WAEGWAN, Republic of Korea — The translator set aside his microphone and stepped away from the podium. For a time, the Americans and South Koreans in the crowd would have no need of his services.
Moments of silence have no language barrier.
Service members and civilians from the U.S. and the Republic of Korea bowed their heads in unison, paying respects to the fallen during an Aug. 17 wreath laying ceremony near Camp Carroll.
The ceremony commemorated 41 U.S. Army prisoners of war who were massacred by North Korean troops at Hill 303 on Aug. 17, 1950.
Captured during one of the many engagements of the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, the Soldiers were marched to a ravine and murdered by their captors, who feared they would slow them down.
Five Soldiers survived the ordeal. These survivors shared details of their capture and the war crime committed by North Korean People’s Army troops during the initial months of the Korean War.
Speaking at the event, Chilgok County Governor Kim Jae Uk said the Hill 303 victims symbolized the resolve of South Korea's allies to preserve democracy in the country.
"The United States sent 1.79 million troops, the largest number among those nations participating in the war. Thirty-seven thousand were killed or missing and more than 90,000 were wounded."
"It is because of their sacrifice that the Republic of Korea was able to achieve freedom and prosperity today. With their devotion, they gave us freedom."
Kim's sentiments were echoed by 6th Ordnance Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Daniel S. Eusebio during his own speech.
"The ROK-U.S. alliance is among the strongest of partnerships in the world because of the selfless service, sacrifice and courage of those who stood on this very sacred ground."
"The fact that our two countries are gathered here today in friendship and partnership, solidifies that the deaths of these forty-one heroes were not in vain."
6th Ordnance Battalion placed the first official monument at Hill 303 in 2003. In the years since, Chilgok County has constructed a monument and memorial park to honor the memory of the fallen Soldiers.
Although a site of great tragedy, Hill 303 is also historically significant as part of the Nakdong River Battle. A natural barrier, the Nakdong River served as a bulwark against attempts by the North Korean People’s Army to fully conquer South Korea at the outset of the Korean War.
From Aug. 1 to Sept. 24, 1950, U.N. and South Korean forces pushed back repeated assaults by North Korean forces in the area, determined to hold out until supplies and allied reinforcements could arrive.
"This is where the decisive battle of the Korean War happened. If the Nakdong River Line had fallen, arguably there'd be no South Korea. [The people of Chilgok County] know that. They instill it into everything that they do, to include education of elementary and middle school," said U.S. Army Garrison Daegu Commander Col. Brian P. Schoellhorn.
"One of the most humbling things about being here in Korea — and particularly in Chilgok County — is to see how much they have honored U.S. and ROK service members and their sacrifices here."
Kim said the people of Chilgok County are determined to keep alive the memory of the Soldiers of Hill 303 and the others like them who sacrificed so much to preserve democracy in South Korea.
"With their devotion, they gave us freedom. Now, it is up to us to remember their exploits and continue to educate the future generations."