Hazel Dell —
When Marshall Taggart, 83, of Hazel Dell first went to South Korea in 1952, he didn’t think he was going to make it out alive.
Not only did he make it home, 60 years later he made the journey back to the country — this time to celebrate six decades of education at a high school in Gapyeong that was built by soldiers stationed there after the cease fire was signed.
Taggart said his return trip to South Korea came about at a reunion of the 40th Infantry Division in Arizona.
”I’ve been going out to the 40th Infantry Division reunions for nine years,” he said. “People came around and asked if people would like to go back over and see the school and have all expenses paid for. I wanted to go back and see what the difference now was from when we left.”
Because all the buildings had been bombed, Taggart said there wasn’t much when he left.
”That’s the reason the 40th Infantry built that high school, for kids to go to to get their education.”
From Feb. 5 to 9, Taggart and four other veterans returned to the country they once fought to preserve, visiting both the school many of them helped build and to see the remnants of the war that’s legacy still looms over North and South Korea.
Taggart was impressed most by the modernization that had taken place the past 60 years.
”The city, they had a lot of sky scrapers there and the people were very well educated,” he said. “They were super, super nice to us, treated us like kings.”
While at the school’s graduation, Taggart said he spoke with students as they received their diplomas and was thanked for his service during the war.
”When they graduated, the kids came around and said thank you, thank you and said they appreciated the sacrifice so they can have freedom and a school to go to,” he said. “That was some ordeal.”
On the second day of the trip, Taggart and the other veterans were taken north to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. There, he said the tension between the two countries is still felt profoundly.
”When we walked along there, our translator said not to hold up a finger or make any motions or somebody’ll shoot it off,” he said. “There were people on both sides just watching. They’re always ready if something happens. Any little thing can trigger it. Everybody’s on edge. They don’t know what’s going to happen.”
More than anything, Taggart said he was happy to see the way South Korea has recovered and the appreciation the people have for the lives that were lost defending the nation over half a century ago.
”I was really surprised that the people were being so friendly and so appreciative of our service,” he said. “I was kind of overwhelmed that they’d do that and be that good to us.”
For Taggart, the people’s gratitude was worth the trip.
”No other country in the world has ever done that. In the restaurants, we’d try to tip the waitresses and they’d say ‘no, you’ve done enough for us.’”
Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.