Darcy Tuck had two mates killed in the Korean War, but he says the biggest tragedy is that only one is buried at Busan.
Thirty Kiwi veterans of the war, who are back on the peninsula to mark 60 years since the ceasefire, travelled for three hours yesterday to the immaculately maintained United Nations cemetery.
There are memorials to 34 fallen Kiwis, among the 2300 bodies buried, from the nations that helped to defend South Korea from the communist North in the war between 1950 and 1953.
But while Able Seaman Robert Marchioni, of Taihape, is honoured in the cemetery, his body remains missing to this day.
He was just 19 when he was part of a raiding party sent out to destroy North Korean gun placements. He was hit when they came under machine-gun fire, and his comrades had to abandon him.
"They knew where he was killed, but they couldn't get back in," Tuck, of Hamilton, who was a driver during the war, recalled. "It's awfully sad, just terrible, not being able to bring him back."
For Tuck - the father of seven daughters - this is his first trip back to Korea, and he has been amazed by the south's recovery.
"I remember thinking, they'll never make it back, it'll take a couple of hundred years before they ever get back on their feet, but they've done a marvellous job."
The veterans on the trip have been mainly upbeat so far, as they recall old memories. But in Busan there were many tears as they faced the gravestones of their old mates.
For Whanganui's Jim Neilson, a former lance bombardier in the 16th field regiment, coming back to Busan never gets easier. This is his fifth trip back, but the former head cook of 163 Battery was still moved to tears as he recalled his best mate, Lyn Murray, from Wairarapa.
"We went into camp at the same time, and we were in the same tent. To lose him, at age 23, it was very sad," he said.
"Coming back, it doesn't get easier, it gets harder."
The veterans endured rain, then stifling humidity as they sat through the ceremonies.
Prime Minister John Key said that when New Zealand was mulling whether to back South Korea in 1950, it saw in North Korea the same lust for power as had been witnessed in Nazi Germany only a few years earlier.
"In 1950, as they do now, New Zealanders knew that freedom cannot be taken for granted and sometimes must be fought for."
Australian Veterans' Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon said the men had volunteered for a war they knew little about, in a country most knew almost nothing about.
"It was the right thing to do, it was the just thing to do."
- © Fairfax NZ News