Trip of a lifetime

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 9, 2003

Merton Morreim of rural Albert Lea won the equivalent of a lottery when he was selected to go to Seoul, Korea, last month to attend the official ceremonies to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended the Korean War.

He said his trip to Korea from July 23 to 29 was sponsored by the Federation of Korean Industries. Morreim’s only expenses were for the travel between Albert Lea and the Rochester Airport.

&uot;I saw a notice in a veterans’ magazine a few months ago about this trip and decided to send in my name,&uot; he explained.

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Morreim is a 1947 graduate of Albert Lea High School. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in September 1950 and sent to Camp Atterbury, Ind., for basic training. Morreim was later assigned as mechanic at Camp Atterbury until March 1952, when he was sent to Korea. He was stationed at Taegu, Korea, with Eighth Army Headquarters as a mechanic in the motor pool. Morreim came back to the U.S. in August 1952 and was discharged the following month from military duty.

After returning to Albert Lea, he worked as a mechanic for his father, Otto Morreim, then for 35 years at both Wilson Foods and Farmstead. He is now retired.

&uot;Everything was free,&uot; Morreim said of the trip, which went from Rochester to Chicago, then from Chicago directly to Seoul by 747 aircraft which held about 400 passengers. He added that the trip across the Pacific took about 13 hours, and just over 12 hours for the return trip &uot;because coming back we had a tailwind.&uot;

During the week in Korea, Morreim said his group made a bus tour of the port city of Inchon, the city of Seoul, and went to Panmunjom where the truce ending the Korean War was signed on July 27, 1953.

Panmunjom is also near the 38th Parallel and right on the border between North and South Korea. The American veterans could look into North Korea and observe the very stern troops guarding several buildings divided by a line painted on the floor. Morreim said he actually stepped across this line into North Korea for a few feet.

Morreim said he took a truck to Seoul in 1952. At that time the city was devastated and nearly leveled after changing hands four times during the battles between United Nations forces and both North Korean and Chinese units. &uot;There was nothing there.&uot;

Now he says the city is covered with skyscrapers and apartment houses after apartment houses. One of the big buildings he visited was similar to the Space Needle in Seattle.

Morreim said there were about 6,000 people at the ceremony at the Korean National Memorial in Seoul. Included in this group were 400 American veterans, plus veterans from 20 other nations that were involved in the Korean War. The main speaker was former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Also in the American delegation was television commentator and former Clinton administration member George Stephanopoulos, three army generals and an admiral.

Morreim said he was selected as one of 50 veterans to represent each state at a reception held at the home of U.S. Ambassador and Mrs. Hubbard.

&uot;I rubbed elbows with a lot of big ones and shook hands with Henry (Kissinger),&uot; he said. And one of the people he &uot;rubbed elbows with&uot; was the president of South Korea.

Morreim is a life member of both Leo Carey Post 56 of the American Legion and Freemond Madson Post 447 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

&uot;I still can’t believe it. It was a very memorable trip,&uot; he said.

(Contact Ed Shannon at or call 379-3434.)