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DPRK Traveler Spotlight Series: Chayon Kim on the Korean War Memorial

DPRK Traveler Spotlight Series: Chayon Kim on the Korean War Memorial
May 27, 2013

  • Chayon Kim shakes hands with a Korean War veteran on Memorial Day weekend.

    Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

    Chayon Kim shakes hands with a Korean War veteran on Memorial Day weekend.

This Memorial Day, as we remember and honor all of the brave servicemen and women who have served our country, we pay special tribute to the Korean War Memorial. The Korean War, often called the “forgotten war,” started on June 25, 1950 and ended on July 27, 1953 through the signing of an Armistice Agreement. A peace treaty was never signed. 

We connected with Chayon Kim this weekend, who claims she is the founder of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. She was also the person responsible for brokering the Dennis Rodman and Harlem Globetrotters diplomatic trip to the DPRK this past February. In this exclusive interview with Chayon Kim, we hear Ms. Kim’s thoughts on the makings of the Korean War Veterans Memorial:

Uri: When was the Korean War Veterans Memorial built?
Ms. Kim: We broke ground on July 27, 1991. July 27, 1995 was the unveiling ceremony. July 27 is a significant date because that is when the Korean War ended.

Chayon Kim in front of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Uri: The Memorial displays 19 statues of soldiers in a beautiful arrangement alongside the Wall of Remembrance and nearside the Pool of Remembrance. Is there any significance to this design?
Ms. Kim: We chose to display 19 soldiers because 19 is half of 38 representing a divided Korea along the 38th parallel.

19 Soldier Statues at the Korean War Memorial

Uri: Ms. Kim, where were you born and what was your experience of the Korean War?
Ms. Kim: I was born in Kwangju, Jeollanam-do in South Korea. I was a young teenager when the Korean War started. Our region didn’t experience as many casualties during the Korean War, because Kwangju is further south and away from where the heavy fighting took place. But I remember those 3 years of war well.

Uri: What motivated you to build the Korean War Veterans Memorial?
Ms. Kim: I was inspired by Jean MacArthur, the wife of General Douglas MacArthur. I was in charge of public relations for the Korean Veterans Association in Korea and the president of the association came to the U.S. to visit American Korean War veterans in hospitals to hand out gifts of appreciation. The MacArthurs attended one of our functions to talk about the Korean War. During that period, the Korean War was the forgotten war and nobody talked about it. So I thought, what the hell, I’m gonna do it. I packed up my stuff and moved down to D.C.

Uri: How many times have you been back to the Korean War Memorial?
Ms. Kim: I went back for the first time in 2008 and this is my second time.

Ms. Chayon Kim in front of the 164-foot long granite wall of remembrance

Uri: The Korean War Memorial is an extraordinary accomplishment. How does it feel to see it?
Ms. Kim
: Well, it’s sort of sad, because I have some painful memories from the process of building it. This visit was a good one. It’s a strange feeling. In a way, I feel proud of myself that I did that. But I don’t feel that my mission is complete because there are still over 8,000 U.S. soldiers that are declared missing in action in the Korean War. I hope that will change one day. 

Ms. Chayon Kim, Korean War Memorial sitting by the number of missing U.S. soldiers in the Korean War

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War and Uri Tours is offering special “Victory Day” tours to the DPRK in a unique opportunity to visit North Korea during this historic moment. Don’t miss it!

Pool of Remembrance Korean War Memorial D.C.
Freedom is not freeKorean War VeteranNumber of U.S. soldiers dead in the Korean WarNumber of U.S. soldiers captured in the Korean WarNumber of U.S. soldiers wounded in the Korean War