With a twinkle of affection in her eyes, Hannah Y. Kim stood in front of the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds Thursday and addressed a small gathering of U.S. Marine Corps, Army and Air Force veterans, all of them in their 80s.
The survivors of America’s “Forgotten War,” she said, are always front and center in her thoughts.
“Do you know why I call all of you my grandpas?” said Kim, 35. “It’s not because you’re old. It’s because if you didn’t fight in Korea, I wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Kim, a former congressional staffer, has been crisscrossing the country, visiting 21 states and more than 30 Korean War memorials to date, to raise funds and awareness for a proposed “Wall of Remembrance” she hopes to see added to the national Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The wall, which would carry the names of some 36,000 fallen U.S. troops, was approved by Congress in 2016 but never fully funded.
Almost 700 Minnesotans died in the Korean War, she says. “Do you know why i call all of you my grandpas? It’s not because you’re old. It’s because if you didn’t fight in Korea, I wouldn’t be standing here today.” Traditional Korean bowing to grandparents.
Her goal, she said, is to visit all 50 states and 70 cities over the course of three months.
Kim said she was 6 when her parents emigrated to Los Angeles from South Korea. Like most Americans, she grew up with limited knowledge of the Korean War.
More than 36,000 U.S. troops died in the war, including more than 700 Minnesotans. More than 103,000 soldiers were injured during three years of fighting. Some 7,700 American troops remain unaccounted for. Although military hostilities ceased, there has been no formal end to the war, and the two Koreas remain culturally and politically divided.
Kim said she’s spent the past decade making headway on three major goals, beginning with establishing her own memorial organization, Remember727.org.
Before becoming chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, Kim spearheaded legislation that in 2009 created a National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day on July 27. The date marks the signing of the armistice that in 1953 ended major military conflict between North and South Korea through a stalemate of sorts along the peninsula’s demilitarized border zone.
6,000 died at the Chosin Reservoir. This Marine survived, flown out wounded after three months— his first stripe is Purple Heart. Some Korean soldiers were teens, “14 and 15 years old. They fled. I couldn’t blame them. I probably would have done the same without no training.”
Her second goal was to help launch the annual ceremony that now takes place at the national Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington.
Her third goal — the Wall of Remembrance — is arguably the most ambitious. Last year, she traveled 55,000 miles visiting Korean War memorials in six continents and 27 countries, including those in countries that fought on the opposite side — China, Russia and even North Korea.
“They always say the Korean War is ‘The Forgotten War,’ but lately it’s getting more attention — including today,” said Marine Corps veteran Ervin Lewandowski of Coon Rapids. “It’s a long time coming.”
The 20th anniversary of the commemoration of Minnesota’s Korean War memorial will be held Sept. 16.
© 2018 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
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