Kiwi veterans return to Busan, South Korea

By Adam Bennett in Busan

Photo / Sam Shepherd
Photo / Sam Shepherd

South Korea's second city Busan is an entirely different place to when New Zealanders passed through it on their way to the frontline of the Korean war in 1950.

Then, the port was the centre of a small, concentrated pocket of resistance against the North Korean forces which all but overwhelmed South Korea in the opening weeks of the war.

In ruins, packed with troops and thousands of desperately hungry refugees, "it was a terrible place" recalls New Zealand veteran Joe Lusty.

"I was only there for a short time I guess it's changed a lot now."

Mr Lusty saw for those changes for himself this morning as part of a New Zealand entourage commemorating the 60th anniversary of the armistice, he returned to Busan to visit the graves of 34 New Zealanders who died during the war.

Also along for the ride was Jack Allan, who travelled from Seoul to Busan when he left Korea in 1953.

"We went down in the train, I think it took us the whole day."

But since then, South Korea has rebuilt a world leading economy and infrastructure, including the 300km/h KTX bullet train service on which Mr Allan yesterday retraced his 1953 journey.

"This is going to take us three hours."

The veteran's destination was Busan's United Nations war cemetery where 2300 soldiers from 11 countries, including the 34 New Zealanders, are buried.

Prime Minister John Key said many of the vets had told them they weren't sure how they'd react to seeing the graves of their mates, "it will be a very emotion packed day for them", he said.

Along with Mr Key, Defence Force chief Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones will also attend a UN service at the cemetery followed by a ceremony for the New Zealand dead.

With tensions on the Korean Peninsula high, amid North Korean weapons-testing and posturing about its nuclear programme, both Mr Key and General Jones have been peppered with questions about whether New Zealand would again commit troops if the war, which is technically still going, reignited.

While New Zealand still has the same UN obligations under which it went to South Korea's assistance in 1950, General Jones was particularly forthright on the question over the weekend.

"If South Korea is threatened again, I think we'd send forces there," he told 3News yesterday.

This morning, however, Mr Key emphasised that was a decision for Cabinet alone, and one he did not think it would have to make.

"We believe there will be a peaceful resolution. That's the message we get from the leaders here, that's the message we got from the Chinese leadership in Beijing earlier in the year."

- NZ Herald

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