Korean Presbyterians give thanks for veterans

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 28, 2009

CLINTON — As a young soldier in 1951, Dale Holloway spent a cold February night and day with others in the 138th Engineer Corps, building a pontoon bridge over the Han River in South Korea.

Working under giant floodlights, Holloway was amazed that opposing North Korean and Chinese army snipers didn’t pick off the bridge builders one by one. He later learned that the enemy troops had been called back from the front to restock supplies.

Nearly 60 years after the war which bought the freedom of South Koreans, showing appreciation for its veterans remains a priority for central Mississippi’s Korean-Americans.

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Holloway, a Florence resident and Baptist minister, was one of about a dozen Korean War veterans honored Sunday at a special service at the Korean-American Presbyterian Church of Jackson, located on Springridge Road in Clinton. It was the second year the church held the event, combining it with a Thanksgiving service and a meal with traditional American and Korean foods.

“I am very thankful,” the Rev. Ki won Jang told his congregation, calling Sunday “an exciting and wonderful day.” He thanked the veterans, their families and guests for coming “so we can have this worship service together, because of your sacrifice.”

With about 70 families, the Korean Presbyterian church serves Korean immigrants, second-generation Korean-Americans and their families, with members coming from the Jackson area and also as far away as Natchez, Yazoo City, Vicksburg and Brookhaven, said elder Ken Lee. In addition to worship services, the church is also a major Korean-American cultural center and the site for Korean language lessons for second-generation Koreans, Lee said.

Founded 30 years ago by Vicksburg resident Holim Lee, who formerly owned Lee’s Children’s Clothing at Pemberton Square mall, the congregation for many years used the Mount Salus Presbyterian Church building in Clinton, Ken Lee said, until purchasing the land and building their quaint white church in 1992.

Much of Sunday’s service, including the sermon, was conducted in Korean with Ken Lee translating. The choir, in long robes and with piano accompaniment, sang traditional hymns such as “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” and “Come, Ye Thankful People Come” in Korean.

Holloway spoke after the sermon, greeting the people with two phrases in Korean, then recounting the bridge-building experience.

“At sundown, the bridge was completed, and our troops went across in trucks and Sherman tanks,” Holloway told the congregation. “We built and maintained the only bridge into Seoul — and we didn’t lose a man.” God’s providence, he noted quoting Psalm 139, not only had formed each soldier before birth, but had scheduled all their days before they were even born. “On Feb. 19, 1951, God scheduled the Chinese to be six miles north of the front lines. All our lives were saved that day.”

After the service, veterans and guests joined church members for a traditional American Thanksgiving turkey and dressing dinner, served alongside Korean dishes such as kimchi, jabchae and mandu. Some of the women dressed in traditional Korean gowns, called hanbok.

Forces from 17 nations combined under the United Nations’ auspices to fight the North Koreans, who invaded the South in June 1950. The war was fought until 1953, but was never officially ended by treaty.

JSU professor and technology department chair Dr. John Colonias, who fought in Korea with the Greek forces before emigrating to America in 1954, said, for many people, Korea is “the forgotten war.” Its vets really appreciate being honored by the people they helped keep free, he said.

“To me, it’s something that no other country does,” said Hugh Long, who fought in Vietnam and attended the service in his capacity as chairman of the Mississippi Council of Veterans’ Organizations. “It’s absolutely amazing to me that they take time out of their very busy schedules to recognize the Korean War veterans.”

Vicksburg resident Dian Anderson, whose father fought both in World War II and in Korea, worked with U.S. Army forces in South Korea in the 1970s. She said South Koreans would insist on picking up taxi fares and other expenses if Americans were around. “They just showed so much appreciation to Americans,” Anderson said.

“The veterans fought for us, and gave us what we have today,” said MiHyang Faulks of Vicksburg, Holim Lee’s daughter.

Throughout, the spiritual Thanksiving message was also clear.

“We speak different languages and have different cultures,” said worship leader Aaron Bae, “but one thing binds us together — the love of the Christ.”

Contact Pamela Hitchins at phitchins@vicksburgpost.com