Korean War veterans, when you visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., you read the inscription on the dedication stone: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
The words mean so much to my wife and me because we are from that country, the Republic of (South) Korea.
You, the “sons and daughters,” are invited to an appreciation picnic and program on Sept. 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Pavilion No. 1 at Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton.
I was 6 years old when North Korean troops occupied my hometown near Kunsan; my wife was 2 when they occupied her hometown, Pohang. It was 1950, when Communist North Korea invaded the South with the support of the Soviet Union and Communist China.
North Korean soldiers taught children praise songs of Gen. Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea. I still remember a part of a song.
One day the sliding doors of my house were blown away after a huge smashing sound. The middle school building next to my house was bombed; North Korean troops used the building. Then one day they were gone. Soon tall soldiers arrived; they spoke a language I did not understand. They were Americans, adults said. Soon they left. I did not know why they came.
While growing up, I witnessed the wretched facets of the war everywhere: beggars, orphans, refugees from North Korea, families of soldiers killed, wounded veterans. Artificial legs and arms made squeaky noises; the hooks scared me the most. But more than anything else, I was always hungry.
I learned more and more as time went by. I came to relate the outcomes of the Korean War in terms of U.S. policy after World War II; some examples are the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift and massive aids to Japan. Thanks to U.S. service members’ sacrifices, generous aid from the American people and the hard work of the people, South Korea rose again from the devastation of the war; the world called it “the Miracle on the Han River” (the river flows through Seoul).
It has been a shining example of democracy and prosperity, helping people in need around the world. Most of all, the South Koreans enjoy four freedoms: freedom of expression, of worship, from want and from fear.
Since 2004, my family has hosted the Kim Family’s Annual Appreciation Day Picnic and Program in Honor of President Harry S. Truman and of Korean War Veterans. We dedicated last year’s picnic to the Korean War dead; Korean soil took them in its arms; the Korean sea took them in its waves; the Korean skies took them in its clouds. Some 36,000 Americans did not return.
At the picnic a luncheon is served. A two-hour program features narratives, remarks, songs of diverse genres and band music. Many veterans in the past said, “We were deeply moved when the Koreans honored us by dedicating the singing of the Korean national anthem.”
We dedicate this year’s program to the Korean War wounded and injured — more than 103,000. I heard many stories from them.
What Sterling McKusick, a Marine, told me in 2010 led to the making of the gift socks for the veterans. He landed on Inchon on Sept. 15, 1950; fought in fierce street battles in Seoul, and in December fought in the Chosin Reservoir area in North Korea, an epic battle in the history of the Marine Corps.
McKusick said, “We fought against two enemies: the Chinese and the cold weather.” Although I have lived in many cold Minnesota winters, I was shocked to hear that the American, British and South Korean forces fought in 30-below temperatures. He said, “We wrapped around the ‘shoe packs’ with burlap bags to protect our feet from the cold.” He succumbed to frostbite and was wounded. He was evacuated to a naval hospital in Japan.
He continued: “One day I saw a young Marine walking down the center aisle of the ward. Fluid from his blackened feet [due to frostbite] was dripping.” Nurses admonished against his walking. “He said, ‘I want to walk while I still can! Doctors will amputate parts of both feet today.’ ”
I told the poignant stories to my brother in Seoul. He and his wife donated specially designed socks: the flags of the United States and South Korea and words of appreciation are knitted on them, 5,000 pairs in 2010 and 10,000 pairs this year. My family has presented/mailed them to the veterans and widow(er)s in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, North Carolina and South Dakota; we will present them to the veterans who attend the Korean War Veterans National Convention held on Oct. 15-19, this year in Rochester, here in Minnesota.
This year my family and that of my brother in Seoul inaugurated the United States and the Republic of Korea Korean War Service Members Memorial Scholarship Initiative; it honors “U.S. sons and daughters” by establishing 12 $500 scholarships for their descendants.
Veterans wishing to attend the picnic, please send your name (and up to two guests’ names), address, phone number and the name of your unit to Byong Moon Kim at 1549 Lois Drive, Shoreview, MN 55126 by Sept. 10. I will confirm your registration by phone. You will receive gift socks. Five service songs will be sung; yours, too.
For more information about the picnic, please call Ed Valle, president of Minnesota Korean War Veterans Chapter No. 1 at 651-210-1816.
Byong Moon Kim is a writer living in Shoreview.