On my last visit to China, I made arrangements to meet with Korean War veterans from the Peoples Liberation Army. It was an emotional meeting.
I presented the PLA veterans small enameled "Korean War Veteran" pins from the U.S., but the writing on the pin merely said "Korean War Veteran." Tears were shed as I secured the pin on the lapel of those veterans I had fought against over 50 years earlier.
We discussed the possibility of a gathering of combatants from all nations that fought in that conflict: China, Soviet Union, North Korea, South Korea and U.N. forces.
"What would we do at such a gathering?" they asked.
"Don't you have any songs from that epoch?" I asked.
"How about poems we could share?"
Their eyes lit up. "Many, many."
We had many other ideas, but the gathering never occurred due to resistance on the part of the Chinese authorities. Still, here are two poems by Chinese poets written over 1,000 years ago that are just as meaningful today as they were in the 10th century.
"Frontier Soil" by Wei Chuang
Has there ever been a time without war,
- an emperor without armies?
Soldiers have but one thing on their minds,
- the lookout for peace.
At the frontier they say the soil now
- is more bones than earth,
poor farmers dragged from their fields
- and marched off to death.
"At the Frontier" by Xu Hun
We fought all night, north of the Sanggan River;
Of our forces, half did not return.
When morning came, so did mail from home;
Families still sending dead men warm clothes for winter.
- George F. Drake, Korean War veteran, 1952-53, Bellingham