The Korean War is known by many Americans as “The Forgotten War,” but 19 veterans who served there were honored Thursday afternoon at a ceremony in Napa.
“It hasn’t been forgotten by all of us,” said Brad Wagenknecht of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, who emceed the ceremony on behalf of U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson and San Francisco-based Consul General Park Joon-yong of the Republic of Korea.
Dozens of Napa and Lake County veterans and their loved ones gathered at the newly renovated Napa Senior Activity Center. They were the first group to use the space since it reopened last month.
The ceremony opened with a pledge of allegiance to the American flag. Some in the crowd sang as The Star-Spangled Banner played and listened as the Korean National Anthem played.
Thompson took the stage to thank the veterans and their families.
“For any of us who are veterans, we know it’s a family affair,” he said.
Thompson said he had visited South Korea, a place with a “vibrant economy and community” and the contrast between it and North Korea was stark. South Korea will never forget the sacrifice that the American military made, he said, as Park nodded.
“I want to make sure we do this in every corner of the fifth Congressional District,” Thompson said.
While in Washington, D.C., Thompson said he likes to admire war and veterans memorials. One of his favorites, he said, is the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Thompson read allowed two inscriptions from the memorial: “Freedom is not free” and “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
Korean War veterans didn’t show up for riches or fame, Thompson said. They answered the call to stand up for allies who needed protection from oppression and tyranny.
“I don’t think that there is a greater thing that veteran could do,” he said.
Park took the podium next and bowed to the audience, the same way that he greets people in his home country, he said. Some in the crowd bowed back.
Park said it’s been his mission to personally thank as many Korean War veterans as possible during his term as Consul General. He’s awarded 300 veterans in 28 ceremonies with Korean War Ambassador for Peace Medals, made from barbed wire taken from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
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The award is a way to reaffirm mutual respect and friendship between America and South Korea, he said.
Park said his office has established a Facebook page for Korean War veterans to connect. More than 30,000 veterans have received trips to visit South Korea through its Revisit Korea program for veterans and their families.
Soon, it was time for the 19 veterans to be honored. Family members snapped photos and cheered as veterans received their medals and posed with Thompson and Park.
The first to receive his medal was John Brookes of Lake County.
“It was my pleasure, sir,” he said as Parks gave him his medal. “I had a good time in Korea.”
Brookes later said that the ceremony was excellent, and he was pleased to see his fellow Korean War veterans.
Brookes, who was a hospital corpsman for the U.S. Army, said he served in a hospital ship off the waters of South Korea for about 1½ years. Aboard the ships, he cared for people who survived gunfire and bombs. He said he retired from the military as a captain with the U.S. Navy.
David Morse, a Hidden Valley resident who served in the U.S. Army Security Agency, said the event was a “pretty wonderful thing”, and he recognized some other veterans from around town.
Tony Pina, a St. Helena native who said he had known the Congressman all his life, was also honored at the event for his time in the U.S. Army, operating a machine gun during the war. Pina said he liked the event and appreciated Park’s efforts.
Dwight W. Holford, a Davis resident who spent much of his life in the Napa Valley, said he enlisted in the U.S. Navy to avoid the draft. He worked on three aircraft carriers and spent 28 months at sea during the Korean War. The ship got so close to the shore a couple of times that he could see guns firing, Holford said.
“It was pretty intense,” he said.
The ceremony was a beautiful gesture from South Korea, Holford said.
To see Park at the ceremony was “above and beyond,” he said. “That really shows that somebody cares.”