A Memorable Meeting of Past and Present

group photo of students and Korean war veterans inside the restaurant

Young Korean students pose with (from L) Korean War veterans Richard Friedman, Joseph Riley,
Donald Reid, and Wallace Stewart, and KWMF Vice President Man J Kim, host of the event.
ROK Army veteran Jimmy Cheong had to leave before this photo was taken.
Photo by Unee Kim, BGI

On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, a memorable meeting took place in San Francisco. Five aging Korean War veterans had the opportunity to share a meal with twenty-three young Korean exchange students in an emotional communion of past and present. The nineteen girls and four boys from Kyungbuk College were here under the aegis of the Berkeley Global Institute (BGI), a Bay Area organization that brings Korean student groups here to experience American culture.

As BGI President Unee Kim explained, “We feel that the young people in Korea aren’t as aware as they should be of the sacrifices made by young Americans on their behalf during the Korean War. We want to offer these students a very special opportunity to meet and bond with some of the Americans who fought for them more than sixty years ago, so that the students and veterans alike might better appreciate our shared history and values.”

photo of Richard and Wally talking to students at a table

This was BGI’s second student-veteran luncheon. The first took place in February, 2016, and it was so popular with all the participants that BGI decided to organize another one. The venue for both was Sears Fine Food restaurant, owned by KWMF Vice President and prominent Bay Area restaurateur Man J. Kim, who generously sponsored and hosted the luncheons.

Man J. Kim and BGI President Unee Kim

BGI Consultant Mun Choi, KWMF Vice President Man J. Kim, and BGI President Unee Kim

After an initial period of generational and cultural awkwardness, awareness of a common humanity came to life. The veterans shared memories and memorabilia with the students. The students treated the vets like pop stars. And strangers with six decades of age and nearly six thousand miles of ocean between them soon became friends. It was remarkable.

photo of Richard Friedman and student friends smiling at table

Richard Friedman with his new friends

photo of Richard Friedman sharing memorabilia with students over the meal

Friedman shares memorabilia with the students

photo of students talking to Wally Stewart

Old and young find common ground: Wallace Stewart, KWMF Education Director, listens to a student.

photo of student showing Joseph Riley and image on her smartphone

A student shares a smartphone image with veteran Joseph Riley

A highlight of the luncheon came when veterans Jimmy Cheong and Donald Reid sang an impromptu duet version of “Arirang,” the beloved Korean folk song. The students seemed very surprised and pleased that Reid knew the Korean lyrics so well. Then the students, not to be outdone, stood up and sang “Arirang” for the veterans.

photo of Jimmy and Don singing Arirang

Jimmy Cheong and Donald Reid sing “Arirang.”
In the background: Tim Foley and Cindy Foley of the Salvation Army, friends and guests of Man J. Kim

photo of students sitting at tables and watching Jimmy and Don sing

The students listen to the veterans’ “Arirang” duet

photo of students singing

The students sing “Arirang” for the veterans.

Next, host Man J. Kim presented each of the students with a Korean-language version of “From the Hudson to the Yalu,” a memoir by Colonel Harry J. Maihafer, USA (Ret.) of his experiences from West Point to Korea during the war. Mr. Kim himself had arranged for the translation of the book into Korean and the subsequent publication of that edition.

photo of Man J and students with copies of the book

photo of the book cover

As the memorable event began to wrap up, the veterans and students exchanged email addresses and promised to keep these new relationships alive. The young Koreans will not forget the Korean War and the Americans who fought for their freedom. And the old veterans are now assured that they are remembered and appreciated in the far away land where they sacrificed so much so long ago.

photo of Wally and three students

Wallace Stewart with some of his new friends

photo of Richard and student holding

Richard Friedman and a student display photos of a devastated Seoul in 1950
and the prosperous, reborn Seoul of today

group photo of everyone smiling