Sixty-eight years have passed since that June day that saw the peace of the Korean peninsula shattered by an invasion of the South by Communist forces from the North, with support from the Soviet Union and China, and with entire armies of the latter country eventually joining the North Korea People's Army in overrunning free South Korea. Among those who responded to the call for assistance to the beleaguered South were over five million American young men, just 2.2 million (40%) of whom are still with us as of 2017. Some of those were also veterans of WWII, while some went on to fight in Viet Nam.
These grizzled veterans who were born into the Great Depression and experienced the war years of Franklin Roosevelt's America are in their 80s and 90s. For the most part, they have not been a "noisy" group known for demonstrations and advocacies pleading for special recognition, but to the contrary returned home to quietly take their place in a society which mostly thought of theirs, as the forgotten war.
For some of us - and for various reasons - that has not been true. In my own case my particular military mission placed me in regular contact with my opposite numbers in South Korean society, both military and civilian. My interest in Korean history and in particular emerging details about the war I had just participated in tended to keep me involved in further study, especially after I found myself with responsibility for producing a weekly radio talk show with a strong history bent, and eventually as a regular newspaper columnist. Most important was my relocation to southern Utah where I quickly fell into a natural friendship with a Korean-American patriot and neighbor named Sunny Lee who had wedded her life to serving her adopted country in appreciation of the contribution its citizens had made to the freedom of her native land. I also discovered a rare sense of awareness among a group of veterans who had seen Korean combat service with the 213th Field Artillery Battalion, a unit of the Utah National Guard which had distinguished itself in the battle of Gapyeong on May 26, 1951 after taking on large numbers of an invading Chinese Army without the loss of a single guardsman.
With the generous support of the Korean government - in particular the ministry of Patriots & Veterans - Mrs. Lee literally became the U.S. spokesperson for this veterans group and others, leading a series of return visits for the Gapyeong and other Utah-American veterans of the Korean War. I was privileged to join the 2009 tour, and my granddaughter as part of a special contingent of K.W. student- grandkids of Vets. participating in a Peace Camp and guided visit the following year.
After carrying out a number of similar and very demanding veteran visits, Sunny went on to supervise an effort to help the surviving families of Missing-in-action veterans to better understand and "finalize" the story of their loss, concluding with a trip to present-day Korea, a visit to historic and sacred sites and a special memorial service. Only those few of us who know Sunny Lee intimately understand both the personal sense of fulfillment this experience involved, and the deep emotional price it exacted from this remarkable super-patriot.
Recently a plane landed in Las Vegas carrying two young gentlemen whose errand it was to underline that partner-nation's appreciation of this unusual Utah Connection, and those who have supported the rare friendship it has engendered on both sides of the Pacific: 25-year-old Tae Hwan Park and Joon Chang Lee, both senior cadets at the Korea Army Academy at Yeongcheon stepped down on U.S. soil as representatives of a grateful nation. Prior to their official visits to Utah National Guard headquarters, Cedar City mayor and Veterans' Monument, an Idaho veterans home and a meeting with MIA families, several of us enjoyed a dinner and evening with them at the Springdale home of John and Sunny Lee. The depth of their sense of honor and respect, and their love for America made all of us as proud of these sons of serving Senior officers as if they were from one of our own service academies.
Photo Caption: L to R Standing: Cadet Tae Hwan Park, Cadet Joon Chang Lee
Seated: Gene Gregory, Marine; Al Cooper, Air Force; Col. Dan Roberts, Army