Korean War Memorial to be dedicated Saturday in Hilo

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Volunteer and Hawaii Lions Foundation Vice President Bob Lovin puts a sealant and enhancer on the outside of the new Korean War Memorial in preparation for its dedication Saturday in Hilo.

A long-envisioned Korean War Memorial in Hilo will be dedicated Saturday, three days prior to the 69th anniversary of the beginning of the three-year-plus conflict known as “The Forgotten War.”

The ceremony, sponsored by the Korean War Veterans Association Big Island Chapter No. 231, will begin at 10 a.m. at the memorial, next to the Vietnam War Memorial in Wailoa River State Recreation Area. The memorial is dedicated to the 52 service members from Hawaii Island killed in action in the war, plus five who died of non-combat causes while serving in Korea during the war.

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Hiroshi Shima, a 92-year-old Korean War veteran and member of the committee that made the memorial possible, said the memorial is the brainchild of retired Lt. Col. Robert Montague and has been in the works about 15 years. Montague will join Shima and fellow Korean War veteran Zack Abregano in the unveiling following a Hawaiian blessing.

“Our original location was (to be) Liliuokalani Gardens by (the former) Nihon Restaurant, but we got so much opposition from the public we didn’t go through with it,” Shima said. “It was supposed to be an all-war memorial. After that, we scaled it down to just a Korean War Memorial.”

More than 5 million soldiers and civilians, including 36,574 U.S. military, lost their lives in what many still call the “Korean Conflict,” which began June 25, 1950, when an estimated 75,000 soldiers of the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. Another 103,284 U.S. military were wounded in action.

Although a truce was reached and combat ended July 27, 1953, a peace treaty has never been signed and the Korean peninsula still remains divided.

The memorial’s location, in a state park, required state approval, and Rep. Richard Onishi, a Democrat who represents Hilo south to Volcano, “carried the ball for us and did everything for us,” Shima said.

According to Shima, no taxpayer money went to the memorial, which was financed with “candy sales and donations from the public.” He said planning and construction was largely done on a volunteer basis, with services provided by Inaba Engineering, Inaba Architecture, Isemoto Contracting, Hawaii Community College and others, including local Lions Club members.

“It didn’t cost too much money because of all the donations. We were fortunate to have all this community support,” Shima said.

Shima, who was drafted into the Army at age 24, served in Korea in 1952 until the fighting ended. He said he’s hoping for a turnout of about 150 for the ceremony, which will include speeches by dignitaries, including Onishi, Mayor Harry Kim, Republic of Korea Consul General Choon-goo Kim and Hawaii Lions Foundation Vice President Bob Lovin. There will also be military music and “Taps” by the Hawaii County Band with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Hawaii Ponoi” sung by Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter. The Hilo Korean Community Choir will perform the South Korean national anthem and “Arirang,” a Korean folk song many consider an unofficial national anthem.

There will be shelter provided for attendees and refreshments will be served after the ceremony.

Hostile fire wasn’t the only hardship faced by those who served in Korea. Shima, who was sent to Korea as part of the 31st Infantry Regiment Combat Team and later transferred to the 31st Field Artillery Battalion, still suffers from tinnitus, a ringing of the ears, “because of all that noise in artillery.”

“Most of our veterans suffered trench foot because of the cold weather and because we couldn’t change our socks everyday,” he said.

Shima said Korean War Veterans Association Big Island Chapter No. 231 has 30 members and only five remain of the chapter’s 25 charter members.

“There are many, many Korean War veterans, but they don’t want to be part of a chapter,” he said. “… But by being a member, there is a re-visitation program where the (South) Korean government will host us for one week in Korea — sightseeing, hotel and one-half of our airfare. Many, many veterans have gone on the re-visit program — but the ones that don’t join don’t know.”

According to Shima, Korea remembers the war the United States forgot.

“The (South) Korean government and the Korean people will never forget us because they are so thankful,” he said. “And at this program, the consul general and members of his staff are coming down for this very important occasion.”

Shima is attempting to contact families of the fallen being honored Saturday so they can be recognized for their loved ones who gave their lives in service to their country.

“A lot of these young boys were age 18, age 20 when they were killed. We’re so sad for the families,” he said. “And 10 of the 52 are still missing in action. The parents are all gone and it’s a shame they died not knowing what happened to their children. But that’s war.

“It’s a blessing to build this memorial for them so the people will not forget the Korean War veterans, because we are ‘The Forgotten War.’”

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Family of service members who lost their lives in the Korean War and who haven’t been contacted are asked to contact Shima at 933-9615 or hiroshi.shima@yahoo.com.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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