PYONGYANG, North Korea -- 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 yesterday 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.
The ribbon-cutting to unveil a new cemetery for war veterans was brief and solemn. Soldiers stood at guard as a military band played the national anthem.
Kim, 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 anniversary is taking place as North Korea copes with flooding from the seasonal monsoon rains that strike every July. Eight people were killed, more than 4,500 homes destroyed and 17,700 left homeless this week, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Pyongyang also threatened on Thursday to reposition troops at a stalled inter-Korean factory park at the border. The warning came after failed talks to reopen the factory park that was a rare symbol of cooperation between the rivals before it was shuttered in April amid tension.
Scores of foreign visitors have arrived in Pyongyang this week. Vice President Li Yuanchao of China arrived yesterday.
The two Americans -- retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Hudner, of Concord, Mass., and Dick Bonelli, a former U.S. Marine from Englewood, Fla. -- are on a mission to revisit Jangjin County, better known to Americans as the Chosin Reservoir -- site of one of the deadliest battles of the Korean War.
"It's a very emotional occasion to be here with so many veterans -- not only the veterans but also the people of the nation who turned out to show their support to all of veterans," said Hudner, who received the Medal of Honor for trying to save his downed wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
"And as an American veteran, I am delighted to see that our former foe and we share some of the same feelings about this," Hudner said.