Korean and American soldiers, still side by side

Charles Lusardi (third from left, in light blue jacket)next to Young Mok Yun with other Korean War veterans in Portland, Oregon, in 2012
Courtesy the Yun family

Readers at were asked to nominate their heroes for Veterans Day. Here is one of the submissions.

Sixty years ago, they were young men in their teens, battling the enemy in the Iron Triangle on the front lines in Korea.

Today Young Mok Yun and Charles Lusardi are both in their 80s, living near Portland, Oregon, and on Veterans Day, they will commemorate their service together at the state's Korean War Memorial.

"During the war we fought side by side with U.S. troops," Yun said. "After we moved to this country, we are still working together, American and Korean veterans together."

Young Mok Yun in 1954
Courtesy the Yun family

Monday's ceremony was to have been a small one. That changed with the addition of a number of dignitaries, among them the Korean consul general in Seattle, Young Wan Song, who will award Ambassador for Peace medals to some 30 veterans of the conflict.

Yun, 82, and Lusardi, 81, met through their membership in the Korean War associations. They get together throughout the year for remembrances and visits to high schools to talk about what is often called "the Forgotten War." Most recently, about 500 people gathered at the Oregon Korean War Memorial in Wilsonville on July 27 to mark the anniversary of the war's end.

Yun, the founder of the Korean Association of Korean War Veterans in Portland, joined the Korean Army soon after the war broke out in 1950. An artillery officer, he was sent to the United States for training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.

Charles Lusardi in 1950
Courtesy Charles Lusardi

During one battle, the company commander was a man with whom he had trained before they were commissioned, a schoolmate. A small hill that the company was defending was being attacked at night by a Chinese regimental force fighting on the side of the North Koreans.

The commander sent back a message to Yun and the others: Don't worry about me, just bomb the whole hill.

"I didn't know what to do, whether to order artillery bombing there," Yun said, but the battalion commander agreed. "I had to do it."

The fighting lasted until about 2 a.m., he said, when Chinese soldiers gained the hill. The South Koreans waited until morning, and then with bombers and artillery, they were able to retake the ground and recover the commander's body.

"Just a few hours that made such a difference," Yun said.

Charles Lusardi, second from left, and Young Mok Yun, far right, next to the mayor of Ulsan City, Korea, Maeng-woo Bak, at the Oregon Korean War Memorial in 2012
Courtesy the Yun family

Lusardi, who heads the "Oregon Trail" chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, fought in Korea from 1951 until 1952, with the 25th Infantry Division, 65th Combat Engineers. He survived the battles, but became seriously ill at the end with tuberculosis and malaria and was hospitalized for 18 months, he said. One bright side of his illness: He married one of his nurses.

He and Yun, who is actually a member of both organizations, are well received at the schools, Lusardi said.

"Listen up," he tells the students. "Because in the next 10 to 15 years you're going to be running the country and are you ready for it?"

Charles Lusardi, sitting on a hospital bed in Prescott, Ariz., after several of his ribs had been removed as a result of advanced tuberculosis. With him, center, is a World War I veteran, and left, a hospital orderly.
Courtesy Charles Lusardi

Yun's message is that war is terrible, and leaves no winners; problems are better solved through negotiation.

"But sometimes, we just have to fight," he said.

Koreans like him had to resist the North Korean soldiers that came across the 38th parallel in 1950, trying to bring all of Korea under communist rule, he said. Today, South Korea is free and democratic, while North Korea is so poor it cannot feed its people, he said.

"People can see which system is better," he said.

But immediately after the war ended, South Korea was destroyed, its buildings bombed, its citizens hungry and homeless, he said. He moved to the United States to attend college, studying at Washington State University in Pullman and eventually earning his doctorate at Michigan State University in Lansing in entomology and plant pathology. He spent his career in research in Colorado.

Young Mok Yun at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 2012
Courtesy the Yun family

Yun became involved in the Korean War associations only after he retired, when he and his wife followed their children to the Northwest. He first created an organization of Korean veterans in Washington and then Oregon.

Lusardi also went to school after the war, to what was then Arizona State College in Tempe. He worked with various companies, among them Tektronix, before going to business for himself manufacturing components for machine tools and installing conveyor systems for United Parcel Service centers.

Both men count themselves fortunate, proud of their children and what they have accomplished.

"We like this adopted country too," Yun said.