JOE COLLINS remembers the Tipperary-born Columban priest and the terrible suffering he endured in the Korean conflict
In 1983 I visited the Demilitarised Zone in Korea and from an observation post manned by US military personnel I looked over at North Korea. What I saw was fascinating.
There appeared to be a swinging city with bright lights and the sound of modern music magnified so that it could be heard on the southern side and an intermittent message extolling the quality of life in the north with the emphasis on the younger generation urging them to defect.
It was, in fact, just a false front but the propaganda machine continued 24/7/365. What effect it was having could not be quantified except that from the good living conditions which I observed in the south, I doubt if the uptake was more than minimal.
Standing on the viewing platform brought back memories of that Sunday afternoon on June 25th, 1950, when listening to the radio I heard the news flash announcing the start of the Korean War.
It began with the invasion of the Pro Western Republic by an army of the Soviet-backed Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea by crossing the 38th parallel which was the dividing line between the north and south.
Thereafter the 38th parallel featured daily in the media both print and radio.
Initially it was considered that the war would end quickly but that turned out not to be the case, it did not end until July 27th, 1953, when an armistice was signed in Panmunjom.
The war accounted for the deaths of 36,000 US Military personnel with over 100,000 wounded, the South Korean side lost over 200,000 service personnel and up to 1,000,000 civilians. The North Korean side lost over 400,000 military personnel and over 500,000 civilians. China, who aided the northern side, lost over 550,000 fighters.
A demilitarised zone was created between the two sides with a ‘no- man’s land’ of 2,200 yards on both sides of a central point, namely the 38th parallel.
For years before the outbreak of the war dedicated Irish members of the Columban Order were ministering to the Korean community on the entire peninsula. We had read about their ministry in The Far East Magazine.