Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, beginning a war that lasted more than three years before hostilities ceased July 27, 1953.
To commemorate the event and honor the veterans who served in the war, the Fort Leavenworth Korean community hosted its annual Korean Armed Forces Day event March 13 at June’s Northland Restaurant and Banquet Facility in Leavenworth.
“The main purpose of this event is very clear — to strengthen the rock of this alliance and to express our gratitude for the Korean War veterans,” said Lt. Col. Jong-Hun Han, Korean liaison officer to the Combined Arms Center. “Sharing love and friendship should continue.
“These men were 18, 19, 20 years old when they left behind everyone they loved and went to the battlefield,” he said. “The stories of how these men faced down their fears, surrounded by enemies in extremely harsh weather, always touches me. The war taught us that we are stronger when we stand as one.”
During the event, attendees heard from several speakers, including Korean War veteran Marine Sgt. Al Lemieux, the president of the Korean War Veterans Association, Kansas City, Mo., No. 2 Chapter.
“I often remind (my family) that I had a full-paid visit to a place called Korea. We walked through the mountains, we slept overnight in the mountains, and often we had fireworks all night,” Lemieux said. “Those are the memories I carry most right here in my heart.”
Therese Park, author and cellist, served as the main speaker. She preluded her remarks with a performance of “Home on the Range” and “Danny Boy” on the cello before recalling her memories of the war as a child growing up in Busan, South Korea.
“At the end of World War II, when American airplanes flew over Japan frequently, the Japanese navy used Busan shores to hide their battleships, Zero fighters and other war machines in desperation not to lose them,” Park said. “And Busan was where you American troops landed on July 6, 1950. We school kids were wild about seeing you.
“We shouted, ‘Victory U.S.A. Victory U.S.A.’ as your trucks passed us,” she said. “As a 9-yearold, I wasn’t fully aware at the time that I was witnessing a historical moment, and I certainly didn’t think someday I’d be in the U.S. and speak about how grateful we were at seeing you.”
Park said she grew up wondering what America was like and made up stories about different technology Americans had.
“The American air-fighters in the sky were always in the form of the letter ‘V’ and roared so powerfully that sounded like a voice of America calling us to ‘America the Beautiful,’” Park said.
Park came to America on a permanent visa in October 1966, after being chosen to play with the Kansas City Philharmonic as a cellist, but she said she hasn’t forgotten what U.S. troops did for Korea during the war.
“America steadfastly helped South Korea and built a sturdy humanitarian foundation by implementing us life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Park said. “Those nearly 98,000 North Korean refugees American Navy ships rescued in December 1950, along with the U.N. troops severely beaten in the north, they have not forgotten who gave them a new life.
“Personally, you made me a better person,” she said. “I’ve always remembered how you came to that poor country to fight for us, the people that you didn’t know. …I am grateful that you taught me the virtue of gratitude.”
Attendees said they appreciated Park’s story.
“It was almost like having a first-person, bird’s-eye view of what it was like,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen Michael, deputy commanding general of Combined Arms Center-Training. “What came through was the challenges, but then also what came through was the gratitude. It is humbling because there are a lot of people that enabled our success in the Korean War, but it is also humbling when you see the gratitude that the citizens of South Korea have shown.”
Jim Fain, Command and General Staff College International Military Student Division director, said he was moved by Park’s memories as a child during the war.
“I’m very gratified by her decision to come to the United States and become a citizen,” Fain said. “It really means a lot, and she serves as a terrific example for all of us.
“I, myself, am a veteran of Korea, and I really developed a great affection and respect for the Korean Army while I was stationed there, and as the director of the international students, I feel a sense of pride in commitment to my Korean officers so I want to be here to support them,” he said. “As our Korean War veterans pass on, I think it’s important, especially for our younger generation and our military officers, to understand the sacrifices of those who came before them and learn from those experiences and understand what a stalwart friend and ally the republic of Korea has been to our nation.”
Following the remarks, attendees partook in traditional Korean food.
The organizers of the event took the concerns of coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, into consideration when deciding to go forward with the event, including having a large bottle of hand sanitizer at the entrance of the venue.
“Due to increasing concerns on the coronavirus, we ensured that no participants come from high-risk areas,” said Korean Maj. Daesu Kang, Command and General Staff Officer Course student.