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Korean Americans honor U.S. vets even before war anniversary

Jul. 26, 2013 - 03:23PM   |  
Rick Duran, 79, of Citrus Heights, Calif., who spent almost two years in Korea with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, salutes during the National Anthem on July 25 in West Sacramento. Korean immigrants in the U.S. often revere American servicemen who fought in the Korean War. (Jose Luis Villegas / Sacramento Bee via AP)
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FORT LEE, N.J. — As the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the suspension of the Korean War, American veterans who served in the conflict that became known as “The Forgotten War” say there is one group that has never forgotten them: Korean immigrants.

The Americans who fought on behalf of South Korea have long held a place of honor in Korean immigrant communities, particularly in the United States.

“For the Korean people, they are the saviors,” said Jason Kim, the deputy mayor of Palisades Park, N.J., referring to U.S. servicemen. “They are the ones who saved the whole country, and many, many people. Without them, without their initiative, it never would happen.”

In cities and towns across the U.S., Korean immigrant organizations send representatives to VFW meetings and veteran gatherings, reserve tables for vets at Korean cultural events and dinners, and give free meals and services at Korean-owned businesses to any American veteran of the Korean War, said Andrew Kim, a Korean community leader in northern New Jersey who organizes an annual ceremony honoring the vets.

Kim said that he, like many Koreans, feels his country’s thriving post-war economy is due to the sacrifices of the soldiers from the U.S. and other countries who fought under the banner of the United Nations.

“We owe to America, we are raising kids here, we had an opportunity to move to America, and we’re able to make a decent living,” Kim said. “We appreciate all the veterans for what they have done. You know what they say, freedom isn’t free, someone sacrificed, and without them, we wouldn’t be where we are.”

The Korean government also honors American veterans, and takes them on all-expenses-paid trips to Korea, where they are treated like VIPs. Consul Eumene Kang, who represents New Jersey and Pennsylvania for the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea, said honoring U.S. servicemen is official government policy.

President Obama will be joined Saturday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for a ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall to commemorate the armistice.

In New Jersey, which more than 90,000 Koreans call home, events honoring American vets of the Korean War have been taking place across the state in recent weeks.

In Fort Lee, located in Bergen County, where nearly 8 percent of the county’s more than 900,000 residents are Korean, Korean community leaders and Korean veterans gathered to honor the Americans who fought for their nation. Albert Gonzales, who served with the Marine Corps in Korea, said he and his comrades were honored more than other U.S. veteran groups.

“Korea is the only nation that the U.S. soldiers fought for, that comes back and thanks the guys that were over there to give them their freedom,” Gonzales said. “Everything they got now is related to the American servicemen.”

Saturday is being observed as the 60th anniversary of the suspension of the 1950-1953 Korean War. Fighting was halted in July 1953 after the signing of an armistice, but the Korean Peninsula officially remains at war because no peace treaty was signed. The peninsula is divided between communist North Korea and democratic South Korea.

At least 2.5 million people were killed in the conflict, and Kim, the deputy mayor, said it’s vital to teach Korean Americans growing up in the U.S. about the role U.S. servicemen played there.

“We’re never going to forget; how can it be a forgotten war?” Kim said. “It should be the war that tells the whole world that a sacrifice happened to save a people.”

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