After spending 395 days in Korea as a young man, former Niles resident Robert Brothers never thought he would set foot on that soil again, but when the Republic of South Korea government invited him to attend the Korean War Veterans Banquet in Seoul, Brothers decided to go.
''I never thought I'd want to do anything like that,'' Brothers said. ''It was 61 years and 18 days that from the time I first set foot in Korea until the time I went back,'' he said.
Sponsored by the Republic of South Korea, Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Korean Korea War Veterans Association and Korean War Veterans Association of the United States, Brothers and several other Korean War veterans were provided lodging and much of the cost of their flight to the country they helped keep free of communism from 1951 until the cease fire on July 17, 1953.
''They started this program to invite vets back to thank them for freeing their country,'' Brothers said.
Along with 85 other American Korean War veterans, as well as veterans from Turkey, England, Australia and other countries, Brothers flew first to Tokyo and on to the capital of South Korea, Seoul. After checking into the Ambassador Hotel, five tour buses took the visitors on a three-day tour of the demilitarized zone.
''It was very interesting to tour the DMZ,'' Brothers said. ''It is four miles wide and very heavily fortified on both sides.''
No photos, gestures or conversations are allowed inside the building at Panmunjom where peace talks took place in the 1950s that lead to the cease fire. Two Korean high school students accompanied Brothers to the DMZ, he said, and it was evident they were frightened of the North Koreans who keep watch along the their side of the border that separates the south from the north.
Yet what touched him the most during his visit was the treatment the veterans received by the citizens of South Korea.
The buses the veterans traveled in were decorated with signs that indicated war veterans were on board and everywhere the veterans traveled, they were led by police escorts. When people saw the bus, they bowed in respect, he said.
''It was overwhelming,'' Brothers said.
In addition to tours, the trip also involved two banquets, one in which introduced the president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. During the banquet, all of the veterans were presented with Korean War Veteran Peace Medals.
During the trip Brothers said there were three incidents that he will never forget. The first was when he met another fellow soldier, Richard Perez, from California who although he didn't know it at the time, they served together in the 1st Cavalry during the war.
''He was captured in a battle that I was a part of,'' Brothers said. ''We spent a lot of time talking.''
The second incident involved a Turkish veteran who also served in the same battle and also was captured, Brothers said. We had a language problem, but our interpreter spoke English and German and the Turkish soldier also spoke German so the two of them managed to communicate by way of several languages, he said.
The third incident involved a South Korean veteran at the observation post on the DMZ who also served with Brothers at the same time and in the same place during the war. The language differences made it difficult for the two veterans to communicate, however.
''It was heart-rendering to meet him,'' Brothers said. ''There were a lot of tears and although I couldn't talk to him, I could hug him.''
Brothers was only 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Army's 1st Calvary Division and set foot in Korea on July 18, 1950, just 21 days after the war began, he said. A member of the Korean War Veterans Association, Brothers was recently induced in the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in Columbus.