Kim Twan-hae has a fascinating story to narrate. The 91-year-old’s memory has understandably faded a bit. But on the topic of the Korean War, it remains sharp as ever.
He says he was leading the South Korean troops who were trying to push back the North Korean army from entering Incheon, when bullets pierced through his upper body. “Two. Here and here,” he says, pointing towards his chest and right shoulder. Kim waited nearly two-and-a-half hours for the medics to arrive. But none did. He looked up one last time and closed his eyes, not knowing if he would be able to open them again.
But just when he gave up, he saw an unfamiliar face charging towards him. The only way he could understand the man was not a threat was because of his uniform — a white coat. The next thing he remembers is waking up 48 hours later in an army medical tent near Seoul, with his ‘saviour’ standing next to him. “The man who saved me was an Indian. He was a part of the medical unit that was headed by Colonel Rangaraj. But to me, he was an angel,” Kim says.
On Thursday, Kim, along with a hundred other war veterans and their families, cheered the Indian hockey side in their group stage match of the Incheon Asian Games against Pakistan. The motley group was easily outnumbered and out-voiced by the 3,000-odd Pakistani fans at the Seonhak Hockey Stadium. But waving the tri-colour and proudly chanting “Indo!” every time Sardar Singh & Co. moved forward, these war veterans stood out in the crowd.
Kil Eun Young, an officer with the Korean ministry of patriots and veteran affairs — a government arm that looks after its war heroes — says this was their “way to show gratitude to the Indian people for supporting South Korea during the war”.
“Many people are not aware of India’s contribution (in the war). The medical unit headed by Col Rangaraj fearlessly rushed to the aid of wounded soldiers in middle of a fierce crossfire. They didn’t care for their lives and it was admirable because they were fighting for the cause of a country which was not theirs,” Young says.
During the Korean War in 1950, the Indian army had provided a medical unit to tend the sick and wounded soldiers. The 627-member 60 Parachute Field Ambulance unit served in Korea for a total of three-and-a-half years (November 1950-May 1954), which Young informs is the longest single tenure by any military unit under the UN flag.
“Had it not been for the devoted services and sacrifices of the Indian people, Korea would not have become what it is today,” Young added.
There wasn’t much to cheer for the war veterans on Thursday as India lost 2-1 to Pakistan. But they weren’t disappointed. “It’s not about the result. We will continue to support India at every other event at these Asian Games,” Kim says, waving the Indian flag with pride.