It’s universal knowledge that South Korea wouldn’t exist today without American troops’ sacrifices during the Korean War (1950-1953). For this reason, South Koreans are forever grateful toward the Korean War veterans, who, as young men, fought for three long years to grant them freedom from the North Korean communists at the cost of their lives.
Of the about a million who fought in the war, 54,000 Americans never returned, not including 8,000 missing in action.
It’s also universal knowledge that the number of Korean War veterans is diminishing fast today.
On this Memorial Day on May 29th, the members of the KW Veterans Association-Chapter #181 and their supporters again gathered at the Korean Veterans Memorial in Overland Park (119th and Lowell Street) to honor and remember 415 fallen heroes of the long-ago war known as the Forgotten War.
The ceremony began with the Association vice president Don Dyer’s introduction because the Association President Tom Stevens was in Washington as the president of the National KWV Association to officiate the Memorial Day celebration at Arlington Cemetery.
A heartfelt opening prayer was said by local Presbyterian minister Roy Bilyeu, and the Korean-American choir sang two Anthems: first the U.S. National Anthem followed by that of South Korea. A colorful wreath was placed before the red granite panel engraved with the names of 415 fallen Kansan heroes by two veterans.
Sadly, more than half of the 70 original members of the association, who had worked together for the construction of this Memorial, have passed away since the Memorial was dedicated in September 2006, and their family members, supporters, including local South Koreans, only heard their names pronounced by Don Dyer, followed by the ringing of the bell mounted on a small table loaded with colorful carnations.
As a local Korean-American who witnessed the gallantry of the American troops nearly seven decades ago in South Korea and admired their teamwork a half century later here in Overland Park, that made the memorial possible, this Memorial Day service was yet special; it marked the tenth year the veterans and us local South Koreans bonded in respect and friendship as we gathered here twice a year, on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
The Korean War Veterans Association (Chapter #181) in Overland Park Park, KS, was formed in early 2001 to build the Memorial to honor 415 sons of Kansas who never returned home as well as to bring a closure to their tormenting memories of the war that consumed millions of lives and a large portion of cultural and historical treasures.
In the summer of 2003, the City of Overland Park graciously approved the Association’s plan and proposal for the Memorial and donated the site to build the memorial. The community responded with warm support for the lofty purpose; More 100 organizations and countless individuals sent financial contributions.
The word spread.
The largest and most memorable gift reached the Association from the Bush Administration in December 2004—a sum of $374,250, thanks to then Congressman Dennis Moore and Sen. Pat Roberts!
The construction began right away and was complete in the summer of 2006, instead of in 2007 as the veterans originally had thought.
On September 30th that year the dedication took place at the brand new Memorial in the presence of 1000 well-wishers, supporters, and national dignitaries, including as Dennis Moore, Ed Eilert (then the mayor of Overland Park), and Kim Wook (then South Korean Consul at Korean Embassy in Chicago.)
Was it a mere coincidence that on the same day, September 30th, 53 years earlier, Mutual Defense Alliance between U.S. and South Korea was signed by the military leaders from the both sides? And that solemn agreement still joins the two nations today, stronger than ever before!
For the local Koreans, who conducted their own fundraising events for the veterans’ purposes and rejoiced with them at the dedication ceremony, and further gathered with them here on this sacred ground for the last ten years, not seeing some of the familiar faces is a hard reality.
Some wonder what might happen to Memorial Day Service and that of Veterans Day after the veterans are gone? Who will conduct the ceremonies and who will attend?
My questions were answered in unspoken words by a Korea-American father, who, his toddler son in his arms, was standing before the granite wall etched with the names of 415 Kansan heroes of the long-ago war, after the ceremony ended.
He was explaining something I couldn’t hear, while touching the granite walls, and the little boy was listening to his father intently as if he understood every word he was hearing and what the Memorial is all about. The image of father and son before the granite panel made me and many others smile.
Later I learned that the father, Mr. Evan Kim, serves as the new pastor at Kansas (Korean) Mission Church in Overland Park, and his son, Isaiah, will soon be three years old. (Rev. Kim and his wife Sena each has a Master of Divinity Degree and shepherd together at Kansas Mission Church.) And further, the choir that sang two anthems that day belongs to the same church.
Putting them all together, I feel I heard a message loud and clear:
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for the future of Memorial will be in good hands.”