Enemy combatants of Korean War to become new friends

This year is the 60th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War. Soldiers who aimed guns at each other 60 years ago have since become friends, shaking hands in reconciliation. 

Chen Rebi, 81, is a Chinese veteran of the Korean War as a statistics analyst. Recently, Chen came to visit a cemetery dedicated to North Korean and Chinese soldiers in Paju, Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province), along with two other Korean War veterans Liang Denggao (78) and Lai Xuexian (85). 

The remains of some 367 Chinese soldiers and 735 North Korean soldiers are buried in the so-called “enemy cemetery.” 

They arrived in Korea on July 9 at the invitation of Gyeonggi-do and the Korea-China Cultural Association (KCCA). The three war veterans who had come to fight 60 years ago were well received. 

Chen was reminiscent of July 1953 at the time of the ceasefire. 

“We heard that the war was over and were very happy about being able to return home,” said Chen, in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “Then, I was armed with a gun when I came to Paju 60 years ago but China and South Korea have all become friends now.” 

Chen was 20 years old when she took part in the war. Tears welled up in her eyes as she touched tombstones of Chinese soldiers. 

“I am very grateful for the Korean public for taking care of Chinese soldiers so well in the cemetery,” she said. “The war should have never happened. I know that President Park Geun-hye suggested that Korea return the remains of Chinese soldiers to China. I am so glad.”

Liang also remembers the horrors of the war. “Mortar munitions were everywhere and the air was gray with smokes,” he said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “There was no other word to describe the war but horror.” 

“Before President Park came to China, I didn’t even know that there was such cemetery,” he said. “Chinese people are all happy about the fact that my comrades can return home at last.” 

Liang joined the army in July 1951 and served as a signalman. After the war was over, he stayed in North Korea until 1957, acting as a drill instructor. He was a member of the Chinese communist party and served as party secretary in the city of Yibin, Sichuan Province, but he holds no grudge against South Korea. 

Chen Rebi had taken photos during the war, and brought 50 pictures on her recent visit to Korea. 

They visited the Unification Observatory near the DMZ, where visitors can see the North up and close, and then moved to Imjingak Park to meet six Korean veterans who also fought in the war. They had been enemies 60 years ago but they hugged each other and exchanged greetings like friends, although they could not speak each other’s language.

On July 10, the three Chinese veterans visited the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan, Seoul. 

Lai, who went to the war in 1952 and served as a driver, stayed for a long time in front of the stone monument inscribed with the names of fallen soldiers. 

Chen kept her pictures taken during the war in her album.
“We had to aim guns at each other but if it weren’t for World War II, North and South Korea would have stayed together,” he said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “I hope the two Koreas will be unified soon.” 

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