Covert Korean War Unit 'Forgotten' No Longer

For veterans such as Charlie "Fang" Norton, America's so-called "forgotten war" still carries sharp, painful memories.

Norton was an officer in a clandestine group charged with gleaning intelligence and wreaking havoc behind enemy lines during the Korean War.

On Friday, some 60 years later, Army Unit 8240 and its Korean counterparts were honored with a memorial stone at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum.

"For many, the mission and role of this group remained largely unknown and secret," said Yongjin Jeon, a spokesman for the the South Korean Department of Patriots and Veterans Affairs.

"It is often called 'the forgotten war,' but for those who were there, it will never be forgotten," Jeon said. "It remains a sharp reality in the hearts of families who have not seen each other's faces in 60 years."

Lt. Gen. John Mulholland echoed Jeon's thoughts, noting that the unit "didn't enjoy any sort of fortune, but there's no more fitting spot for this dedication than the Airborne & Special Operations Museum."

"This unit became the basis for classic Special Forces unconventional operations," Mulholland said. "Rest assured, we remember. We know where our roots came from, and we consider you our forefathers."

The group's origin can be traced to the initial communist advance in Korea in late 1950. At the time, the nation wasn't divided, and thousands of anti-communists fled the mainland to a chain of nearby islands.

By the spring of 1951, a special section of the U.S. 8th Army had set up on the island of Paengnyong Do, directing thousands of partisan Koreans in mainland reconnaissance and sabotage operations. Army officers, some with guerrilla training in the Philippines during World War II, provided equipment and training to as many as 38,000 partisans.

The group is credited with tying up more than 75,000 North Korean and Chinese forces in one province alone through the conflict.

Because their operations were secret, many Koreans involved had difficulty proving their service records. Those veterans included Kyungjin Choi, whose daughter Monika Stoy became a vocal force in the group's recognition.

"My father did not often give praise, but he said that (Special Forces officers) really knew what they were doing," said Stoy, now a retired Army captain. "Their efforts saved many lives behind enemy lines."

After the war, she said, her father immigrated to America, as did thousands who lost their homes in North Korea.

"When he died three years ago, his only regret was that he always wanted to go to his home again, to see his family," Stoy said. "But that was not possible."

The memorial, she said, honors those in both armies who never had the chance to go home -- whether in Korea or the United States.

"May this memorial stand as a landmark," Jeon said. "May this be a hallmark of a friendship forged in blood and standing firm for more than 60 years."

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North Korea South Korea Army