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Will Receive a Medal
from Government of South Korea

Fifty years ago, Robert Chermak joined the Marines after graduating from high school in Minnesota and Manuel Zavala was thinking about joining the Navy in his hometown of Kansas City, Kan.

Wednesday, as the nation reflects on the terrorist attacks of a year ago, the two Orange County men will be among 200 Korean War veterans who, after a half-century of neglect, will receive the thanks of two nations: the United States and South Korea. More than 1,000 people are expected at a twilight ceremony at the San Diego Convention Center to commemorate those who gave their lives in service and to salute the Korean veterans receiving the Republic of Korea - Korean War Service Medal. The ceremony opens the national AARP convention, which includes Walter Cronkite's formal tribute to veterans Thursday.

The honor is a long time in coming, says Chermak, 68, of Fountain Valley."There were parades and fanfare, great celebration, when World War II ended, but when the Korean War was over nothing happened. It wasn't that popular," he said."It was never declared a war. It was called a police action. And the World War II vets treated us as guys who didn't measure up to them."But those of us who were hurt were just as hurt and the dead were just as dead."Chermak's not bitter, he said, just honest.And he agrees with Zavala, 70, of Cypress, who views the event as a tribute to all Americans."I think it's commemorable," he said. "It's the anniversary time of our service at the same time this event reminds us of the patriotism we all feel today."The Korean War Service Medal was originally offered to American servicemen and women at a time when U.S. law prohibited American military personnel from wearing a medal issued bya foreign government. The Department of Defense changed the regulations, but too late for the 1.8 million veterans who served in Korea to receive their medal.In 1988, the South Korea renewed its original offer of the medal.The challenge then became finding the veterans. Most Department of Defense Korean Warmilitary records were destroyed in a fire.It took Congressional action to fund the search for veterans and to set up commemorativeevents, such as Wednesday's ceremony."

The Korean government has bent over backward to honor us," Chermak said.He served in 1951-54, including 15 months in Korea.He remembers the mud, the cold, the fatigue of war. He remembers frantic trips into battlezones to retrieve the wounded before daylight."A lot of my friends lost their lives," he said.Zavala spent the winter of 1952-53 in the waters off Korea."I never was really involved in any major battle," he said. "We were mostly support."But I saw the consequences of the fighting. Yes, I did."Zavala returned to the United States, earned an engineering degree and retired after acareer in aerospace.Chermak operates Robert Chermak and Associates in Placentia, a provider of food-manufacturing equipment.Neither veteran ever returned to Korea.


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