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East Lyme — More than 300 people gathered at Camp Niantic Friday to commemorate the 60 years since the cease fire that ended the Korean War. Both flags and a bright white tablecloth symbolizing the pure intentions of those missing in action fluttered in the breeze.
Friday's ceremony, sponsored by the state Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans History Project at Central Connecticut State University, delivered the message that while the Korean War may be called the "Forgotten War," the service rendered by its veterans will be remembered.
"Finally, the Forgotten War is not forgotten," retired Brig. Gen. James H. Throwe, one of the ceremony's honorary chairmen, told attendees seated at a grassy area overlooking the Niantic River.
"You can't write a check for freedom," state veterans affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz told the crowd. The veterans' service and sacrifice gave the people of South Korea a chance to be free.
Local and state officials, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, and veterans, including Brig. Gen. Daniel McHale, solemnly read aloud the names of the 316 from Connecticut who fell in the Korean War.
As part of the ceremony, a table laden with symbolism stood by the stage, its white cloth covering representing the soldiers' "purity of intentions in responding to their country's call to arms"; the salt symbolizing their families' tears as they awaited their return; and the inverted glasses and empty seats — one for each branch of military service — standing for the missing, who cannot sit and toast, explained Paul Barry, a veteran service officer for the Connecticut chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America Inc.
"They are commonly called prisoners of war or MIAs," Barry said. "We call them brothers."
"Pray for them and remember them," he added.
Seventy-nine of the 316 fallen state residents who served in the Korean War are considered missing in action, Barry said.
As part of the ceremony, veterans received a round of applause, the Antique Veterans World Post #1 of Meriden carried the post colors, a rifle salute sounded and the Rev. Dr. Michael S. Galasso of the Rocky Hill Veterans' Home offered a benediction.
In attendance Friday was Howard Wilson of Vernon, who served in the 3rd Infantry Division during the war. His childhood friend, Raymond E. Duncan of Hartford, was one of the names of the fallen called Friday. Wilson said he had eagerly looked for Duncan's name as soon as he received the program for the ceremony. They had grown up together and had enjoyed playing basketball. Wilson attended Duncan's burial service at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Everybody liked him," Wilson recalled fondly after the ceremony.
Paul Mangiafico of Wethersfield, a military policeman during the war, said he had never received a reception after the war and Friday's ceremony made him feel proud.
"The reading of the names really touched me," he said, adding that he feels he's so fortunate when he thinks of those who lost their lives.
Jim Shelmerdine, president of the Connecticut Chapter of Korean War Veterans who served in the Army's 40th Division, recalled July 27, 1953, the exact date of the cease fire, when, he said, he was told at 10 a.m. that in 12 hours the guns would go silent and there would be a 4,000-meter demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
Friday's ceremony, he said, represented "a long overdue thank you" to the veterans of that Forgotten War.