Yesterday, the 67th anniversary of the Inchon Landing, was a particularly memorable Friday.
For South Koreans, the commemoration of one of the boldest, most successful amphibious operations in military history began with a typical early-morning commute and “Americano" - the coffee drink of choice for millions of Koreans. But, as has been the case all too often lately, it also began with breaking news.
Their bellicose neighbor to the north had launched another intermediate range missile. The timing was uncanny.
At about the same time US Marines were storming ashore at Inchon 67 years ago, Kim Jong-un fired his second missile of the month. Whether or not he planned it that way is anyone’s guess, but it did seem strangely coincidental.
As I watched ROK Marines and sailors, many in their twenties, stand in formation, march, and perform military drills yesterday at a ceremony on Wolmi-do, a small but strategic island in Inchon harbor, I couldn’t help but think about the brave young men who had fought at this exact place 67 years ago.
Men like Marine 1st Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez.
The son of a Spanish immigrant, Lopez had graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1947 and was serving as an infantry platoon commander with 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, when just minutes after leading his men over Inchon’s seawall, he was hit by enemy fire. The activated hand grenade he was about to throw fell to the ground amongst his men. Lopez, now wounded and dazed, crawled towards the grenade and smothered it with his body, saving the lives of Marines near him. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions.
Like their courageous brothers-in-arms from previous generations, the Korean servicemen I met yesterday were full of life. Well trained, confident, and proud, they are ready, if called upon, to do their part in defending their country.
I also saw hundreds of ROK veterans, dressed in camouflaged uniforms and covered with medals, ribbons, and lapel pins. They too are proud. Some of them had seen combat during the Vietnam War; others had worked closely with the US military, participating in joint operations with their American counterparts.
The morning’s events reminded me that the relationship between the US and the ROK, one begun after World War II, was galvanized during the Korean War. But the news on my iPhone also made me realize that our alliance is more important than ever. If we hope to contain and eventually eliminate the North Korean threat, we must maintain and strengthen our partnership and cooperation.
Only strength and vigilance will prevent another catastrophic conflict from erupting.