Even today, more than 60 years down the road from a miserable war that is remembered largely by those – or the families of those – who were there, the Korean peninsula is still as potentially devastating as any place on Earth. And right down the middle of that divided peninsula remains a thin line of Americans, standing as potential targets that could be overrun or decimated at any time. It’s a standoff that most of us knows little about or pay little attention to except on those occasions when the war lords or whoever controls the hermit kingdom on the northern side of the peninsula makes some outrageous threat. For the most part the threats are geared for the internal politics of the North, but they are often so blatant and now include the potential of nuclear warfare, that no sane nation can ignore them.
The thing is, as seems to be the way things are around the world, as one more crisis blows up it is not only American money but American lives being hung out to dry in a country that should be able to fend for itself. Mac McClung passed away two weeks ago. His funeral was the day before Easter. I had the opportunity to spend some time with him shortly before Christmas. It was a chance to talk about the battle of Whitehorse Mountain, a particularly savage battle that ebbed and flowed for days, leaving the surrounding hills so barren of trees that the South Koreans renamed the mountain White Horse because of its scarred, pale appearance. Like so many who have witnessed the brutality of war up close, McClung had been reluctant to talk much about his experiences. When he came home he went back to the land. His great-great grandfather had come to Dunedin in 1867 and the family planted orange groves. Eventually the family spread across the bay and when I met him he was at home with Margaret, his wife of 61 years, his children and a Portuguese water dog named Dutch. He knew then that time was running out and he was willing to share some of his stories. Like most remembrances of that conflict there were many awful sacrifices by Americans, who months earlier had barely heard of Korea. And now, six decades down the pike, it is still Americans lined up across a meaningless parallel, dividing two nations from a seemingly endless struggle. It was McClung’s great friend Dr. James Paul, former head of the Department of Special Education at the University of South Florida, who delivered a eulogy that concluded with a poem Paul wrote. The first and last paragraphs are: “Old battles must never be forgotten; They are footprints marking out nation’s hard-fought victories. To you, Mac, is owed much for your mark On the nation’s memory of military victories. Because of you and other brave Americans, ‘that star-spangled banner does yet wave, O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.’ ’’