South Korea is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War’s outbreak amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The anniversary is not an official holiday, but the occasion is often marked with ceremonies, war photography exhibitions and tours to former battlefield sites for visiting foreign veterans.
This year, many public observances have been scaled down or canceled because of the coronavirus, which health officials say is now in its second wave in South Korea.
Kim Young-ho was among 370 Korean War veterans honored Thursday morning at a ceremony in Cheorwon County, northeast of Seoul and adjacent to the demilitarized zone that has separated the two Koreas since the early 1950s.
Seoul’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs estimates 84,000 Korean War veterans are still alive.
In accordance with physical-distancing regulations, all participants in the event were required to wear masks and were seated a meter away from each other. Guest attendance was more limited than was the case in previous years, local officials said.
Kim said it was inevitable that the commemoration needed to be smaller because of the coronavirus but that he is more disappointed that after 70 years, the standoff between the two Koreas is still not resolved.
“I feel this status quo will last until I die,” the 89-year old said.
Faced with restrictions on in-person observances, some cultural institutions are making their Korean War anniversary exhibitions available online.
The Korean Film Archive is showing five feature-length movies about the war on its YouTube channel and will make several short films available on its video-on-demand service this month, planning official Jeon Min-hwa said, adding the screenings are meant to remind viewers that the conflict is “still ongoing.” A peace treaty to officially end the war has still not been signed.
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul is using its YouTube channel to display around 250 works of art that depict wartime scenes.
Park Yu-lee, a communications official at the museum, told VOA by email the Korean War has gradually become “defamiliarized” in the public memory.
The effect of the global pandemic on commemorations of the war outbreak anniversary is also being felt far beyond the divided peninsula, some historians said.
Andrew Salmon, author of two books on the Korean War, said the coronavirus has added extra urgency to what is normally a “somber remembrance.”
This year’s observances were meant to be a “last hurrah” for many of the conflict’s foreign veterans, who had planned to travel to South Korea for the occasion, the Seoul-based British writer said, adding that all of these men are now in the “twilight of their lives.”
“This was probably the last anniversary that many of these men would have been able to attend,” Salmon said, “The living history of the war is fading.”