SEOUL, June 26 (UPI) -- As South Korea commemorates the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War this week, an online exhibition launched Friday offers a rare, in-depth perspective of life during the conflict from a Colombian soldier.
The exhibition, "The Korean War Through the Eyes of a Colombian Veteran," was inaugurated at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul with a ceremony Friday. It features 152 photos taken by retired Sgt. Maj. Gilberto Diaz during his 14-month stint in Korea.
Fifty other photos were also provided by veterans from Colombia, which was the only Latin American country to send troops to fight under the United Nations Command in the 1950-53 conflict. The exhibition will be online until the end of the year.
"The camera was my best friend in Korea," Diaz , 86, told a group of journalists earlier this week in a video call from his home in Bogota. "We were always together and even now it's a part of my life. It still works perfectly."
Diaz bought his Kodak camera for $5 in Tokyo and took about 400 photos, mostly in color, before and after his arrival in Incheon as an 18-year-old soldier in June 1952.
Many of his images focus on everyday life in camps and bunkers, with fellow soldiers posing for snapshots, doing training exercises, attending religious services in the field or relaxing during their downtime by playing volleyball or guitar.
For Diaz and his fellow Colombians, one of the most challenging adjustments to life in Korea was the weather.
"It was the first time I had experienced four seasons in my life," Diaz recalled. "It was especially tough and challenging to endure the winter, because we don't have those kinds of temperatures in Colombia."
Diaz would also experience the horrors of the brutal war up close, including a bloody engagement in March 1953 on Old Baldy, a strategically located hill on the front lines that was the site of numerous battles throughout the conflict.
Both sides suffered massive losses, including one of Diaz's closest friends.
"It wasn't easy to tell which body belonged to him," Diaz said. "But I remembered that he had a mustache, and not many people had mustaches at that time. So I started touching faces in the piles of bodies until I was able to find my friend."
At an opening ceremony for the exhibition on Friday, several ambassadors and military personnel commemorated the 70th anniversary of the start of the war and expressed thanks to the contributions from Colombia, which sent more than 5,000 troops and saw more than 200 killed or missing in action.
"These photos remind us all about the precious value of freedom," said South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo. "The noble sacrifice and dedication of Colombian veterans have allowed South Korea to keep its peace. The Republic of Korea will forever remember the sacrifice your country made."
U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris praised Colombian troops, who "fought bravely and fiercely" during the conflict.
"Seven decades later, we can all now look back and be amazed and proud of the achievements forged in the defense of freedom and democracy," Harris said. "As we look to the future, let us recognize the impact of our actions, and both sustain and strengthen what we have fought so hard to achieve."
Diaz said his contribution to the history of the Korean War was an accidental one.
"When I started taking pictures, it was just a hobby," he said. "I had no idea that my pictures were going to be relevant in world history. But now I feel very proud and happy that I can be a part of the history of both Koreans and Colombians."