A Korean War veteran from Victor sees firsthand how he and others changed the course of history for millions.

Though the Korean War is referred to as “the forgotten war,” Laurence Bloom knows now the war he fought in more than 55 years ago is anything but forgotten.

Bloom, who served in the first U.S. Army outfit to land in South Korea at the outbreak of the war, was honored by military brass and dignitaries, as well as ordinary citizens, during a weeklong visit to the country last month.

The all-expenses-paid trip honored American veterans of the war along with their United Nations allies from countries including New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Canada and Britain. Bloom and his wife, Marcella, took part in a series of commemorative events that included tours, ceremonies and visits to historic landmarks.

“I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe what these people did with a country that was annihilated,” said Bloom. “When I left, there were big holes — craters from the bombs — people lived in shacks. The homes, businesses, all gone.”

During last month’s visit, the Blooms said they saw a country that is clean, bright and bustling with activity.

“What a gorgeous place,” said Bloom, who suffered wounds, frostbite and diseases during the Korean War that resulted in multiple hospitalizations. “They built the whole place up.”

Bloom, who was with the first Fifth Regimental Combat Team, received military honors including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Infantry Badge for his service during two years of duty from the start of the war in 1950 until he was sent home in 1952 after nearly dying of yellow jaun-dice/infectious hepatitis.

Last month, Laurence and Marcella were put up in Seoul’s Hotel Lotte World, a 533-room luxury hotel complete with restaurants, shops and an amusement park. On the street and at the war memorials and tourist attractions, Bloom said he heard over and over from the South Koreans how grateful they are for the sacrifices the veterans made for their country.

Every South Korean, children and elderly people alike, would bow and say in English, “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here,” said Bloom, 75, who was dubbed an Ambassador For Peace by the Korean Veterans Association and other veterans groups of the nation.

“They were so thankful,” added Marcella. “We heard so many times, ‘Thank you for saving us from North Korea.’”

The Blooms said a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, the joint security area between the two Koreas, was a chilling reminder of the vast differences that persist between the closed North and open South. The two Koreas are still, technically, at war. The armistice that was finally signed in July 1953 ended fighting, but the two sides have never hammered out a formal peace treaty.

The DMZ, along the 38th Parallel, has been the site of occasional clashes between the opposing guard posts, with tensions escalating in recent years due to North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Seeing the stern North Korean guards and the cement strip separating the two sides was a sobering experience for Bloom.

“This is serious stuff,” he said.

Julie Sherwood can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 263, or at jsherwood@mpnewspapers.com.