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Korean-American WWII hero brought to light by journalist

Han’s biography of Colonel Kim Young-oak now in English


For Korean American journalist Han Woo-sung, the 1992 Los Angeles riots were a painful and unforgettable time.

He felt almost powerless, as a reporter for a small Korean newspaper published in Los Angeles, to confront the mainstream media that depicted Korean Americans as ruthless and selfish immigrants, caring only for money without serving the wider community.

“Someone had to say ‘no, that is not entirely true,’” he said.

Han looked for a man who could represent Korean-Americans’ contributions to society. From among many war heroes, he picked Colonel Kim Young-oak ― a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran of World War II and the Korean War ― who was also a great humanitarian.
Korean-American journalist Han Woo-sung shows an English translation of his book about Col. Kim Young-oak in Seoul on Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Korean-American journalist Han Woo-sung shows an English translation of his book about Col. Kim Young-oak in Seoul on Wednesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

“There are many war heroes but not many humanitarians. Kim, ironically for a war hero, was a person who loved people and took a great care for every living creature,” Han said in an interview with The Korea Herald last week.

“His story was the answer to the question of whether Korean Americans are valuable assets to the United States and also a bridge to strengthen the relationship between domestic Koreans and Korean immigrants,” he added.

Born in 1919 to Korean parents who left for the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and opportunities during the Japanese annexation, Kim was the only Korean-American officer in a mostly Japanese unit in the Army.

Kim led the U.S. operation to liberate the Italian cities of Pisa and Rome from German forces. He looked after war orphans during the 1950-53 Korean War. After retiring from the army, he dedicated his life to disadvantaged people.

Kim worked for social justice and rights for women, children, minorities and orphans, Han said. Kim was awarded with the Taeguk Order of Military Merit, the highest military decoration of Korea in 2005. France had awarded him the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration of France in 2003.

After almost seven years of research, interviewing and writing, Han published a biography of Kim in 2005. Although the work was incomplete, Han hurried to have his book published because he knew that Kim had little time left.

Six years have passed since Kim’s death. People started to recognize his spirit and to pass on his legacy.

Han refused to dramatize his book, but now all 5th graders in Korea learn about the legacy of Kim as his story is now included in Korean textbooks. The Young Oak Kim Academy, a Los Angeles junior high, and The Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California Riverside were established in 2009 and in 2010 respectively, in the memory of Kim.

Last month, an English translation of the book titled “Unsung Hero: The Story of Colonel Young Oak Kim” was published, allowing it to be read by more young people around the world.

“I hope to see many children who want to be like Kim Young-oak and to become heroes like him who stand up for the weak and the poor,” he said.

By Cho Chung- un(christory@heraldcorp.com)
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