South Korea to send 500,000 face masks in honor of US Korean War veterans
Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea will send 500,000 face masks to help American veterans fight the coronavirus in honor of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the start of the 1950-53 Korean War.
An air force plane was set to take off Sunday night from Gimhae Air Base near the southern city of Busan to transport the masks to the United States.
The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs said it will later distribute 500,000 more masks via overseas missions to Korean War veterans in 21 other countries including Britain, Canada and Turkey that participated in the war under the auspices of the United Nations.
The government is “providing protective masks to the aging U.N. veterans of the Korean War to mark the 70th anniversary and to recognize their service and sacrifice,” the ministry said in a press release.
“All the 22 countries have been struggling with the COVID-19 virus, and there’s an urgent need to provide face masks as the war veterans are susceptible to the virus,” it said, adding that the veterans’ average age is 88.
The masks bound for the U.S. will be received by the Department of Veterans Affairs, a ministry official said.
Masks have become a valued commodity worldwide because of shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic.
South Korea, one of the first countries to suffer an outbreak, has restricted mask exports. But government officials said the shipment could be made without disrupting the domestic supply.
The war, which began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean communist troops invaded the U.S.-backed South, was the first military action of the Cold War.
Fighting between the allies and Chinese and North Korean forces persisted as truce talks took some two years, concluding with an armistice that left the countries technically at war after the sides were unable to reach a peace treaty.
The United States provided more than 90% of the foreign combat forces, with more than 300,000 American troops deployed on the peninsula as U.N. forces reached peak strength toward the end of the war, according to the United Nations Command.
More than 36,000 Americans died, 103,284 were wounded in action, and more than 7,500 remain unaccounted for – most believed to be lost in North Korea where the search for remains has been hampered by tensions.
More than 3 million people are estimated to have died in the war, although it’s impossible to confirm an exact figure due to the lack of information from North Korea.