Cape Town hosts first “Turn towards Busan” Korean War commemorative ceremony

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In a heartfelt tribute to the South Africans who served and lost their lives under the United Nations flag during the 1950-53 Korean War, the inaugural Cape Town “Turn towards Busan” commemorative ceremony took place this past Saturday.

This event marked a poignant moment in history as Cape Town joined the global remembrance observed annually at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, the wartime capital of the Republic of Korea.

The “Turn towards Busan” ceremony was initially conceived by a Canadian veteran and has been an annual tradition at the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan since 2007, coinciding with the date when the First World War ended, 11 November 1918. The memorial park, the sole UN cemetery globally, serves as the final resting place for 2 311 fallen veterans from 11 different nations who sacrificed their lives during the Korean War. Notably, the conflict involved 1.98 million personnel from 22 countries dispatched to aid South Korea under a UN mandate, resulting in a cease-fire but no formal peace treaty.

The first annual “Turn towards Busan” ceremony in South Africa occurred in Johannesburg in 2015 and this year marked Cape Town’s inaugural event on 11 November 2023.

A total of 826 South Africans, primarily from 2 Squadron (the Flying Cheetahs), South African Air Force (SAAF), flying the F-51D Mustang and later the F-86F Sabre, served in Korea as one of the four squadrons of the USAF 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing. All SAAF air and groundcrew were volunteers. Tragically, 36 men lost their lives or went missing, with eleven finding their final resting place at the UN cemetery in Busan. A further eight pilots were taken prisoner.

The commemorative ceremony held in Cape Town paid tribute to these brave men and their families. A minute of silence was observed at precisely 11:11 a.m., acknowledging the sacrifices made during the Korean War.

Outgoing South Korean Ambassador, Chull-Joo Park, expressed deep gratitude during the ceremony, stating: “We Koreans will never forget their courageous spirit, their sacrifice and their contribution. Together with all of you, we continue to work to commemorate our veterans. Fuelled by the sacrifices and contributions of the Korean War veterans, South Korea was able to overcome the horror of war and achieve incredible growth.”

Colonel (Retired) Dirk Louw, Chairman of the South African Korean War Veterans Association (SAKWVA), reflected on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice on July 27, 1953, which brought an end to hostilities. He emphasized the enduring significance of the soldiers’ sacrifice for the future of the Korean people and acknowledged the closure of the International Federation of Korean War Veterans Associations in November 2023, marking the conclusion of the combined efforts of 21 countries to maintain the friendship forged among these soldiers.

Louw affirmed that “With the termination of the International Federation of Korean War Veterans Association, our organization (SAKWVA) will still be affiliated with the Korean War Veterans Association in Korea.”

The commitment to honouring the legacy of all Korean War veterans remains unwavering by the people of South Korea, ensuring their contributions are never forgotten. Three great-grandchildren were awarded scholarships.