The news of the Islamic State terrorist attack in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 129 people alarmed the world about the power of evil once again. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls promptly declared, “We are at war! And … we will win!” and President Barack Obama pledged to redouble U.S. efforts to eliminate the ISIS group and end the Syrian civil war once and for all.
The thought of another war in the air, in the midst of all other problems we have — North Korea’s recent missile tests and refugees from Iraq and Syria running for their lives — prompted me to reflect on the Veterans Day celebration the Korean War Veterans Association in Overland Park hosted last Wednesday.
Because of an expected rainstorm, the ceremony took place in a classroom of Tomahawk Community Center adjacent to the Korean War Veterans Memorial in at 119th Street and Lowell in Overland Park. It stands to witness the veterans’ sacrifices in Korea more than six decades ago, with motto “Freedom is not free!” engraved at the top of the red granite walls above the names of 415 fallen sons of Kansas.
In 1991, about 50 local Korean War veterans marched together for the first time to welcome the troops returning from Operation Desert Storm, and they worked together tirelessly to build the memorial to honor their fallen comrades. And on Sept. 30, 2006, the memorial was dedicated in the presence of 1,000 people and dignitaries, with financial support from the government, local companies and foundations, including the Ewing Kauffman Foundation, and countless individuals.
Almost 10 years later, on Veterans Day last week, about 70 veterans and their families and supporters gathered again to celebrate the solemn day. Association President Tom Stevens opened the ceremony with a brief history lesson; that Veterans Day was originally the Armistice Day proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson in November 1919, to commemorate the day WWI ended with Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. And 20 years later, in 1938, Nov. 11 became a national holiday.
The highlight of the ceremony, in my opinion, was retired Rear Admiral Thompson’s speech concerning what many veterans are dealing with today — including PTSD, poverty, homelessness and a high suicide rate.
Stevens introduced Rear Admiral Thompson, from Higginsville, Mo., saying that he served in the U.S. Navy for 35 years — first in Vietnam as a gunnery officer, then as cargo officer on the USS Kilauea, and later as a commander during the Gulf War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Iraqi War, and in Saudi Arabia. Thompson received many recognitions and awards, Steven said, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, which he received twice. And since August 2014, he has been serving as a member of the board of trustees and national advisory board for the National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial in Kansas City.
He thanked the veterans for paying a high price for South Korea’s freedom six decades ago, which allowed the nation to grow over time to be what it is today. He then talked about how the Vietnam War affected millions of Americans, including himself as a young first lieutenant.
“When I was released from duty in Vietnam in 1972, I anticipated a peaceful life in the U.S.,” he said, “but instead, I and my comrades were swept into mobs of demonstrators voicing their anger against war and against the government for deploying American troops to a distant battlefront where life didn’t mean much.”
He said that among all living veterans today, 30 percent suffer PTSD, and each day about 22 veterans commit suicide from the trauma they received during the battles, and a half million veterans are homeless. He talked about generous organizations helping jobless veterans, and how companies in the Kansas City area offered about 2,600 jobs to veterans last year, making the city a veteran-friendly town. He concluded: “We (veterans) must remind ourselves that we fought for peace on earth, not to bring glory. To achieve peace someday, we must accept ourselves and others as humans and forgive one another.”
Unfortunately the plight of the veteran will live on because conflicts between people, small or large, will never end as long as humans live on this planet.
The recent ISIS terrorists’ attack shouldn’t be tolerated. As a sign of my own yearning for peace and a better future, I will go to my church and light a candle in the corner, where people in distress kneel and pray, and say, “Grant us peace, Almighty! We can’t think of another war now! However, if it happens, please look after those who endanger themselves to protect others.”
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.