Thirty Korean War veterans who reside at the Oregon Veterans’ Home in The Dalles were honored last week at a special ceremony that also served as a cultural enrichment experience.
Consulate General of the Republic of Korea Young Wan Song traveled from his Seattle office to the gorge May 17 to present the Ambassador of Peace Awards.
The event was part of a national focus on the 60th anniversary for the end of that conflict.
Song said 1.7 million American troops had fought beside their South Korean counterparts to repel an invasion from North Korea between June 25, 1950, and July 27, 1953.
He said the sacrifices made by U.S. forces set up the framework for his nation to prosper and the country is now one of the fastest growing in Asia; ranking seventh largest in the world for exports and 10th for imports.
“South Korea has risen from the ashes after the war and without you that would not have been possible,” he said.
Song was assisted in handing out medals by The Dalles Mayor Steve Lawrence, who spoke about Loren Kaufman, a Korean War veteran from The Dalles who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Lawrence, a decorated veteran from the Vietnam War, was present April 20 for the induction of Army Sgt. Kaufman into the Hall of Fame at the Brigadier General James B. Thayer Oregon Military Museum.
Kaufman is the only Medal of Honor recipient from Oregon and details about the battle that earned him the highest military award for “valor above and beyond the call of duty” are depicted on a monument at Kelly Viewpoint. The Mid-Columbia Veterans Memorial Committee built the memorial to honor those who have served from all war eras but gave special recognition to Kaufman, who gave his life at the age of 27.
He was killed in action Feb. 10, 1951, after distinguishing himself in combat Sept. 4 and 5, 1950, near Yongsan, Korea, where his company was attacked by an enemy battalion.
Lawrence said until people studied the history of the Korean War, where soldiers fought in subzero temperatures and often had both manpower and supply shortages, they could not understand the true sacrifices made by Kaufman and others to uphold democracy.
“These vets did what vets always do, they fought for somebody else’s right to be free,” he said.
Dallas Swafford, state liaison officer for the Veterans’ Home, organized the one-hour program and welcomed the audience of about 150 people.
He said 33,600 Americans had been killed in action during the Korean War and 27 of those troops had been Oregonians.
He said the partnership of South Korea and the U.S. remains as strong today as it had during the military action that followed on the heels of World War II and garnered much less attention from a war-weary America.
“The Korean War has been called the ‘forgotten war’ but we are here today to let our veterans know that is not the case,” he said.
The pomp and ceremony of the occasion included the posting of the colors by soldiers from Alpha Company with the Oregon National Guard.
The 234th Oregon Army National Guard Band’s patriotic music contributed to the festive atmosphere of the event.
Korea’s contribution to the ceremony included a video documentary to thank and honor American veterans. A medley of dramatic Asian works was also sung by three vocalists for the entertainment of the audience, which included many veterans of different eras.
Col. Paul T. Fizgerald, commander of the 142nd Mission Support Group at the Portland Air National Guard Base, also spoke.
“What a pleasure to address this room of American Heroes — and this room is full of them,” he said.
“I need the chance to thank you. We as a country need the chance to thank you. It’s so important.”
Cameron Smith, new director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, was present, as were representatives from the Oregon Korean Inter-Married Women’s Association.