Korean Embassy honors Jewish war veterans

Embassy credits 'Post' with helping find Jews who fought in Korean War; Ma Young-Sam: "Koreans will never forget what [veterans] did for us."

June 17, 2011 12:19
4 minute read.
Medals awarded to Jewish Korean War veterans.

Jewish Korean War veterans medal_311. (photo credit: Korean Embassy in Israel)

The Korean Embassy in Israel on Thursday held a special ceremony to mark the 61st anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. In honor of soldiers who fought to help South Korea stop the communist invasion, a seemingly unlikely group was also recognized: Jewish Korean War veterans living in Israel.

According to an official statement released by the Embassy, some 4,000 Jewish soldiers fought alongside South Koreans and Allied Forces in the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. The Embassy has been awarding medals to Jewish soldiers since 2009. This year's ceremony was hosted by Korean Ambassador to Israel Ma Young-Sam at his home in Rishpon.

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Asked why a ceremony marking the Korean War was being held in Israel, the Korean Ambassador explained in the statement: "One day, I noticed that among the 9837 tombstones in the Normandy cemetery, there were several tombstones with a 'Magen-David'. Since only 5 years separate the Normandy battle and the Korean War, it was only natural for me to assume that many Jewish soldiers would have joined the Allied Forces fighting in Korea under the UN flag.

"Therefore, I made up my mind to make all the necessary efforts to find and locate the Jewish veterans who participated in the holy mission of protecting my country."

Young-Sam's efforts were successful. With the help of The Jerusalem Post, Israel Radio and the Jewish War Veterans Association in Washington DC, the Embassy was able to locate several Jewish veterans living in Israel who fought in the Korean War, seven of whom were awarded in this year's ceremony. Medals for two veterans who passed away were granted to their families.

The Jerusalem Post's Greer Fay Cashman, who has covered the ceremony since it began in 2009, explained how the Korean Embassy's annual ceremony began and expanded.

"This was the third year the Embassy held the ceremony. When they first started, because the ambassador knew me personally, he came to me first with the idea to post information about it in newspaper. Two and a half years ago, he took me to lunch and told me the story. I got very excited about it. I wrote something in the paper about how he was looking for Jewish war veterans in Israel, and he got quite a lot of responses. And he continues to get them," Cashman said.

In response to Cashman's interview with Young-Sam published in thePost in 2009, nearly 30 veterans contacted the Korean Embassy.

Describing this year's ceremony, Cashman said, "I was surprised to see how many [veterans] were wearing kippot, how many religious Jews there are among American war veterans!"

She added that "the very fact that these war veterans feel is is important, after so many years, to be recognized is great. They went through a lot and they have been very grateful for everything they got."

In addition to the Jewish veterans, among the dignitaries invited to this year's event were representatives of the 16 countries which dispatched troops to South Korea during the war, high-ranking Israeli officials, and friends of the Embassy.

Speaking at the ceremony, Young-Sam said, "We were very happy about finding [the Jewish veterans]. We felt that we needed to return what they did for us."

"Koreans will never forget what they did for Korea and for the Korean people," he said.

The ceremony featured personal stories of the Jewish veterans, with one American veteran, Leonard Wisper, telling of how his unit was attacked heavily by enemy troops one night after he was sent to the war in 1951.

Wisper said he and his friend Palton were severely injured in the attack. He remembered lying on the hill, "bleeding, praying to God to rescue him from this dreadful situation." He recounted how he was then taken to a bunker by Chinese soldiers and was kept captive there along with three other wounded American soldiers.

A while later, Wisper recalled a big explosion. The Chinese guards exited the bunker and threw a grenade into it. The Jewish soldier reacted immediately, grabbed the grenade and threw it back outside just before it detonated. Although his friend Palton had died earlier from his wounds, Wisper was able to save the lives of his three American friends and his own. Soon after, the US soldiers triumphantly recaptured the hill.

For his heroic action and performance in the Korean War, Wisper, an Ultra-Orthodox Jew living with his family in Bnei-Brak, was awarded twice: He received a special medal of merit by the US Army, and was now also given a special medal from the Korean government.

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