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(Yonhap Interview) US veteran-reunion

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- Richard Cadwallader couldn't shake the image of a Korean girl he had helped 60 years ago who had suffered painful burns but didn't cry or utter a word during the ordeal. The former U.S. airman thought he would never see the girl again.

When the daughter of the 82-year-old veteran made an unsuccessful effort to locate the girl in 1985, Cadwallader thought the chances of finding her again were slim. But just three months ago, he was finally able to locate her after the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs started a campaign in January to aid his long quest.

Cadwallader, who served in the U.S. air force in 1953-54 during the Korean War near Suwon, south of Seoul, still vividly remembers the cold winter night when a Korean mother and her daughter knocked on the door of his base.

The mother was desperately seeking medical aid for her daughter who had been seriously burned when a gasoline can exploded after she had attempted to start a fire.

Cadwallader said he thought the girl would die if she didn't get treatment soon because the girl was covered with a "black, tar-like" substance on her body, and her wounds had become infected.

"When they were taking the bandages off to stop the infection, you could see the pain in her eyes," he said. "But she never said anything and she didn't cry or scream despite the extreme agony."

The communications officer immediately sent the girl to a military medic for emergency treatment and helped her get on a helicopter to receive advanced treatment in a military hospital in the southeastern city of Busan.

Although Cadwallader thought it would be the last time he would see her, he met Kim again three months later before heading home after being discharged from military service. The girl pounded on the window of a truck he was riding in to get his attention and pointed to her burn marks.

"Unfortunately, I couldn't stop and talk to her. And we didn't have an interpreter," he recalled, saying her recovery was amazing. "I couldn't say much and blew her kisses. It was a moment I can't forget."

Cadwallader was able to reunite with the same girl, now 72, on Monday, thanks to the campaign by the veterans affairs ministry.

Kim Yeon-soon has been living in Hwasong in Gyeonggi Province with her family, and met Cadwallader at a dramatic reunion event held on Monday at the Lotte Hotel Jamsil in southern Seoul.

"This meeting was something I have only dreamed about," Cadwallader said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency during his visit to Seoul with his family. He added that Kim has been in his dreams over the years. "I'm so delighted."

During the reunion event, Kim, who still has recognizable burn marks, hugged the veteran she called "American father" and his wife, and gave the couple "hanboks," or traditional Korean clothes, as a present in front of a pack of reporters, saying, "Thank you, thank you."

In response, Cadwallader gave her a watch to remind her of all the years they have endured.

Seeing an old photo of her, Cadwallader said the girl is unforgettable because she had "penetrating" eyes.

"I recognize her almost immediately. That expression and those eyes were unforgettable for me," he said. "This is largely the expression she had during the time we were talking."

The veteran says he is delighted to see that the little girl he remembers is now living a happy life with her family.

Cadwallader also noted that he was impressed by the dramatic transformation of Seoul from a "bombed-out city" to a "beautiful, dynamic city" in just six decades.

During the five-day visit with his wife, daughter and son-in-law, Cadwallader will visit Kim's family in Hwasong, as well as the air base where he had formerly served.

The veteran, who enlisted in the U.S. military when he was 18 years old, said his service in Korean changed his life.

After returning home, he studied industrial engineering in college and got a job with General Electric, and served as vice president in a New York bank in the 1980s. After retiring from his manufacturing consulting job 10 years ago, he now lives with his family in Arizona and plays golf in his spare time.

"I have nothing in but admiration and respect for the Korean people and country at large," he said.

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