By Lee Haye-ah
WASHINGTON, April 25 (Yonhap) — President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday awarded South Korea’s highest military order to three American veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Retired Army Col. Ralph Puckett, retired Navy Capt. Elmer Royce Williams and the late Baldomero Lopez, a first lieutenant who served in the Marine Corps, were awarded the Taegeuk Order of Military Merit during a luncheon celebrating the 70th anniversary of the bilateral alliance.
A nephew received the order on behalf of the late Lopez.
“If it had not been for the sacrifice of Korean War veterans, the Republic of Korea of today would not exist,” Yoon said after conferring the awards, referring to South Korea’s formal name. The president is currently on a state visit to the U.S.
“The Korean War is not the forgotten war, but a victorious war and a war that must be remembered. All of you are heroes and our true friends, who made the Republic of Korea of today possible,” he said.
Puckett led the Eighth Army Ranger Company through the battle for Hill 205 on November 25, 1950, while Williams is known for his solo dogfight with seven Soviet pilots in November 1952. Lopez heroically smothered a hand grenade with his own body during the Incheon Landing on Sept. 15, 1950, and saved his subordinates’ lives.
“The South Korea-U.S. alliance forged in blood has built the most successful and powerful alliance relationship in the world over the past 70 years,” Yoon said. “We will forever remember the dedication and friendship of all of you who fought together for the Republic of Korea’s freedom.”
Yoon promised the South Korean government’s continued efforts to recover the remains of U.S. service members killed or gone missing during the Korean War, and vowed to fulfill the country’s responsibility and role for freedom and peace in the world.
The luncheon was attended by more than 360 people, including U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Brown, Jr., South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command chief Gen. Paul LaCamera, a grandson of Gen. James Alward Van Fleet, commander of the U.S. 8th Army from 1951-53, and the eldest daughter of Gen. Paik Sun-yup, the late former commander of the Korean Army’s 1st Division and a Korean War hero.
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