Reflecting on the events of the passing year — the bloodshed in Iraq and Syria, where terrorists have been killing civilians, including children — revived my old memories of the horror I felt as a child when North Korea launched a surprise attack on the South in June 1950.
I admire President Harry Truman for declaring U.S. support of South Korea within days of the invasion and sending American troops. During the following three years, 1.5 million Americans fought in our country, and 54,000 died.
Those who have never feared losing their country to another do not fathom the degree of trust the people of the “survived” nation have toward their liberators. The U.S. and South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty established on Sept. 30, 1953, was South Korean leaders’ promise to the United States that they’ll pay their “debt” by fighting alongside Americans whenever necessary. Ever since, South Korean troops have fought every war Americans fought — the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War.
My first visit to Fort Leavenworth two weeks ago as a guest of South Korean liaison officer Lt. Col. Kwang-soo Kim, 49, who works at the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center, was educational. I now know where the great generals of the Korean War — generals MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Walton Walker, Matthew Ridgway, and many more — received their officer training!
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Fort Leavenworth is the oldest active U.S. Army post west of Washington, D.C., with 180 years of history.
Lt. Col. Kim became my tour guide that day, and I honestly felt taller while going places with him, because other officers kept saluting in our direction. The United States Army Command & General Staff College trains almost all of the Army’s majors in the country as well as those from abroad. Since the end of the Korean War in 1950, more than 300 Korean officers have graduated from Army college, and eight generals have been inducted into the international hall of fame. They have served as brain cells of the Republic of Korea Army at various of times.
Today, more than a thousand foreign student-officers from about 100 different countries all over the world attend this college. What does it mean? The United States has trusting friends around the globe.
While driving, Kim told his life story. His military education began at age 15, at South Korea’s very first military high school.
“I didn’t choose the military school because I wanted to be a soldier and save the world,” Kim said with a chuckle. “I wanted to be able to support my mom and my four siblings with my paycheck as a sergeant after graduation. It was a common goal of many Korean boys then.”
At age 5, Kim lost his father — a former soldier who fought during the war — and watched his mom struggle to put food on the table for her five children. She was a street vendor selling fish or fruit or Korean hard taffy but money was always tight, Kim said.
Most of the public high schools in Korea at the time required tuition, but the new military high school was free.
“I studied very hard,” Kim said proudly, “knowing how fortunate I was compared to my older siblings, who never crossed the threshold of a high school and were doing similar work that our mother did.”
By the time Kim graduated high school, the horizon looked brighter for him because he was one of the top students in his class and was eligible to move onto military college in the suburb of Seoul, which was founded in 1946 under the authority of then-U.S. Temporary Military Government in South Korea.
“By that time,” Kim said, “my focus to serve my family shifted to serving my country. That’s what military education does to you.”
Before he landed at Fort Leavenworth in December 2012, Kim held several important positions in Korea. He was an area commander of special forces, an action officer of the military committee for the leaders of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Korea and U.S. military, and the commander of the Mechanized Infantry Battalion (Tank division).
At Fort Leavenworth, Kim is busy to absorb as much information in the area of military education as possible. That includes creating a doctrine on leadership, curriculum, training, simulation and more, so that when he returns to Korea he can use the knowledge he gained here for the Korean military. He also has diplomatic responsibility to connect the U.S. military and that of South Korea, as well as to get involved with the local Korean community.
“The Korean Armed Forces Day,” which Kim hosted last April, his second one at the college, was one of the examples of his diplomatic efforts to connect the U.S. military and that of South Korea. The members of the Korean War veterans associations from the Kansas City area were among Kim’s guests.
The president of the Korean War Veterans Association in Overland Park, Tom Stevens, recalled the event: “Many military officers from different areas of the country and foreign officer-students at the college attended. We enjoyed the event very much — entertainment, food, and mingling with military personnel from different areas of the world.
“The video presentation that depicted South Korea’s military strength today and the economic developments over the decades brought memories of the Old South Korea we fought for. Emphasis of the event was the strong partnership between the U.S. and South Korea that survived more than 60 years.”
Freedom is priceless. How many times should you thank those who rescued you from evil terrorists?
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history.