Saturday, April 19, 2014

Friday, Apr. 05, 2013

Hopes and concerns about South Korea's future under new leadership

Special to The Star


Veterans breakfast today The Korean War Veterans Association is holding a pancake breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. today at the VFW at 9550 Pflumm Road in Lenexa. For more information, call 913-492-2244.

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When I think of Park Geun-hye, the newly elected first female president of South Korea, I think of the cherry blossom, a delicate flower that withstands frosty wind and ice all winter long, blooming at the first sign of spring.

In spite of North Korea’s threats and bluffs, she promises financial aid to its starving people and hopes to open dialogue.

Before I left Korea in 1964, Geun-hye was a 13-year-old student at Sacré-Coeur Middle School. Her father, then-President Park Chung-hee, and her mother were Buddhists. Ten years later, while living here in Kansas City, I read the shocking news that the first lady had been assassinated by a Japanese-born Korean Communist during the 29th anniversary celebration of Korea’s liberation from Japan, and that Geun-hye, who had been studying at Grenoble University in France, was expected to return to Korea to assist her grieving father and siblings.

For the following five years, she played the role of first lady, until her father, too, was assassinated in 1979.

A quarter century later, I read about Geun-hye again. A man with criminal records had struck her with a utility knife during a political campaign, causing a deep facial wound that required 60 stitches. Still, she bounced back.

Although her father was responsible for 200 deaths and was seriously disliked for his iron-handed rulings that often ignored human rights in favor of economic development, I consider him a hero. The five-volume biography “Spit on My Grave” depicts late President Park as a visionary who refused to hand over the country to civilian leaders he distrusted and eventually built a solid foundation for the country that it stands today.

His major accomplishments include demanding that every citizen — even school kids — give their labor and talents for modernization of Korea, building a financial foothold and a strong alliance with the United States by deploying troops to the Vietnam War and launching the “revisit Korea” program to help former military personnel see how much progress South Korea has made.

Veteran Gene Tinberg, a member of the Korean War Veterans Association in Overland Park, regrets that he and his wife had brought the plane tickets to Korea last year but had to cancel the trip due to an unexpected health problem.

I asked him how he feels about the developing tension on the peninsula under the leadership of the first female president in Korea’s history.

“She’ll do very well,” he said without hesitation. “I read every article about her and her father, the late President Park…North Korea is simply bluffing. They have nothing to lose by blabbering and verbally attacking the South, but they don’t gain anything, either. If they do something to South Korea today, we’ll not just sit and watch!”

Understanding that “we” means the United States army, I thanked him for his opinion. I had believed in Americans as a child, and I do now, too.

“Are you coming to our Pancake Breakfast on April 6th, at the VFW in Lenexa?” he asked.

Of course!


Though unspoken, I know he and most of the Korean War veterans have strong attachments to my native land, which holds so many memories of their youth, and they hope the best for the new president.

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