US veterans of Korean War attend special screening of ‘Ode to My Father’ in Washington

February 11, 2015

“Ode to My Father” has become a sensation in S. Korea since its opening on Dec. 17, surpassing the 10 million viewer mark in less than a month.

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) — Dozens of American and South Korean veterans attended a special screening Wednesday of a South Korean box-office hit that chronicles the Korean War and other hardships South Korea has gone through to rebuild itself from the war’s ashes.

“Ode to My Father” has become a sensation in South Korea since its opening on Dec. 17, surpassing the 10 million viewer mark in less than a month, as it struck a chord with older generations who have witnessed how South Korea overcame poverty and other hardships to become what it is today.

Organizers of the special screening — the Korean Churches for North Koreans (KCNK) and the human rights group LiNK — said they held the event and invited American war veterans to shed light on the meaning of the Korean War to Korea-U.S. relations.

The movie, which tells the story of an ordinary father who sacrificed himself to support his family, begins with spectacular scenes of a massive evacuation operation that pulled some 105,000 U.S. and South Korean troops and about 98,000 refugees to safety during the Korean War.

The December 1950 operation, known as the “Heungnam evacuation” after the name of the North Korean port, came as the U.S.-backed South Korean forces began retreating from North Korea after China sent massive numbers of troops to fight alongside the communist neighbor.

U.S. veterans attending the screening at the Regal Fairfax Towne Center theater included retired Col. Thomas Fergusson, a grandson of Edward Almond (1892-1979), then commanding general of the U.S. X Corps, who is known for his decision to dump all weapons overboard to get more refugees aboard evacuation ships at the port of Heungnam.

“While we talked about many events in his long life — his cadet days at Virginia military and his experience in three wars — World War I, World War II and Korea — I think he believed until his dying date that he made a contribution as a commander of all those troops, Army, Marine Corps and so forth, his greatest contribution was in the Korean War,” Fergusson said of his late grandfather.

Gen. Almond believed the Heungnam evacuation was his “proudest accomplishment,” Fergusson said.

“I think he was deeply proud of the accomplishment with the Navy and the Merchant Marines of getting those refugees out. He made the decision. I’ve always understood that he didn’t have permission from Gen. MacArthur to do that, but he made the decision,” he said.

“So, I will say I’m particularly happy over the years to have met some of the former refugees who made it out from the Heungnam evacuation and survived those ship rides down to the big island of Geoje,” he added.

Also attending the screening was retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Olmstead, who as a private first class fought in the Changjin Lake Campaign, also known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, one of the fiercest battles in the Korean War.

In the battle, the 1st U.S. Marine Division fought against seven Chinese divisions. The Marines are credited with stopping the Chinese from moving southward during the battle so as to buy time for the Heungnam evacuation. More than 900 Marines were killed and thousands others went missing in the battle.

Olmstead said it was “so heartwarming to know that we were able to evacuate the hundred thousand civilians.”

“War is hell and the terrors of war affect not just the soldiers and the Marines who fought that, but the terrors of the war affect the lifetimes of civilian people and today’s movie brought that up so pointedly than what we did,” he said.

“They frequently say, the Americans, that the Korean War was a forgotten war. That’s not true. The Korean War might be a forgotten victory. It was because the modern world we enjoy today, the Korea of 2015, is in a great way the result of the sacrifices that the military made in 1950, 51, 52, but also the suffering that civilians made at that time. It’s a victory and today’s movie reminds us of that,” Olmstead said.