PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Two decorated U.S. war veterans who survived one of the worst battles of the Korean War found themselves among former foes at a memorial ceremony as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launched the country's commemoration of the war's end 60 years ago.
It's unusual for American veterans to attend official events surrounding the July 27 war anniversary in North Korea, called "Victory Day" here. The veterans are in North Korea on a mission to find the remains of a fellow aviator killed in the war, and were given little notice about the event.
Thursday's ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil a new cemetery for war veterans was brief and solemn, with no speeches. Soldiers stood at guard as a military band played the national anthem. Kim, dressed in a dark blue Mao suit, saluted and left a basket of flowers bearing a banner with his name before the memorial.
The Korean War, pitting North Korean and Chinese troops against U.S.-led United Nations and South Korean forces, ended with an armistice on July 27, 1953. A peace treaty was never signed, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war and divided at the 38th parallel.
That has not stopped the North Koreans from calling July 27 "Victory Day." Brightly colored banners with the words "Victory" and "War Victory" fluttered from buildings across the capital city. The North Korean government is expected to use the anniversary to draw attention to the division of the Korean Peninsula and to rally support for Kim.
Kim took power following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011. As leader, he has overseen two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test that have drawn international condemnation and tightened U.N. sanctions.
North Koreans have been gearing up for months for the milestone war anniversary. Soldiers were assigned to carry out an extensive renovation of the Korean War museum. Students rehearsed every afternoon for a new war-themed rendition of the "Arirang" mass games song-and-dance performance, which opened Tuesday. And citizens got down on their hands and knees in the lead-up to help lay sod and plant grass as part of a massive greening of Pyongyang.