Eleven years ago more than a thousand local residents, including Korean-Americans, attended the dedication ceremony of the Korean War Veterans Memorial at 119th and Lowell, Overland Park, and saw 415 names of the Kansans killed during the Korean War engraved on the new gleaming red granite wall.
Such dignitaries as then Retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Meyers, South Korean Consul Wook Kim from the Chicago Embassy, and U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore delivered moving speeches, each reflecting on the 3-year-long war (1950-1953,) how much South Korea progressed since, how the war weakened Soviet power and eventually causing the empire to crumble down, and praised the veterans for the ever growing trust and bond between the U.S. and South Korea.
For the past eleven years since, the veterans, their families and supporters gathered at the Memorial twice a year–on Memorial Day and Veterans Day–to remember and to pay tribute to those who didn’t return to their beloved home state.
In my memory, Veterans Day 2013 ceremony was quite special, during which Chaplain Father Emil Kapaun’s new granite panel was unveiled. It was etched with the priest’s gallantry and bravery shown on the battleground as well as in the North Korean POW camp along the Yalu River, where Kapaun took care of the sick and dying fellow American inmates until he himself died from dysentery.
That April (2013), Barrack Obama had handed the Medal of Honor, the highest honor given to the U.S. servicemen, to the nephew of the absentee recipient.
This year’s Veterans Day celebration at the Memorial in Overland Park will be yet another special one, because 32 local Korean War Veterans will receive Ambassador for Peace Medals from the South Korean government. 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 Kyung-hwan Jung from Ft. Leavenworth will assist him in the ceremony.
The Johnson County government stood behind the Kansas Korean War Veterans Association since its birth in 2000. As soon as nearly 60-members presented their plans to construct a memorial here in Overland Park to honor their fallen combat comrades from the state of Kansas, the City of Overland Park granted them a place for it, next to Trail Ridge Community Center, and the site was dedicated in August 2003. Afterwards, a retired general, General Robert Shirkey, who served in World War II and the Korean War, donated the seed money for the future Memorial.
This kindled the veterans’ passion for the solemn cause, and they launched fundraising campaigns by hosting pancake breakfasts, garage sales, and golf tournaments. Donations came in from all areas of the community: rich and poor, young and old, white and black and yellow.
The news eventually reached Washington D.C., and in November 2004, the Bush administration awarded the association $374,280 toward the construction of the memorial, thanks to then U.S. Senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts. As a South Korean, who lived through the war as a child and also witnessed the veterans’ unfaltering team spirit in constructing their Memorial here in Overland Park six decades later, I humbly say, “God Bless all Korean War Veterans!”