Sean Taheny holds up one such article. A leaflet shows a typical American girl wondering if her soldier boyfriend will return alive from Korea. Another booklet conveys ‘Greetings from the People’s Republic of China.’
These items were picked up just before Christmas 1952, having been airdropped. Their sentiments were hardly sincere ones. On Christmas Eve, the Chinese attacked Hill 812, killing Taheny’s platoon sergeant. Under fire, he telephoned in artillery support and the hill was held. He was later awarded a bronze star.
On other occasions he partook of intelligence and reconnaissance patrols behind communist lines. Typically, twelve men would venture out at night to assess enemy positions.
“There was one night we were out on a patrol and one lad got injured,” he says.
“I had to wait all night with him before I could bring him back. For that they gave me a (second) bronze star.”
Discharged in 1953 and back in the States, Taheny found civilian life difficult. Although the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not in common use until the Vietnam War, he was depressed and lethargic. Within 18 months he was back in Sligo and has remained there ever since.
“When I got back to Ireland it was a big help to me because it helped me to forget about it,” he says.
Although an armistice was signed in the border village of Panmunjom in 1953, no formal peace treaty was ever forthcoming.
Technically the Koreas remain at war. Tensions were exacerbated this March when North Korea was accused of sinking a South Korean warship, killing 26 sailors.
Moreover, the two societies went in very different directions after the war. Ruled over by the dynastic cult of Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il, North Korea has become possibly the most isolationist society on Earth. South Korea is now the world’s 15th largest economy.
Born in Ballaghdereen, County Roscommon and now living in New Hyde park, New York, Michael Grady was 22 when he arrived in Korea with the 2nd Division, 23rd Regiment. He remembers the South Korean capital as a place of ruined buildings and begging children.
“In later years, when the Olympics were in Seoul (1988), I saw it on television,” he says.
“I couldn’t believe how Seoul had rebuilt with skyscrapers…in 30 years it had gone from ashes to granite!”
And in Dublin today, South Korea’s ambassador Chang Yeob Kim is fulsome in his praise for Ireland’s veterans.
“The forgotten war is not forgotten by the Korean people,” he says.