South Korean flag symbolizes a promise kept

MANATEE -- Thomas Hannon and Ken Sullivan proudly bring out a handcrafted South Korean flag presented to their Korean War Veterans Association by the South Korean government.

What is perhaps more remarkable than the flag’s colorful design is the obvious pride in each man’s face as they hold up the ends of a flag representing a country far away from their American homes.

Hannon and Sullivan, both with the association’s Manasota Post 199, say they think the U.S. armed forces will be forced to respond if North Korea launches another attack at South Korea, as it did recently with the launch of a deadly artillery strike.

Both men say they fulfilled a commitment to South Korea and formed a bond with the Asian country when they fought against North Korea as American allies in the Korean War in the 1950s.

That bond is causing them to pay close attention to the tensions between South Korea and North Korea this week, which have been heightened as the United States has joined South Korea in war exercises in the Yellow Sea, which also includes an amphibious drill by South Korean soldiers.

Just days ago, the North Korean artillery attack caused the deaths of four South Koreans.

“It doesn’t look good,” said Hannon, 80, commander of the local post and author of “Land of the Morning Calm” about South Korea. “I would hate to see us go to war since we are involved in Afghanistan and Iraq. But if there is another push or invasion, the U.S. will have to get involved again.”

Sullivan and Hannon reflected on leader Kim Jong-il’s North Korean government during interviews Sunday in their Mount Vernon homes.

“They have overstepped their bounds by shelling South Korea,” Sullivan said.

The two veterans are bewildered and disappointed by North Korea’s apparent disregard for consequences.

“I feel North Korea’s leaders are very antagonist and don’t care if they have peace or not,” said Sullivan, 77, a member of the U.S. Navy who served as an engineer on the destroyer USS Clarence K. Bronson during the Korean War.

“They might feel we will knuckle down and not do anything,” Sullivan added, speaking of U.S. forces. “But we are dedicated to the South Korean people.”

Hannon was a forward observer with a U.S. Army artillery unit in Korea.

“To be honest, I am disappointed that after 60 years the north and south, with their respective allies, China and the U.S. respectively, have not come to some agreement,” Hannon said. “It seems to be getting worse than better. Either North Korea is very stubborn or we have a failed diplomacy.”

Both men are worried about South Korea’s people.

“North Korea has more than 1 million troops, one of the largest standing armies in the world,” Hannon said. “I would hate to see another war. It would be much more devastating. The country is somewhat poor and North Koreans are starving in some areas. The United States has about 30,000 troops there and the South Koreans have a strong force, but I don’t think they match the numbers of North Korea’s forces.”

Sullivan and Hannon say Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un, recently appointed to a senior position in the government, may be displaying a show of strength.

“He could be rattling the sword to show he has power,” Hannon said.

Said Sullivan of the heir apparent to North Korea’s leading role, “I think it would be a good idea for Kim Jong-il to grow up and wake up. We could go to war over this.”

Richard Dymond, writer, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.