Korean War Veterans Honored with Peace Medallion

One by one, Eddie Ko placed gold medals around the necks of about 16 Korean War and service veterans.

Korean-born Ko recounted helping Americans as a 14-year-old spy after his parents were killed by North Korean soldiers and then presented the Ambassador for Peace medallions, given as thank-yous by the South Korean government.

"They are my brothers," said Ko, a liaison between the Florida Korean War Veterans Association and the Korean consulate. "The Korean government and Korean people really appreciate what they did."

The Korean War, which started in 1950 and ended with an armistice in 1953, often gets buried in history books between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Vietnam War.

And even after the war, troops continued to be stationed in North Korea and still do today. Anyone who served in Korea, during or after the war, were eligible for the medallions, said Tom Thiel, a past president of Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 169 who coordinated last week's ceremony.

About 60 veterans gathered at the Leesburg Senior Center for the ceremony. Many members had already received their medals but still gathered to watch the remaining members receive theirs.

As the 78-year-old Ko spoke, one man stroked his wife's back as tears formed in his eyes. Others vigorously nodded their heads when Ko lauded the perseverance of the American soldiers he met during his time as a spy.

"You are the great American soldiers," he said. "Because of you, we got peace. Because of you, we are strong."

For Thiel, who served on the front lines during the war, the medal represents appreciation for his service and for the comrades he lost.

"I've seen death. I've had people killed closer than you are," said Thiel, standing about a foot away from a reporter. "What it means to us now -- it's some chance of recognition that what we did was of value."

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