Count your blessings, Americans!

     Returning from my recent visit to Seoul, the capital of my homeland South Korea, I vowed to share my new discovery: that we Midwestern Americans are fortunate. The air in Seoul was so polluted that pedestrians and vendors on the streets wore masks. The city of 234 square miles was so densely populated with 24 million people who live or work in the city limit that wherever you go, people bump into you as if a parade had just ended. In every direction you turn, walls of sky scrapers meet your eyes with contempt–apartment complexes, industrial buildings, condos, and towers of all sorts.

     You can’t find your home where you once lived? Wake up! It’s buried under a tall building or a highway.

     My fortune of being an American here in Johnson County was reconfirmed shortly after my return, with news that 32 local Korean War Veterans will receive Ambassador for Peace Medals from the South Korean government on this Veterans Day, November 11th, 2017!

     Location: the Korean War Veterans Memorial (119th & Lowell) in Overland Park.

     Time: 11:00 Am.

     The award recipients are from The Jewish War Veterans, Missouri Korean War Veterans Association, inc., Chapter #2, and Kansas Korean War Veterans Association, Inc., Chapter #181.

     To present the medals, the Korean Consul General from Chicago will fly to Overland Park, and South Korean liaison officer, LTC Kyunghwan Jung, from Ft. Leavenworth will assist him in the ceremony.

     The Johnson County government stood behind the Kansas KWVA Chapter #181 since its birth in early 2001. As soon as the veterans presented their solemn vows to construct a memorial in Overland Park “to pay tribute to those who gave their lives, were wounded and were prisoners of war of missing-in-action…(Chapter #181’s mission statement) the city of Overland Park not only granted the veterans a place for the Memorial, next to the Trail Ridge Community Center, but also blessed them with the site-dedication ceremony, in which both local and national dignitaries were invited.

     In 2006, in early September, construction of the Korean Veterans Memorial was complete with 415 names of the fallen Kansan heroes engraved on red granite walls and was dedicated on September 30, in the presence of more than 1,000 local leaders and residents from all areas of life.

     Gen. Richard B. Meyers, retired, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, South Korean Consul Wook Kim from the Chicago Embassy, and U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore delivered moving speeches, each reflecting on the old war, how much South Korea progressed since, and the mutual defense alliance between the U.S. and South Korea that has become progressively stronger over the years.

     For the past eleven years since the dedication, the Memorial served as a sanctuary for Veterans and their supporters to “pay tribute to those who gave their lives…” on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

     Veterans Day in 2013 was particularly memorable. It was the day Medal of Honor recipient Chaplain Emil Kapaun’s new granite panel was unveiled in front of a huge crowd the Memorial had ever seen.

     Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey, where Kapaun studied four years as a seminarian in the 1940’s, talked about the “humble priest,” who showed his courage and the Christ-like piety — not only during the battle but also in his captivity in the lice-infested, icy POW camp along the Yalu River by taking care of sick and dying fellow inmates — until his own death on May 23, 1951.

     The Commander of the Kansas Korean War Veterans Association, Thomas Stevens, was elected to lead the 14,000 member National KWV Association, Inc., in Washington in June, 2016; thus he will be at Arlington Amphitheater this Veterans Day again this year, on stage with the President of the United States.

     However, his heart will be with his hometown veterans and their supporters, at the local Memorial, as his 32 comrades each will receive Ambassador for Peace Medals from the grateful South Korean government.

     As a South Korean who lived through the war as a child and also witnessed the veterans’ unfaltering team spirit in honoring their fallen comrades by constructing their Memorial here in Overland Park in the past decade, all I can say is “God Bless America!” and silently count my blessings.


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