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Choir Visits Veterans in Korean War Reminder

Times Staff Writer

When Kae Cho Lee learned that several students in her choir didn’t know Americans fought in the Korean War, she decided that, at least for one group of young Korean-Americans, that would change.

Lee, director of the Hanmi Cultural and Educational Center in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, said one student visited a veterans hospital several months ago and was surprised to learn there were wounded from the Korean War there.

“He asked, ‘What is a Korean War veteran?’ ” Lee said. When she described Americans’ role in the Korean War to the teen-age choir, composed mostly of second-generation Korean-Americans, “the students were shocked.”

Sunday night the group saw for themselves the human toll of the Korean War when they visited Veterans Administration Medical Center in Sepulveda to sing for hospitalized Americans who fought in the war.

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Emotionally Satisfying

About 25 members of Hanmi’s Saeol, or “New Spirit” Choir, entertained 50 veterans with Korean folk songs and dances, as well as some American standards, including the national anthem and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

It was an emotionally satisfying gathering for the veterans.

“In all these 35 years since the war started, I don’t remember any get-together like this,” said Jim Maloney, 57, of Pasadena. Maloney was hit by shrapnel in his legs and his face during the Korean War. His injuries led to years of complications, culminating over the past three years in the amputation of both legs.

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The conflict began June 25, 1950, when North Korean, and later Chinese, troops poured over the 38th parallel to battle South Korean, American and other forces under the United Nations flag. Three years later an armistice was signed, on July 27, 1953. A total of 54,246 Americans died in the war.

Korean War veteran Tony DeCarolis, 53, of Burbank said he was glad to see his war years remembered by those who are too young to recall that era.

“I was overwhelmed when I heard about this,” he said. “I thought everyone had forgotten.”

DeCarolis was bayoneted in hand-to-hand combat with Chinese troops and then held as a prisoner of war for a year in Manchuria, in northeastern China. The wound caused nerve damage and doctors were forced to amputate his left leg three years ago. He has lived at the Sepulveda veterans hospital since then.

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“We never got any consideration, no parades or monuments,” he said, looking through a stack of developing photos he snapped of the choir minutes before. “This party may be late in coming, but it came.”

“I explained to the students they (American soldiers) gave their lives for the Korean people who were in crisis,” said Lee, who was a 12-year-old girl living in Daegu, South Korea, when the Korean War broke out. “It’s very important to remind them.”

She said her own memories of the war were confused. “Every night I heard the bombing around my house. At first I couldn’t understand what was going on. It was exciting. Then a couple of months later people were dying.”

Sunday’s event seemed to stir several students, who laughed with their friends one moment, then took painfully long glances at men who had sacrificed health for a country that was home to most of the youngsters’ parents.

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Want to Know More

Several choir members said they knew little about the Korean War, but now want to learn more.

“My gut reaction is that I feel grateful,” said Edward Park, 17, of Bradbury. “I really don’t understand the strength of their convictions, but I admire them,” he said of the American soldiers.

“They didn’t get the glory of World War II, but they didn’t get the bum rap of Vietnam,” he said.

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Christine Suh, 16, of Pasadena said she hoped the visit would show veterans their sacrifice is appreciated and remembered.

“I’m a little nervous, but I’m glad I’m doing it. I think they did a lot.”

Her brother, John, 14, added: “I’d like to know how they felt about risking their lives for a country they didn’t know very much about. They did something for someone else they didn’t know.”

The answer came from DeCarolis.

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“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it. If somebody reaches out for help as the Koreans did, you help them.”


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