action of his brother-in-law, 1st Lt Tomas Quirino of the Philippine Army, also volunteered to serve in the war.

President Quirino, proudly sent his son and son-in-law to serve in the frontlines. Victoria even resettled to Tokyo just to be near her beloved husband.

Both Gonzales and Quirino survived the war and retired as Lt Colonels.

On May 25, 2009, the Embassy of the Republic of Korea (ROK), Department of National Defense (DND), and the PEFTOK Veterans Association Incorporated (PVAI) forged a Memorandum of Agreement to construct the PEFTOK-Korean War Memorial Hall.

It was a sign of gratitude of the Korean government to our PEFTOK soldiers who have played a significant role in winning the peace in Korea. The construction started in May 2010, an effort funded by the Republic of Korea.

Following the inauguration is the ground-breaking ceremony of the Human Resource Development (HRD) Center, also lying inside the Philippine-Korea Friendship Center along Bayani Road.

The edifice is a product of the tri-partite agreement of DND, Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

In the Hall of Memories

FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. It is paid for with the blood of fighting men and stained with the tears of loved ones left behind.” These are the stirring words upon entry to the PEFTOK-Korean War Memorial Hall’s Museum, just at the right wing after the main entrance.

An auditorium at the left wing and a library on the second floor completes the two-storey hall. Inside the museum are photos and narratives bringing the viewers back to war-time. War memorabilia like weapons, armors and medals are displayed in glass cases.

A bust of late President Quirino lies right outside the museum’s entrance as if greeting the guests with his diplomatic flair.

The PEFTOK-Korean War Memorial Hall is indeed more than just an edifice standing in the midst of a concrete ground.

It is the very symbol of the diplomatic relationship Philippines has established with Korean government when it chose to defend the Korean liberty against the communists’ conquest. This friendship we enjoy at present and will be passed on to our country’s grandchildren.

In this endeavour, the Filipino soldiers have shown their unrelenting commitment to service be it for fellow Filipinos or for other races. In a soldier’s heart will always remain the ardour to defend freedom even if it would mean their lives or tears of their loved ones.

Inauguration Ceremony

At around 1:30 p.m., at least 200 people flocked to the site to witness the event which was also attended by President Benigno S Aquino III as the Guest of Honor and Speaker.

Defense Secretary Voltaire T Gazmin, Korean Ambassador Hye Min Lee, Korean Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Park Sung Choon, the PEFTOK Veterans Association Incorporated and Commanding General of the Philippine Army Lt Gen Emmanuel Bautista with his staff.

Defense Secretary Gazmin with Minister Park cut the ribbon while President Aquino unveils the building marker.

In his speech President Aquino said, “It is because of the trials and achievements of the past that our country has grown to where we are today. We have only the privilege and the responsibility of building on the foundations they have laid down. The difference now is that instead of winning a war, we are tasked with winning the peace. We have gained our democracy now, we must live up to it. A peaceful society is a must, if we truly want to develop this country, and maintaining peace sits at the very core of all our efforts to ensure that the benefits of democracy are felt by each and everyone of our people. The famous military motto goes, ‘no man left behind’ and this is what characterizes our efforts whether in war 60 years ago or today as we tread this path to progress.

At least 25 Korean War veterans and some widows also graced the event led by former President Fidel Valdez Ramos who served in the 20th Battalion Combat Team of PEFTOK, also the former AFP Chief of Staff during the time of late President Corazon C Aquino.

Minister Park offered a 30-second salute to all Korean War veterans and those present accepted his salute in behalf of their comrades.

Immediately after the inauguration ceremony, representatives of KOICA, DND and TESDA led the burying of the building time capsule during the groundbreaking ceremony of the HRD Center just beside PEFTOK.

This building will serve as a training venue for skills and capacity development intended for the PEFTOK veterans’ dependents.

It was an endearing moment for the guests to see the war veterans representing the estimated 2,000 survivors meet once again and relive the bitter-sweet memories of their struggle for Korean liberty.

Much to everyone’s delight FVR even kept pace with General Bautista and his staff while showing-off a 30-reps push ups as if testing his military strength despite his age.

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