Kim took power following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011. As leader, he has overseen two long-range rocket launches and a nuclear test that have drawn international condemnation and tightened U.N. sanctions.
North Koreans have been gearing up for months for the milestone war anniversary. Soldiers were assigned to carry out an extensive renovation of the Korean War museum. Students rehearsed every afternoon. And citizens got down on their hands and knees in the lead-up to help lay sod and plant grass as part of a massive greening of Pyongyang.
The anniversary is taking place as North Korea copes with flooding from the seasonal monsoon rains that strike the peninsula every July. Eight people were killed, more than 4,500 homes destroyed and 17,700 left homeless this week, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Scores of foreign visitors have arrived in Pyongyang this week, including journalists from the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and elsewhere. China’s vice president, Li Yuanchao, arrived Thursday.
The two Americans, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Hudner of Concord, Mass., and Dick Bonelli, a former U.S. Marine from Englewood, Fla., are in North Korea on a mission to revisit Jangjin County, better known to Americans as the Chosin Reservoir — site of one of the deadliest battles of the Korean War.
“It’s a very emotional occasion to be here with so many veterans — not only the veterans but also the people of the nation who turned out to show their support to all of veterans,” said Hudner, who received the Medal of Honor for trying to save his downed wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown, at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
“And as an American veteran, I am delighted to see that our former foe and we share some of the same feelings about this,” Hudner said.
The monument to veterans is the centerpiece of a sprawling national military cemetery in Pyongyang’s outskirts.
One North Korean, Pak Chun Son, sobbed as she paid her respects at the gravestone of her father, Pak Hyon Jong, who died in the war when she was 5.
“My father will be honored on this hill forever,” said her brother, Pak Yun Yong, who was 8 when his father died. He was dressed in a military uniform weighed down by medals. Tears sprang to his eyes. “We want to raise our children to be patriots like their grandfather was.”