It has been called "The Forgotten War." Don't tell that to the more than 100 veterans who crammed into the ballroom at the Tarpon Marina Hotel.
Sixty years after serving their country, these heroes are finally being recognized as such, and were honored Saturday at a commemoration ceremony in observance of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.
It has been a long time coming for many of these service personnel, who sacrificed so much so that those south of the 38th parallel could not only live in freedom, but prosper.
From left, Donald Graf, executive vice president of the Veterans Foundation, Bill McCarthy, local ambassador to the Department of Defense, Commander John O'Brien of the U.S. Navy, Mayor John Sullivan and George Colom at the commemoration ceremony of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Saturday at the Tarpon Marina Hotel Ballroom.
"We're here to recognize those who laid down their lives for this country," said Commander John O'Brien of the Department of Defense 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee. "It's so important. It's been such a long time and they're getting on in years, so it's important to recognize these veterans."
The event featured the Boys Scout Troop 110, which presented the colors, and rousing renditions of the "Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" from Jennifer Gilmore, before the speakers took over.
"The Korean War is a lot of things for a lot of people. Some think we went to war for nothing," said Ralph Santillo, founder and president of Invest in America's Veterans Foundation, a non-profit group hosting the event. "Most who went don't think it was for nothing."
"These veterans inspire the soldiers of today," said Mayor John Sullivan. "We set today aside as a token of appreciation for the sacrifices they and their families made."
The keynote speaker was Eddie Ko, who at age 14 worked as a spy for American forces in Korea in preparation for the invasion of Inchon and moved to the States shortly after the war ended in 1955.
"Sometimes some events hurt the heart. It's hard to forget because the wounds are too hard," Ko said. "They are deep wounds and we'd like to forget them before we leave this world."
To those who thought it was a bad idea to go to Korea, the speakers made a convincing argument for it.
"Sixty years ago, it was ashes, today it looks like a modern country. At night it looks like Las Vegas," Santillo said. They've hosted an Olympics and will host another in 2018."
"I came back to Korea two months ago and said, 'I think I'm in the wrong country,'" said Bill McCarthy, a Korean War veteran and local ambassador for the Department of Defense. "Today they have one of the best economies in the world."
The event also included the awarding of certificates of appreciation signed by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to the veterans in attendance and a thank you video from the people of South Korea before lunch was provided.
Santillo couldn't have been more pleased by the turnout, which was much more than expected.
"It's a great day. These men and women who served deserve recognition, they deserve the honor," Santillo said. "Over 7,000 are still missing. They were three hard years for our young men and women."
The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953 and ended in an armistice, which ended the hostilities, but not the actual war. It is its positioning between World War II and Vietnam that gets it lost in the shuffle.
"When I got back from Korea, I bumped into friends and they asked where I had been," said Korean War veteran George Colom. "I told them I was in Korea and they said they didn't know I'd been gone."