Sixty one years ago, Dick Pagano’s National Guard Troop from Yonkers, N.Y. was activated and deployed to Incheon, Korea. Here Mr. Pagano would serve as a cook for the 101 Signal Battalion for a year and a half.
Because Mr. Pagano’s battalion was sent in ahead of the invasions, he did not see the direct battle that many other soldiers may have witnessed. He did lose one close friend to the war, however.
In September of this year, Mr. Pagano and Tony Ungaro took advantage of the Korean Revisit Program. The two men had gone to Korea in 1951 and were returning as a team.
“To show their appreciation for our efforts in the war, the Korean Government offers Americans who have served in Korea an opportunity to see how their country has developed since the war,” Mr. Pagano said. “It is the government’s way of thanking us for being there for them in a time of need.’
For five days the two toured the historical sites in the country at the Korean government’s expense.
“We were all totally amazed with how Korea had changed,” Mr. Pagano said.” Once one of our poorest countries, Korea is now number ten economically. Hyundai alone is responsible for great wealth, not only in cars but in construction machinery, steel, tankers, etc. L.G. Technology and Samsung are also massive industries in Korea and many new ones are being built.”
Also of great surprise to Mr. Pagano was the infrastructure for travel.
“When I was previously in Korea, the terrain was completely rural and there were no decent roads,” he said. “The whole time I was there I never even saw a car. Today their roads are far superior to ours.”
In addition to seeing Korea’s thriving economy, Mr. Pagano and his 150 co-travelers visited the Korean War Memorial, the DMZ Zone, the National Cemetery, Seoul, saw a Reenactment of the Incheon Invasion, Korean Villages, South Korean Companies in North Korea, and many cultural events.”
“One of my favorite visits was to an elementary school. Here the students spoke and wrote letters to us in good English. They also dressed us in their folk attire and took photos with us. They wanted to thank us for what we had done for their country.”
He said “the most memorable part of the trip, however, was seeing the respect and appreciation that the Koreans still have for the American soldiers today. They are so kind, so polite and thankful for our help. It made me realize that I made the right decision so many years ago and also just this year, to return.”
Mr. Pagano will be speaking to American Legion groups about his experience and encouraging other Korean vets to take advantage of the Korean Revisit program. 2014 may be the last year the program operats and there are only three times during the year when veterans can sign up to go.