When people remember 7/27
By Hannah Kim
I’ll never forget the magnificent sight of all fifty flags around the Washington Memorial displayed at half-staff, majestically flapping against the evening breeze on July 27, 2009.
Two years of all the incessant spamming and cold-calling for support had doubly culminated in President Obama’s designation of July 27, 2009, as the National Korean War Armistice Day, and his enactment of the Korean War Veterans Recognition Act, which had passed with unanimous consent in both chambers of the U.S. Congress. The proclamation encouraged all Americans to commemorate the Armistice Day to honor the Korean War veterans, and the law added July 27, as a day in which the stars and stripes will be especially be flown in their memory.
It was in 2007, when I had first arrived in Washington with a fervent dream that I’d somehow contribute toward waging peace on the Korean Peninsula. Exactly how that would transpire was beyond my wildest imagination. But after surviving a severe car accident, I was certain of two things: I wasn’t going to wait until I gained a title to my name, and I wasn’t going to be shy about asking people for help.
Immediately in D.C., I grasped that neither politics nor policies would expediently inch the two Koreas closer and concluded it would ultimately rest upon us, the people, to change the status quo.
So in 2008 was born the plan to commemorate the Armistice Day on Sunday, July 27, with the help of Friends of Korea ― Returned Peace Corps volunteers who served in Korea from 1968-81 ― and like-minded friends I had made over the course of attending numerous Korea-related think tank events in D.C. The Lincoln Memorial was selected as our event venue, not merely because it was right next to the Korean War Memorial, but because it was one of the largest public agoras in Washington. That meant one more passerby learning about the Armistice Day.
Thus for the third year, we convened this Sunday (July 25) to commemorate the day Korean War came to a halt 57 years ago. Upwards of 75 Korean War veterans, including the Korean War Veterans Association President William MacSwain, graced our event; prominent Korean-American leaders such as former U.S. Representative Jay Kim, Virginia Delegate Mark Keam, “Survivor” star Yul Kwon, and distinguished journalist Harry “Truman” Lee paid tribute; and South Korean college students, interning at the ROK Embassy in D.C., volunteered.
The intent of our event has never been to promote a specific political agenda, but rather to promote simple awareness of the Korean War and its armistice. Korea has for too long been divided between the North and the South; and there’s really no place for either the Right or the Left to stand in the way of bridging the two Koreas.
We all stood on common ground, tied by our unbreakable bond as a result of the Korean War and mutual belief that this war and its veterans should never be “forgotten.” As it has become our tradition and highlight of the event, we lit the candles at 7:27 p.m., both in commemoration of the fallen, and in hopes for peace on the Korean Peninsula.
Hence, even after Armistice Day, remembering 7.27 must continue, because it represents the present, not just the past. The grievous sinking of the Cheonan naval ship is a somber reminder that the Korean War never truly ended. It should’ve been a wake-up call for people ― especially of the younger generation ― to take an interest in exploring the path to reconciliation of the two Koreas. It appears to be a challenge we’ll soon confront in our lifetimes.
One bright side is that there’s more than just us ― beyond those of Korean heritage ― who can help carry the legacy of the Korean War. For example, one of the interns at my workplace is granddaughter to an Ethiopian Korean War Veteran; the father of one of my colleagues served in the all-black unit in Korea; and my middle school band teacher and grad school professor’s fathers were Korean War veterans. They are far more numerous and much nearer ― only if we bother to ask around.
Throughout my audacious and tenacious endeavors (particularly when I felt like Noah of the modern age), the words of Margaret Mead often pulled me back up on my feet: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I sincerely believe that when people with passion get together, all things are possible.
So I ask everyone: On July 27, please light a small candle at 7:27 p.m. ― wherever you are. You may encounter someone who shares the same passion. And when people start remembering 7.27, we may wake up to a different world sooner than we imagine.
Hannah Kim is a 2009 master's graduate at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, specializing in legislative affairs. She spearheaded the passage of the ``Korean War Veterans Recognition Act, U.S. Public Law 111-41," which was signed by President Obama on July 27, 2009. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.