CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- Three college students, free from hunger, want and fear, raised their voices in songs of gratitude.
It's gratitude to a generation of Americans who shaped the world those young people thrive in today, when they drew a line against the spread of communism 60 years ago.
It's the best "thank you" the citizens of the Republic of Korea --- South Korea --- could show Iowa veterans of the Korean War, said John Lee, president of the Korean American Society of Iowa.
He, and the trio of University of Iowa students from South Korea, were at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center on the University of Northern Iowa campus this week preparing for a special presentation to Iowa Korean War veterans Saturday.
More than 320 Iowa veterans of that war have been selected to receive "peace medals" from the South Korean government, through its consulate in Chicago.
"I'm sure it'll be pretty emotional," Lee said. But its an opportune time, during the 60th anniversary of the 1950-53 war. "This generation is passing away pretty fast."
Lee, a naturalized American citizen and an Alliant Energy engineer in Cedar Rapids, wishes all Korean War veterans could visit South Korea, because they would finally see the fruits of their sacrifice in the early '50s.
"If all the veterans went back to South Korea today they would be quite amazed, how much has changed," he said. "And without their help, I don't think this would have happened."
Today, he said South Korea has the world's 10th largest economy and is a major importer of Iowa agricultural products --- a living testimonial to concepts of democracy and free enterprise American troops upheld when they defended South Korea from communist invaders.
"If the Korean War veterans did not help 60 years ago, we would not have had a chance to survive," Lee said.
South Korea has had its own internal democratic and economic struggles, which Lee witnessed growing up there just one generation removed from the war.
But now, "freedom has survived and flourished now," he said, pointing to the young Koreans rehearsing on stage at Gallagher-Bluedorn.
"Their idea of living is totally different than us. They don't have much fear. They've never been hungry."
And those young people "know the tie between the U.S. and Korea," he said.
"I can feel it," he added. "It helped my father's generation. I'm really appreciating not being communist. What they (Korean veterans) sacrificed has produced a pretty good result."
Doors open at noon for the Saturday event at Gallagher-Bluedorn, and the ceremony will begin at about 1 p.m.
A representative of the Republic of Korea's Chicago consulate will address the veterans.
Also speaking will be U.S. Navy Iraq-Afghanistan veteran and East Waterloo High School graduate Eric Benson, now a UNI student, who spent time in South and North Korea searching for and recovering remains of missing or fallen U.S military personnel.