A memorial was dedicated Saturday to 52 Hawaii Island military members killed in action in the Korean War and five others who died of non-combat causes during the bloody conflict.
The memorial, next to the Vietnam War Memorial at Wailoa State Recreation Area in Hilo, was about 15 years in planning by the Korean War Veterans Association Big Island Chapter No. 231. Its dedication came three days prior to the 69th anniversary of the war’s start, on June 25, 1950, when an estimated 75,000 soldiers of the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea.
The memorial “was paid for by selling candy,” Emile Wery, the association’s chapter president told the 200 or so in attendance.
“We sold a helluva lot of candy. The dentists was all making money in Hilo,” Wery quipped, eliciting laughter. He then turned to the serious business at hand — honoring those who lost their lives in what many still call the “Korean Conflict.”
“The reason you have the veterans service organizations, and there is a lot of them … they’re the ones who make sure these people are not forgotten. That’s their sole purpose. That’s what this is today. The Korean War veterans, on their own, have ensured that they will never be forgotten,” Wery said.
State Rep. Richard Onishi, a Democrat whose district runs from Hilo south to Volcano, was instrumental in helping the veterans obtain the necessary approvals from the state to build the memorial in the park.
“Many called the Korean War ‘The Forgotten War,’ but to the men and women of the Korean War Veterans Association Big Island Chapter No. 231, they never forgot,” Onishi said. “They took on the mission to ensure that no one will ever forget the Korean War and the sacrifices (of) these men from Hawaii Island.”
“You have completed your mission with perseverance, dignity and honor,” he added, addressing the veterans directly. “And you have made us all proud for what you have accomplished.”
Bob Lovin, a retired general contractor representing the Akaka Falls Lions Club, recalled being approached separately by Onishi and fellow Lion Hiroshi Shima, who is also a Korean War veteran, seeking volunteers to complete the project.
“It was with pleasure that I said yes,” said Lovin, who noted groundbreaking was Jan. 27.
“From the time of the groundbreaking until today, there have been at least 40 volunteers (and) 571 volunteer hours to make this memorial a reality for you gentlemen, the Korean war veterans, and the families of those that are listed on the plaque there,” he said.
Choon-goo Kim, Republic of Korea’s consul general to Hawaii, said when troops poured from the north into South Korea, “the United States did not hesitate to send these men and women to defend their democracy.”
“The freedom and democracy they protected made a strong foundation for tremendous economic growth in my country. As some of you may have witnessed, the Republic of Korea has transformed itself from one of the poorest countries in the world into a strong, vibrant economic powerhouse,” Kim noted.
“The Korean War is often called ‘The Forgotten War.’ However, the Korean government and people have never forgotten and will never forget the … sacrifices of the Korean War veterans and their families.”
The consul general said Hawaii suffered the highest per capita casualties in the war, which ended with a cease-fire on July 27, 1953.
“In comparison to the overall population of the United States, Hawaii endured three times as many wounded and three-and-a-half times the total numbers of casualties. Among them, 52 from the County of Hawaii have a permanent home now,” Kim said. “What touched my heart most dearly is that the memorial was built by Korean War veterans themselves. … Almost 70 years after the war broke out, these veterans did not give up their fallen colleagues. For more than 10 years, they made a persistent effort to establish this memorial.
“… I believe that such a dedication can only come from shedding sweat and blood on the battlefield together.”
Mayor Harry Kim, the son of Korean immigrants, turned his attention to Korean-Americans in attendance.
“Of nationality, we are Americans and proud Americans. But of ethnicity, and of our heart, we are from our home country — and my home country is Korea,” the mayor said.
“This war is personal to me because my family lost a lot of people. The war is personal to me … because I remember my mom sending her son, my brother, oldest brother, to Korea. And I’m proud to say he served well, won a medal of valor for that war,” he added. Kim also recalled his mother’s prayers for his brother’s safe return and her tears upon news of family members killed.
“To all of you, we have to pledge that we do not forget this day,” said the mayor, who served as an Army combat medic during the Vietnam War. “All of us, we have to pledge that every single day of our lives, we’ll do everything we can that so this will never happen again anywhere in the world.
“This is what I ask of you — to know that war is mankind’s greatest failure.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.