Exactly 60 years after North Korean troops launched a surprise attack into the south, Hawaii’s Korean War veterans sat side by side with Korean diplomats and cultural groups yesterday to remember the "Forgotten War."
About 300 war veterans, active military personnel and members of the Korean community came out for the annual Korean War Commemoration held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
In observance of the 60th anniversary of the start of the war, the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Honolulu invited local government and military leaders to speak at the Punchbowl event to thank war veterans and highlight the strong ties between the two nations.
"We’re deeply grateful for those who fought to protect the principles of a free nation," said Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and keynote speaker. "South Korea has advanced to be one of the greatest democracies and economies of the modern world."
Consul General Kim Bong-Joo delivered a message from Korean President Lee Myung-bak thanking the veterans for their efforts to defend South Korea’s sovereignty on the peninsula.
Although the Korean War — the Cold War’s first armed conflict — had a major affect on the region and across the globe, a number of speeches from veterans and members of the Korean-American community brought a more local perspective to a war fought thousands of miles away.
Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon — a third-generation Korean-American — recalled collecting food and clothes to send to his uncle and family in South Korea. Although he was just 10 years old when the war started, he said he was heavily affected by the local Korean community’s efforts to support relatives still in war-torn Korea. He called on younger generations to keep the memory of the community’s efforts alive.
"Let us recommit ourselves to educating our citizens and especially our children," he said. "We must continue to fight to build bridges that will connect us as one community and one world."
Roberta Chang, who has done research and published books on the local Korean community, said the war continues to influence the lives of Koreans in Hawaii.
"The Korean War is very important in our lives," Chang said. "What (yesterday’s speakers) were saying just hit me so much."
Although North and South Korea signed an armistice 57 years ago, the ongoing conflict in the region loomed heavy over yesterday’s ceremonies.
In March a South Korean warship was sunk, apparently by a North Korean vessel, near the countries’ disputed maritime border, killing 46 South Korean sailors. The attack has strained the tense relationship between Pyongyang and Seoul, and drawn criticism from the U.S. government.
"We spilled blood together, and we must be prepared to fight tonight," Willard said.
While diplomatic challenges remain, the veterans and their families at yesterday’s event were proud to commemorate the sacrifices made by U.S. troops on the peninsula six decades ago.
"We want to continue the camaraderie to memorialize the ones that didn’t come back," said Richard Higa, treasurer of the Korean War Veterans Association, Hawaii Chapter, who fought in Korea for two years.