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When Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs staff arrived at the Exposition Center at 7:45 a.m. Thursday to begin preparing for a 2 p.m. ceremony honoring veterans of the Korean War, James B. Short was waiting for them.
The Army veteran of Korea and two tours in Vietnam had driven up the night before from Harlan.
"Nobody ever gave me anything for my service before," he said. "I wasn't about to miss this."
"This" was the presentation of special medallions and certificates to Kentucky's veterans of the Korean War, from Major General (Ret.) Choi Seung-Woo.
"Today I came to Louisville, Ky. to honor the Korean War veterans," Choi told the crowd of 500 veterans and their families, "and on behalf of the Korean people to bring a message of gratitude and deep appreciation to the Korean War veterans for their invaluable sacrifice."
Campbellsville's James E. Gabehart and J.W. McFarland were among those to be honored. From every region of the state the veterans came to the Exposition Center.
One hundred and forty-five veterans or survivors received their medallions; almost 300 more registered for the event but were unable to attend. KDVA will deliver or mail medallions and certificates to those veterans.
Although Choi stepped down from the stage to present medals to the veterans in wheelchairs who could not negotiate the stairs to the stage, many barely ambulatory veterans insisted on walking, however haltingly, to stand before Choi and salute him, before bowing their heads to receive the medallion.
For each, Choi had private words of gratitude. Many veterans smiled and replied; some wordlessly embraced the general.
Fifty-five years after the end of fighting, the "Forgotten War" may be overlooked in the U.S., but it is well remembered in South Korea, Choi assured the audience.
"Once having struggled for its own survival, South Korea now is the 12th largest economy in the world, and more importantly, we are one of the best working democracies in Asia, as well as one of the biggest trading partners and a strong ally of the USA.
"We Koreans owe this to you and your country. I salute you, Korean War veterans, from the bottom of my heart with the deepest respect and honor, for the work well done and the cause you fought for.
"As far as the Koreans are concerned, you are like our Founding Fathers and you laid the foundation of Korea today with your blood and sweat.
"You are indeed a living proof and a shining symbol of what America stands for."