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By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, July 21 (Yonhap) - Larry Kinard's Korean War memories come back to him with a vivid clarity, which makes him shudder at the recollection of being so close to death.
One of them is of an incident that took place in 1952, three years after he became a U.S. Army second lieutenant to serve in the 3rd Infantry Division on the front-line. He was 22.
Looking out at the enemy territory over the Imjin River, an artillery shell exploded just 22 meters in front of a four-member observation team.
"It literally blew us out of the bunker's back. Nobody was killed, but we suffered from concussion and shock for several days," Kinard, now 84 and the president of the Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA), said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.
"There were several experiences where I came close to dying. When it comes that close to death, you remember it."
The KWVA president living in Forth Worth, Texas visited Seoul as part of a veterans' event hosted by the Ministry of the Patriots and Veterans Affairs as South Korea commemorates the 60th anniversary of signing the Armistice Agreement that ended hostilities.
The three-year war came to a halt in 1953, with a cease-fire agreement establishing a demilitarized zone roughly running along the 38th parallel that separated the two Koreas. Still today, there is no peace treaty and tensions continue with Pyongyang's threats of missile attacks and nuclear war.
Although the Korean War has stuck with Kinard and other veterans for their entire lives, the war has been overshadowed in the public consciousness following many subsequent American military conflicts in recent decades.
As the number of survivors with first-hand accounts of the war is dwindling -- with the youngest now nearing 80 -- Kinard decided to devote the rest of his life to tell stories of the "forgotten war" through an education program called "Tell America."
Since 2005, the energetic veteran has traveled across the U.S. to meet people and students to tell what happened 60 years ago on the Korean Peninsula, and distributed booklets and brochures to libraries.
Kinard stressed the education program is important because people should learn from history so as not to make the same mistakes in the future.
"We tell the students that war is not fun," he said. "Some of what they see in movies and on TV is not real. War is terrible."
If it is so terrible, why do people go to war?
"Sometimes, you have to fight a war to defend freedom you have. I try to get them to understand what the real price of freedom is," he added.
While the veteran's program was initially designed to raise awareness among students, Kinard discovered many teachers had very little knowledge of the war. So, he decided to expand the program from schools to churches and other organizations across America to give people the opportunity to talk with veterans and stimulate their curiosity.
The great-grandfather with three children says the young generation should not forget where today's prosperity came from.
"We stress to these children what it means to be a patriotic American, what it meant to us to fight for the freedom of the Korean people," he said. "We teach them that freedom is not free and many have paid a huge price for the freedom we enjoy today."
The Korean War VA president called for more revisiting programs for survivors to make them in close contact and remember what they had sacrificed and contributed.
"By meeting, living and fighting with these soldiers from other countries, we all became closer and learned first-hand what it truly means to be comrades-in-arms," Kinard said. "Through this togetherness, this comrade-in-arms personal contact, the entire world has become smaller and all of us have benefited as we learned each other's culture, language, history and traditions."
The old veteran was particularly proud of the economic and political progress of South Korea, which has risen from the destruction of war to one of the leading economies, saying Koreans "accomplished a miracle."
"I hope you know that the U.S. Korean War veterans are extremely proud of the Korean people and their accomplishments over the last 60 years," he said.
Kinard, however, expressed regret that Korea still remains divided and hoped peace will come someday.
"It's sad. I wish Korea to be reunified, but at this point, it seems to be almost impossible with standoffs from both sides," Kinard said. "Being strong is the best thing," he said, adding 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea should remain in the country as a way to deter North Korea aggression.
Though the last thing he wants is war, the white-hair veteran demonstrated his last-remaining fighting spirit to preserve the Korean War legacy.
"Should war ever come to the Korean Peninsula again," he said, "we will be there, as we were in the 50s -- comrades-in-arms, fighting side by side with you."
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