Veterans' Stories

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Korea Then & Now

by Ted Parkinson

After I was discharged from my service in Japan from 1946-48, I did casual work until I joined up to go to Korea to fight for freedom. I was a forward observer with the 161 Battery and supported all the Australian Battalions, King's Shropshire Light Infantry, King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Turks, Americans and the South Koreans when we were engaged in battle on Hill 355, Hill 210 and Hill 159, where I was hit by a mortar bomb. I was transferred to several Hospital units until they amputated my leg. I came out of Korea in a blanket, with no mementos or photos or any personal belongings.

Ted Parkinson

Ted on his return to Australia in 1953

My memories of Korea were of the shattered cities of Busan and Seoul, starving people living in cardboard boxes topped by a corrugated iron sheet. Bleak surroundings with villages devastated in the war torn, denuded, scarred hills, lost children crying. I remember the icy cold and freezing snow and we who had clothing, food and hutches were amazed that the Koreans stayed alive in those horrid conditions. Nothing grew in the areas where there had been fighting and shelling. Luckily orphanages were started up to shelter the children and we shared as much of what we had with them.

I have been very lucky to re-visit Korea in 2001 and again in 2007, this time as part of the first Disabled Veterans group, 15 in all from the UN participants. Korea is the only country in the world that pays respect to their allies by inviting them to return - such a tremendous generous, altruistic and most appreciated action.

I was extremely apprehensive and afraid to re-visit because of those memories which had been haunting me all my life. I cannot thank the Korean Government enough for the wonderful opportunity they gave me. Cardboard boxes were no more, instead, very beautiful laid out cities with the most modern housing. Luscious green country and the young folk...laughing and well dressed, rebuilding their country with an energy, pride and unity I have not seen before. I was overwhelmed by what was achieved in such a short time. No country has accomplished the same. Prosperity in abundance; transport systems the best in the world, super highways; magnificent airports; fantastic shopping centers, even one under our Lotte Hotel. It seemed to be fairytale land in comparison with 1952. Meetings with our ROK friends were a highlight.

I admire the Korean people, strongly patriotic, so full of confidence and well educated - our guide had a PhD - giving evidence of extremely hard, united work with a fierce passion and spirit to hold on to their ideals no matter the hardships and challenges.

But above all, what you, Koreans, have done for me in inviting me back, is that you have healed my memories and, through that, healed my life.

So what, I lost a leg. Compared with what you have achieved, I think it was worth the sacrifice. You have made me very, very proud.

Gamsa hamnida.

First Published in The Voice, August 2010