BOGOTA – Colombian army veteran Gilberto Diaz Velasco on Sunday looked back on his experience during the 1950-1953 Korean War through his collection of more than 600 unpublished photographs.
“It is not easy to remember that adventure,” Diaz, who was a soldier in the Colombian Battalion in 1952 and retired an infantry sergeant major, told EFE. “Nowadays, I am happy about making it back with the satisfaction of having served.”
Colombia was the only Latin American country who responded to the UN’s call to defend South Korea against its northern counterparts, a conflict that resulted in an armistice, with the two nations technically still at war.
Diaz’s story and photographs were rescued by the Colombian Defense Ministry’s Inclusive Rehabilitation Center (CRI), an institution created with the support of the South Korean government aiming to help wounded soldiers recover mentally and physically.
Of the 5,204 Colombian soldiers who fought in the war, 143 died and 557 were wounded, while 71 went missing, 30 were captured by enemy troops and 2 remained in the country of their own accord.
Although the specific figures are not clear, it is estimated that some 750 veterans – all over the age of 80 – remain alive.
“I purchased a camera and started taking photos, which I kept in small boxes with no other intent than to keep them as a souvenir,” the Colombian army veteran said.
Diaz’s photographs depict soldiers in action and in the trenches, as well as eating amid crossfire, as well as wounded or dead comrades and the wartorn country’s snowy mountains and frozen rivers.
“One of my favorite pictures is one that shows a Catholic Mass,” he said. “The priest, who was Colombian, used the hood of a jeep as an altar. He is pictured raising his arms with his back to the soldiers. The car is covered with old tarps and the wheels are wrapped in chains to avoid slips” on the icy roads.