Friendship of Saviors and Saved
On September 16th at 3:pm, the Leawood United Methodist Church on 95th Street was packed with 300 people, mostly Koreans, who came to listen to the performance of the 30-member Korean Choir of Greater Kansas City. The honored guests for the occasion were two dozen members of the Korean War Veterans Association in Overland Park, Kansas, in their KWVA uniforms. The two groups, the Koreans and the veterans, are not strangers to one another. Visit The Korean War Memorial at 119th and Lowell, Overland Park, and you will get a glimpse of their team efforts in constructing the monument--on the granite walls, on the benches, and on the paving stones, combined with a generous help from corporations, individuals, and even from the U.S. government. And today, six years after the Memorial was dedicated and 59 years after the armistice was signed, they gathered to reaffirm the ever thickening friendship between the “saviors” and the “saved”.
I particularly appreciated the occasion because, the previous week, while talking to my sister in Korea on the phone, I was labeled as “a pro-American.” This happened while she revealed the thinning trust of the Korean public toward the Americans who, after the Vietnam War had ended four decades ago, supposedly buried a large quantity of hazardous chemicals, including Agent Orange, and I wasn’t too sympathetic.
“How can you complain anything about Americans who saved us from the communists?” I asked. She fired at me, “You’re a pro-American, like most Koreans living in the U.S. are. But don’t forget where you originated. If I were you, I’d find some articles about it and study! You’ll think differently about the country you live in now!”
Since then, we have not spoken. A Cold War between two sisters! But I did read some articles about the issue.
It all began with ex-servicemen revealing their “sins” of burying unidentified, stinky barrels and cans in an area the size of a tennis and court 8 foot deep.
While I was worried that the harmful chemicals could have leaked into reservoirs, endangering human lives in Korea, I decided that it was not much worse than the Suncheon Tunnel Massacred or Nogunri Incident, in which American troops played the role of surgeons at an operation table and exterminated hundreds of communists sneaking into the South, disguised as refugees. Still, I asked other Koreans’ opinions on the issue.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jung Youngho, the elder of the Korean Presbyterian Church, said. “But it doesn’t shake my loyalty toward those who bled and died to save us from the communists. What they taught us is Love your neighbors! As the response to the Brotherly Love the Americans had shown us, our church community in Shawnee have been helping our American neighbors as best as we can. For instance, we have been picking up trash along I-35 (from Plumn andMetcalf) a few times a year since in the late 1990’s, and also have been giving Christmas presents to families in their church neighborhood.”
“War is evil," said Sunhi Cohen, a lady who sat next to me at the concert. "Americans and South Korean troops fought in Vietnam side by side and shared almost everything-- warehouses, weapons, and even military rations and cigarettes. I don't think burying some left over chemicals from Vietnam in the army base in Korea seems evil!”
While listening to the well-prepared choir music including “Gloria” by W.A. Mozart and the works by Korean and American composers under the baton of Miss, Bo-young Lee, I was revisited by a long forgotten memory.
It was a hot July day in 1950, the day the first group of American troops landed in our port city of Busan, and we school kids and adults had been patiently waiting for them along the main street. Ten days earlier, Sunday June 25th, 95,000 North Koreans had attacked us with Russian tanks, and everyday we heard on the radio what town was taken by the enemy, how fast they were advancing, and how many were killed. And refugees with bundles and kids showed up as if saying that the radio wasn’t lying.
Then, came the Americans! In the haze of heat and dust, a long line of covered military trucks appeared on the west, and we began to wave American flags and shout: “Victory, U.S.A.! Victory U.S.A!...” The soldiers in the back of the trucks waved back, as if saying, “Friends, we’re here for you!”
How could I not be pro-American after witnessing such a powerful moment as a child?
The concert ended with the choir President Ahn Sung Ho’s presentation of a $1,000 check to the President of the Korean War Veterans’ Association, Tom Stevens. In response, Tom expressed his sincere appreciation for the generous contribution and the sharing of the exceptional talents and said that the money will be spent for academic or humanitarian purposes.
Coming home, I was moved by my countrymen’s enduring gratitude toward their old heroes. A famous line by a Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (BC 106- BC 43) came to my mind: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.”