— Nick Stamos and Joe Ingeneri were 20 years old when they first set foot on Korean soil. Now these Korean War veterans are going back for the first time in 50 years.
"We spent a lot of time together, and shared a lot of memories and thoughts and became best friends," said Ingeneri, patting Stamos on the knee, "and it lasted 50 years."
Fifty years ago, their battalion was preparing for a major offensive against the North Koreans, who had invaded the South, when an armistice was announced.
"It was a life-changing moment for us," said Stamos. "If that hadn't happened, who knows if we'd be sitting here today?"
"Whether we'd be here today," added Ingeneri.
The Korean War was never a declared war. President Harry S. Truman sent troops to help the South and the United Nations took it on as a U.N. responsibility.
The North Koreans were winning the war until the United States attacked behind their lines in September 1950. In late October, China entered the war on the North Korean side, and the fighting dragged on for 2 ½ more years.
"We lost 34,000 American lives in three years," said Stamos. "Compare that to Vietnam, which lost 47,000 in 10 years."
Some 8,000 soldiers remain missing, which is four times as many as the Vietnam War.
A Changed Nation
It was a long and bloody war. Fighting in the winter was devastating. And yet Korea gets only the briefest mention in American history books. The U.S. troops who made it home alive from Korea were hardly noticed.
"When I got discharged I had to get on a bus in Chicago, transfer to another bus, got off the bus and walked up the street and went up to my apartment where my home was, and that was it," said Stamos.
It took Stamos and Ingeneri 50 years to return to Korea. Was it worth it now? Absolutely, they said.
"This place has totally changed," observed Ingeneri.
On July 27, 1953, a truce agreement was signed at Panmunjom by North Korea and the United States. Because South Korea refused to sign it, the two Koreas are still technically at war. The South has changed dramatically, while the North is still a prison.
"I believe coming back has made me more proud than the first time," said Stamos. "You see the changes and the growth and the patterns that have taken place, just absolutely fabulous."
At the National Cemetery in Seoul today, Stamos and Ingeneri and some 1,000 other veterans paid tribute to those soldiers who died during in Korea.
"I'd like to see it not be the forgotten war but the remembered war," said Ingeneri. "Remember the people that served and the people that died and gave their lives for this country."