Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

South Korea Honors 28 North Jersey Vets

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

South Korea Honors 28 North Jersey Vets

Article excerpt

PARAMUS -- One by one they stepped forward in line and bowed their heads to receive medals. Twenty-eight Korean War veterans each shook the hand of the retired South Korean major general bestowing the honor.

Coming as it did 62 years after the end of what is often called America's "forgotten war," it was not a recognition any of them expected. But it meant a lot.

"It's nice that the [South Korean] people still respect us; nobody else does," George Bruzgis, 82, said.

To get his medal he shuffled on shaky legs, his knees still hurting from when he fell into a slit trench on a dark night near the front lines.

The day's ceremony brought back haunting memories for machine gunner John Valerio, 83, who saw a friend die in front of him on his second night patrol.

"You want to forget," Valerio said.

The thick, gold-colored medallions hung on a red-white-and-blue ribbon from the necks of the men as they took turns posing for photographs with the general, who was a 9-year-old when he witnessed massacres in his village when the war began.

That man, retired Maj. Gen. Seung Woo Choi, would grow up to pilot a helicopter in combat alongside Americans in the Vietnam War and spend more than 30 years serving in the army of the Republic of Korea.

It was after he retired, while on a trip to Knoxville, Tenn., in 1999, where he was recognized by the city for his military service that he saw crowds of veterans stand to honor him that his this new mission came to him.

The next year he returned to the United States with boxes of the medals, one of which he designed and paid for, and certificates thanking U.S. veterans for saving his people from takeover and likely slaughter by the North Koreans.

He has traveled from South Korea each year since, spanning the U.S., bringing hundreds of medals with him on each trip. The general said he has presented more than 7,800 medals since 2000.

In a speech to the crowd of 50 who gathered at the Arcola Korean United Methodist Church on Saturday, Choi talked of his country's gratitude. America had sacrificed greatly to help other nations and it was a pity that other countries did not show their gratitude for those sacrifices, he said.

"Korea is different," Choi said. …

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