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Remembering brave young Koreans

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By Diane Dobry, For the Chronicle

It is not just the soldiers who make a difference in war, and at a recent meeting of the Citrus County Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, stories of brave young Korean civilians came to life through discussion of a book and showing of a film to keep their memories alive. 

Maxine Parker, a Korean War veteran and president of the Northern Florida Korean War Veterans, introduced a book that was written for and is available free of charge to Korean War veterans and service veterans, and is not available for purchase otherwise. The book, “Korea Reborn: A grateful nation,” includes the story of Eddie Ko, a Korean boy who infiltrated enemy lines, regularly conversing with soldiers in the north. 

“He was barefoot and freezing, and North Koreans thought he was just a kid,” she explained. “He got information and took it back to our Marines.” 

The Marines helped him out by giving him their shoes. In turn, Eddie Ko saved many lives, Parker said. 

Eventually, Ko made his way to the United States, possibly assisted by the Marines he had helped, and he became a U.S. citizen, joined the U.S. Army and went back to Korea. “He often went back to Korea searching for remains of our veterans,” Parker said. “He found several and brought them back where they were identified through DNA. We owe him a lot.”

Ko passed away this month, and a memorial service is scheduled for him on March 24 at Veterans Memorial Park in Tampa where a Korean War Veterans Memorial monument, paid for by Ko, stands.

The veterans also welcomed Canadian couple, retired Major Don Kennedy and his wife HooJung Jones Kennedy, snowbirds who spend five months a year in Lakeland. The couple has a mission to show the film “71: Into the Fire” to all veterans, particularly Korean War veterans. 

HooJung, who has lived in Canada for 33 years, was born in South Korea and now serves as an adviser to the South Korean president. She is co-author of “Canadians Our Heroes: 1950-1953 Korean War.” Before showing the film, she told the story of the evacuation of 91,000 people from Hungnam Harbor on Christmas Eve 1950, when her mother, grandfather, grandmother, aunts and uncles were saved by U.S. forces, which is why she does what she does to honor Korean War veterans.

Her husband, Don, introduced the film saying that in 1950, when the North Koreans invaded, South Koreans suffered great losses. They had no tanks or artillery, just rifles and machine guns. They eventually ran out of manpower and used high school student cadets.

“They gave them rifles and said you will fight these trained North Korean soldiers,” he said. “They were told to hold an important crossroads against an advancing North Korean brigade.”

The film depicts the much-feared North Korean 766 unit heading to Pohang, a strategic point in the Nakdong River border, despite a bridge being blown up with the intent of preventing them from advancing further. At Pohang girl’s middle school, truckloads of students were brought in, and each was given a rifle and 250 bullets. 

On Aug. 11, 1950, they found themselves faced with the challenge of protecting their country as all the trained soldiers were sent to the Nakdong River. “Student soldiers are soldiers!” was their chant. 

“We were told about the film and obtained a copy from a Korean War vet,” HooJung said. “These students who fought changed the country’s fate, and they were only 15 or 16 years old.”

The girl’s school, which was the site of the crucial battle, is still used as a school, and a memorial honoring the students who fought off the North Koreans for 11 hours that day stands on the property. 

Afterward, the couple presented a four-minute video from the president of South Korea thanking the veterans for helping their country in their time of need.

“We show this film out of our hearts,” HooJung said, asking all the war veterans to stand up. “You are our heroes.”

 

KOREAN WAR VETERANS SOUGHT

  • The Korean War Veterans Association, Citrus Chapter 192 meets at VFW Post 10087, Beverly Hills. 
  • Call Commander Alan McFarland at 352-428-1707 or Secretary John Seaman at 352-860-0123.