A few months ago, Korean War veteran Leonard Adreon never imagined a peace deal targeting the Korean Peninsula would come to fruition after multiple heated exchanges between the U.S. and North Korean leaders, and after decades of inability to navigate successful denuclearization talks.
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“Six months ago I had no hope. Six months ago I felt that only regime change, and if that couldn’t be done covertly, then there’s going to be an attack [and] it would kill lots of people. And we’ve killed enough people in the Korean Peninsula,” he told FOX Business.
But, the military veteran’s view has changed after President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Tuesday in Singapore in a historic summit that marked the first-ever meeting between a U.S. president and North Korean head of state.
“I think it's a possible beginning and I am hopeful that the motivations are there from both sides to ultimately create a deal that both sides will find beneficial,” he said. “And I think the ingredients are all in place.”
Adreon was drafted into the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving until the war’s end in 1945. He joined the Navy Reserves before attending Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for four years. The military vet received his diploma and was recalled into service when the war in Korea began in June 1950. A hospital corpsman, he went on to train with the Marines (the military branch uses Navy corpsmen for medical support) and in 1951 was shipped overseas from Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California, to the American military base in Pusan, South Korea, and began fighting at the 38th Parallel – the line of demarcation between the two Koreas.
Trump and Kim laid the framework for peace when they signed a document during their meeting which said North Korea would work toward “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” While some have been skeptical, even warning that Kim could be duping Trump, Adreon disagrees, saying there is too much on the line for Kim to be attempting such trickery.
“I think he’s motivated for the simple reason that his survival is at stake,” Adreon said. “North Korea is in a very vulnerable position … I think that is his motivation because the alternative to a deal for him I think is a loss of his regime, and probably the loss of his life,” he added, regarding the threats of nuclear strikes against the U.S. that Pyongyang previously made.
While some lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have suggested military force as a last resort if the deal goes awry, the former Navy corpsman said he does not want to see U.S. troops on the ground in the North again. In a war that lasted from 1950-1953, nearly 40,000 Americans died fighting in Korea, while more than 100,000 were wounded, while 5 million lives were lost overall.
“We can’t fight a ground war in Korea again,” Adreon said. “What we can do – and what I think we should do – is equip South Korea with tanks and missiles and planes and other equipment necessary so that they can mobilize and be a force that can sustain themselves against anything that the North can do.”
As part of the signed document, Kim agreed to end the nation’s nuclear program, which Trump said would begin “very quickly,” though the timetable for a fully denuclearized peninsula in not yet known. Meanwhile, the president said he would “absolutely” invite Kim to the White House.
“It’s been a long time. I hope that there can be a peace treaty between North and South. They’re all one people … if they could come together and have a harmonious peninsula, it would be a beautiful thing to see and it would be wonderful for the world,” Adreon said.