“It brought a lot of memories,” Shearer, 64, said during a cere­mony Saturday “You don’t want to think about bad ... A few of my friends got killed here.”

The Korean War veteran from Cleveland said that seeing South Korea prospering as a democratic country was worth the trip — and the sacrifices he made for this Asian country

The Seoul-based charity Kwang Sung Foundation International invited Shearer and 12 other veterans from a dozen countries that contributed troops to U.N. forces to help South Korea fight Chinese-backed communist North Koreans during the 1950-53 war.

In the coming months, South Korea will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the start of the war with wreath-laying ceremonies and battle re-enactments involving up to 1,000 veterans from the United States and other countries.

On Saturday the graying veterans, chests covered with medals, were greeted by a brass band of South Korean veterans in a ceremony in front of a national theater at the heart of Seoul. Schoolchildren presented flowers and sang songs.

“On behalf of all South Koreans, we welcome you and thank you. We know it was late, but we are happy to be able to host you before you pass away” said Lee Wan-taek, head of the charity group.

Shearer served 18 months in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. He suffered shrapnel wounds in his stomach and legs and received disability discharge in 1956.

“I am honored to have served here. Whatever I did, however small it was, I thought it was worth the sacrifices, especially when I saw the children today” the ex­sergeant said.

Photographs from the war were on display for pedestrians, and the national flags of all 14 UN. allied nations that fought the war on South Korea’s side flapped in wind.

The veterans will review a mili­tary parade Monday and have a car parade Thursday in Pusan, the south coast port where they first arrived for the war.

“This morning, when we visited an elementary school, all the children were looking at us as if we were God,” said Retired Lt. Col. Serge-Louis Bererd, 73, from Poitiers, France. A French infantry battalion fought in the war.

Veterans were happy that the peasant country they fought to protect from communism was now the world’s 12th largest economy.

“When I landed here in November 1950, I was appalled because the people were so poor. They had no place to sleep and no food to eat,” Bererd said.