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(Yonhap Interview) Truman grandson has mixed feelings over legacy of Korean War

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) -- A grandson of former U.S. President Harry Truman said Saturday he is proud to see South Korea's spectacular development from the ashes of a war more than six decades ago, but feels sad about the absence of lasting peace on the divided peninsula.

Clifton Truman Daniel was in Seoul as a member of a large group of government officials, war veterans and descendants of Korean War heroes, as South Korea marked the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the three-year conflict on July 27, 1953.

It was Daniel's first trip to South Korea, the country his grandfather saved from communism. When the war broke out, Truman moved quickly to send troops to South Korea and 20 other allied countries rallied under the U.N. flag.

In South Korea, the 56-year-old former journalist has toured mostly Korean War-related historical sites, including the Demilitarized Zone where South and North Korean soldiers stare at each other across the barbed-wire fences. He described his experience in Korea as impressive but strange.

"It was not what I had expected," Daniel said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency after attending the Armistice Day ceremony in Seoul Saturday. "It is a very strange situation."

   Daniel said Truman died when he was 15 years old, and he was too young to know how his grandfather, as president, made all the decisions after the Korean War broke out. But he said he knows by heart that sending troops to a war must be a tough decision.

"I do know, by his words, that it was the hardest set of decisions to defend an ideal so soon after the World War (II)," he said. "The idea was to stop the North from pushing their way to the South."

   After North Korea invaded South Korea across the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950, Truman quickly committed American troops to a combined U.N. military effort and named Gen. Douglas MacArthur as its commander.

Truman, who guided the U.S. through the end of World War II by dropping atomic bombs in Japan in 1945, did not seek a formal declaration of war from Congress against North Korea. Officially, America's presence in Korea amounted to no more than a "police action" as his administration was fretful about an uneasy transition to another war.

The U.S.-led intervention into the conflict helped South Korea repel the invading North Koreans. With China's intervention, North Korea fought its way back south, leading to the eventual stalemate in the conflict.

Although Daniel has never been in a position to make such a historic decision, he said he believes his grandfather did the right thing to stop the spread of communism.

"I'm proud of him for reacting as fast as he did because it is exactly the right thing," he said.

Still, the long and uneasy truce on the Korean Peninsula gives him a difficult question to answer: Who won the war?

   "It's hard to qualify what's a win in this situation. U.S. troops stopped North Korea at the border and the shooting has stopped. And yet, you are still separated. It's very hard that families are separated," he said.

In terms of the post-war economic miracle and free democracy South Koreans have achieved, Daniel emphatically said he thinks the victor is South Korea.

"It was the right thing, and it's wonderful to be here and to see the decision has led to so much progress," he said.

Being surprised to hear that Pyongyang celebrated Saturday as "Victory Day of the Fatherland Liberation War" with a large military parade, Daniel said North Korea has a "very different outlook" of the unfinished war. He preferred the way Seoul and Washington commemorate it as "Armistice Day."

   Until coming to South Korea, Daniel said he had no idea what it was like living in a divided country facing constant war threats.

"It must be so hard to have families separated, to have brothers and sisters divided like this," he said, hoping that all people will be able to see a unified Korea some day.

Although Truman is respected for his achievements during his presidency, Daniel remembers him as a normal grandfather who told kids to not to run around the house and finish their plates at dinner table.

"He was just much my grandfather. He was a straightforward, sometimes a little scary, just grandpa," Daniel said of his grandfather who died in 1972 at the age of 88.

The former journalist is an author of two books about the Truman family: "Growing Up With My Grandfather: Memories of Harry S. Truman" (1995) and "Dear Harry, Love Bess: Bess Truman's Letters to Harry Truman, 1919-1943" (2011).

He currently serves as an honorary co-chair of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum's board of directors, which is located in Missouri.

Calling his short-trip to South Korea as "instructive", Daniel said he wants to come back to South Korea to spend some time with Korean War veterans to hear their stories, and hopefully, write a book about Korea and its people.

"I wish he (Truman) were alive today to be able to see how well this country is doing," he said. "I think he would be very happy to see how well Korea has done."

   ejkim@yna.co.kr

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