Send to

Descendent of Korean War veteran feels 'pride, responsibility' for grandfather's legacy

A descendent of Colombian war veteran speaks about connection between her family, S. Korea

June 25, 2024 - 18:58 By Shin Ji-hye
Stephanie Arguello Gaona poses for a photo at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan, Seoul. (Stephanie Arguello Gaona)

Stephanie Arguello Gaona and Valentina Rojas Martinez, both from Colombia, stood before one of the 23 memorial statues at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan, Seoul, Tuesday. It was 74 years ago on that day when the Korean War broke out, marking the beginning of their connection to this distant Asian country. Their grandfathers, who were teenagers at the time, fought as part of the United Nations troops to defend South Korea from communist invaders.

“My grandfather’s name is Santiago Gaona Cadena. He came to Korea at 17 years of age and fought for two years until he was wounded in action and was sent back home,” said Gaona, 32.

She said her friend Martinez’s grandfather, Juan Bautista Rojas, was also a veteran and had passed away last year.

On Tuesday at the War Memorial, the two friends attended a ceremony to receive a scholarship from a local group, the Memorial Association of UN Participation in Korean War, which is dedicated to honoring the sacrifice of foreign veterans.

Gaona, who is pursuing a master’s degree at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, came to Korea in 2017.

Video footage of the War Memorial of Korea (Korea Herald)

“Being a descendant of a Korean War veteran makes me feel more connected,” she said. “The people (Koreans) also give me a bigger sense of community. With all the other descendants, we get to participate in many different activities throughout the year.”

During her seven years in Korea, she has visited the war museum and many other memorial monuments multiple times. “The very first time is definitely the most emotional, but still, every single time, there is a sense of pride and a certain responsibility to keep my grandfather’s legacy alive.”

Video footage of the War Memorial of Korea (Korea Herald)

On the anniversary of the war’s beginning, the war museum in central Seoul was brimming with visitors, with many foreigners and local students on field trips to commemorate the three-year conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

The Korean War, lasting three years from 1950-53, saw the participation of 22 countries under the United Nations Command.

In front of the museum stand monuments dedicated to each of the 22 countries, along with South Korea, that formed an alliance against Russia-backed North Korea. Groups of foreign visitors, including Gaona and Martinez, were seen paying tribute to them. A basket of white flowers with a ribbon from France's Center for Advanced Military Studies had been placed at the French monument.

Flowers are laid at a monument dedicated to French troops who helped defend South Korea during the Korean War, in front of the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan, central Seoul, Tuesday. (The Korea Herald)