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Split families a legacy of war

From CNN's Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy

Families wave to each other in their first reunion in more than 50 years.
Families wave to each other in their first reunion in more than 50 years.

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• Interactive: Korean history 

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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- It was the first hot conflict of the Cold War. Three years of bloody fighting in which South Korea, helped by U.S. and U.N. forces, repulsed an invasion from communist North Korea.

Fifty years ago this week, the shooting came to an end with the signing of an armistice.

The panels on the Korean War Memorial in Seoul display the names of the more than 37,000 U.S. and U.N. soldiers, along with the more than 150,000 South Korean troops, who died.

And that's just a fraction of the more than three million people killed in the conflict.

Retired General Paek Son Nam commanded the South Korean division that bore the brunt of the first North Korean assault and survived to witness the signing of the armistice.

"North Korea early morning they surprise attack, just like Pearl Habor in 1941. They pushed across the 38th parallel," he recalls.

Today, he works at the war memorial trying to keep the memories, and the lessons, of the conflict alive.

"Freedom, democracy, is not free," he says.

For many people it carries a bitterly high price. Millions of families were scattered and relatives were stranded on either side of a still divided peninsula.

Retired university president Kim Min Ha was just a boy when two of his brothers and his sister disappeared in the North.

"I always wondered what happened to them," Kim Min Ha says. "I was heartbroken. My mother cried every day."

Then, a year after a historic June 2000 summit meeting between North and South Korean leaders, the Red Cross delivered a letter out of the blue.

The bitter war left nearly 3 million dead in three years.
The bitter war left nearly 3 million dead in three years.

Kim's older brother Song Ha was alive in Pyongyang. But for their mother, it was too late.

"My mother was 101, unconscious, and dying in the hospital, says Kim.

"I read the letter to her in a loud voice. If only she had lived a little longer."

A year later, at a Red Cross-sponsored reunion, Kim met his brother for the first time since 1950.

"It was very hard to speak. I didn't know what to say," says Kim. "All he could say was thank you for staying alive."

Kim showed his brother the picture of their dying mother, and learned his two other siblings were still alive in the North.

And then, after just two days, it was over.

"Since then, I've had no contact whatsoever, no letter, no phone calls. It is even harder now," says Kim.

"I think the leaders of North and South Korea are guilty of failing to overcome the division of Korea. I hope the younger generation can achieve peaceful reunification. Brother should never fight brother again."

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