Dearborn veterans held their 11th annual ceremony Wednesday to honor those who served during the Korean War.
The event commemorated the 61st anniversary of the Korean conflict, and observed the July 27 armistice that was signed 58 years ago. The Korean War Armistice Remembrance Committee conducted the Remembrance Ceremony in the Henry Ford Centennial Library auditorium, and followed with a public reception at the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post No. 75, 9700 Greenfield Road.
The veterans in attendance heard gratitude expressed by Hee Chang Woo, the Korean Consul of Chicago, for the troops sent by the United States to defend a “country they never knew, and people they never met.” Since that war, Woo said, the Koreans had worked hard to develop their country.
“Now the country you came to help in your youth has grown to be a full-fledged democracy,” Woo said. “We will never forget this unshakable bond between our countries stemmed from the brave service of the Korean War veterans.”
Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr., who noted his father was a Korean War veteran, and spent much of his life in military service or in services for veterans, said those who served in Korea were appropriately recognized only relatively recently for their service in the “Forgotten War.” The 26 men from Dearborn killed in that war may not have had their sacrifices well understood, O’Reilly said, even at the time.
At the time the north invaded the south and sparked an international conflict, the mayor noted, the world was still weary from World War II ending just five years before, from which thousands in a generation had been lost, and from which lives and cities were still being rebuilt. Korea proved to be a ”brutal conflict” for troops bedeviled by extremes in heat and cold, hand-to-hand combat, battling overwhelming numerical odds as much as 20 to one, unreliable weapons, and most of 131 Medal-of-Honor winners being awarded posthumously.
“But Korea was really the beginning of the Cold War, and we didn’t really understand what it was or what it meant—we understand so much more now,” O’Reilly said. “But the war was of a different nature, as I said, it was interesting to listen to my father’s perspective, having served in both wars.”
It was clear and concise in World War II what goal they were headed for, his father said, and the mission they were to achieve. But unlike the military-directed effort of five years before, O’Reilly recalled, his father constantly talked how different Korea was to him, with the goals to be achieved often unclear in a conflict more politically-influenced than military-influenced.
“And I think we’ve seen that has continued to challenge us as we go forward, even today, so it was an incredible and very costly learning lesson in the evolution of how we engage each other in the world,” O’Reilly said. “Because we’re now a world economy, whether we like it or not, we’re evolving to where events that happen anywhere in the world have a tremendous impact, much more so than they did in 1950.
“So this was a pivotal piece of history that we need to remember and think about,” O’Reilly said.
Another key difference his father talked about so often, O’Reilly continued, was developing closer relationships with Korean soldiers than he ever did with other allied soldiers in World War II, because they engaged together, “and the people everywhere he went were warm and welcoming.
“And again, we saw that last year (when) the government of South Korea sent a wonderful thank-you message, a video message to us Americans, and we were able to show it here, and it was a very moving thank-you,” O’Reilly said. “It was a tribute to those who came from other places to help to protect the interest of the Korean people.”
The mayor concluded the really important thing is not to repeat mistakes by losing sight of the historical perspective, and that is why he is proud Dearborn has taken the lead on reflecting on the meaning of the conflict every year. This commemoration started 11 years ago, Dearborn Allied War Veterans Council Korean War Commemorative Committee Chairperson John Ruselowski said during the PLAV reception, when the Defense Department chose Dearborn among its first 3,000 “Commemorative Communities” across the nation.
To qualify for that honor, a community had to commemorate Memorial Day, Flag Day and Veterans Day. In notifying the late Michael A. Guido of this honor, Ruselowski said, the veterans requested a tree be planted to honor all the veterans who had served in the Korean War (then marking its 50th anniversary). Instead, he said, the mayor decided to plant three trees (crabapple trees, harkening back to Henry Ford Sr.’s apple orchard) to mark each year of the Korean War, along with a flag on a granite rock from Michigan.
As a commemorative community; the veterans received CD roms, maps and books which they were able to donate to high schools and junior high schools; and ambassadors and generals came to present medals to honor Korean veterans on the 50th anniversary.
“So once we did it, we met all these Korean people, they engaged us and we engaged them, and it’s one great big family, you know,” Ruselowski said. “And one of things that stands out is that when we did put that monument there, a living memorial, they were just on their knees, and many of the Korean veterans were very grateful that happened.
“So since then, as you can see, this keeps growing. We’ve done a lot of things with the schools as a group here, Richard Charbonneau, those guys of 256th (Michigan chapter of the Korean War Association of America), they go round to the schools and they give talks. Not the gruesome stuff, but like the point we were making today, this is an era we can educate people, so we can help the country understand that millions of people lost their lives, and you don’t want that to happen again,” Ruselowski said.
At the reception at PLAV Post 75, some of those involved in the ceremony recalled memories of the conflict from the view of a child. Mr. Soon B. Hong said he witnessed the exchange of fire as a 13-year-old boy during the war, said he witnessed the exchange of fire as a 13-year-old boy during the war.
“I know the North Korean army and the South Korean army, and I know both histories of both countries,” Hong said.
Hong later immigrated to America and is now president of the American/Korean Association, one of various Korean organizations supporting the Dearborn event (Hong did the introduction for Consulate General Woo in the remembrance ceremony).
Julius D. Rim, another member of the American/Korean Association who now is an certified public accountant, running his own company Internet in Jackson, said he was nine years old when the war began. From what he remembers from living in Seoul back then, the South Korean soldiers were unready for the attack across the 38th parallel, so they were heading north of the city to the front.
“And then three days later, they came back to the city,” Rim said. “And they retreated.”
Another vivid memory, Rim said, was seeing a jet fighter used for the first time, and “Hey? What is that! An airplane without propellers, that is something new.”
As noted during the ceremony, the U.S. and 21 other countries sent troops to the war (14 more sending medical units or other support). Of the troops under the United Nations, 150,000 were killed, missing or wounded in the fighting (with America sustaining 46 percent of its total casualties between mid 1951 and July 1953).
South Korea’s military and civilian losses were listed at about 2 million people, while military casualties for North Korea and China were reported at 1.4 million. Of all Americans killed, 1,456 were from Michigan.