Korean Peace Medals awarded to local veterans

By Valerie Shelton

Former U.S. Marine commander and Purple Heart recipient Gilbert DeLaPena was one of dozens of local Korean War veterans honored at the Korean Ambassador Peace Medal ceremony on July 2.
Former U.S. Marine commander and Purple Heart recipient Gilbert DeLaPena was one of dozens of local Korean War veterans honored at the Korean Ambassador Peace Medal ceremony on July 2.

Central Valley Korean War veterans were honored by Korean Consul General Dong-man Han and local congressmen Jim Costa, David Valadao and Devin Nunes, at a ceremony held July 2 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.

Each veteran recognized was given a Korean Peace Medal and certificate of appreciation from the Republic of Korea.

Dong-man Han said his country will be forever be grateful for the sacrifices made by American servicemen in order to protect democracy and freedom in Korea.

“It is my great honor and privilege to be here,” Han said. “Today’s Korea would not be enjoying peace, democracy and economic prosperity without the heroism and sacrifice of the Korean War veterans. Freedom is not free and that is why Korea is so grateful for the sacrifice made by foreign war veterans.”

Congressman Costa said the ceremony was an opportunity for the Korean government to say a long overdue thank you to individual veterans. While Korea has been presenting the Peace Medals to American veterans for several years, at first a veteran had to travel back to Korea to receive the honor. Now, the Consul General and others are putting forth the effort in coming to America to ensure more veterans are awarded and given a sincere heartfelt thank you.

“It is fitting that the republic of Korea, represented by their consul general Dong-man Han, come here today with congressman David Valadao and myself to specially recognize the valor, the courage, and the tenacity that those of you who served during the Korean War have shown,” Costa said. “It is important that you, along with your families be appropriately recognized and honored.”

Each Korean War veteran recognized at the ceremony was presented with a Korean Peace Medal
Each Korean War veteran recognized at the ceremony was presented with a Korean Peace Medal

It was in 1947, Costa continued, that then president Harry Truman said Korea would remain free and soon after American servicemen engaged in someof the most difficult battles American forces have ever seen—from the Battle of Osan to the victory in Inchon to the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. Through it all, Americans servicemen also endured some of the most brutal winters of their lives.

“This all reflected your willingness to serve your country and, as we all know, some made the ultimate sacrifice and for those and their families we have them in our thoughts and prayers and can never say thank you enough,” Costa said.

Local ABC 30 news anchor Warren Armstrong served as the Master of Ceremonies at the event.

Armstrong said he has great respect for all veterans, in particular those who served in Korea. His stepfather served in the Navy was a WWII and Korean War veteran. Additionally, Armstrong recalls reporting on a somber ceremony 25 years ago, in 1990, when the first skeletal remains of American servicemen who died in Korea were returned to the United States from North Korea.

Korean War veteran Charlie Waters receives special recognition at the ceremony. In addition to a medal, he was presented with letters from Governor Jerry Brown’s office and from President Barack Obama.
Korean War veteran Charlie Waters receives special recognition at the ceremony. In addition to a medal, he was presented with letters from Governor Jerry Brown’s office and from President Barack Obama.

“Some Korean War veterans from the Valley were there with me that day and I could see in their eyes what it meant to them to have those remains returned,” Armstrong said. “Since then, hundreds of remains have been found and returned. More than 7,800 servicemen are still unaccounted for from the Korean War so as we honor your remarkable service today, let us please remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and did not return home.”

Despite being called the Forgotten War, the ceremony cemented that the sacrifices of American servicemen in Korea are not forgotten. Without these sacrifices, Han said, Korea would not be the same.

Uniquely, since the war Korea has emerged, transforming from one of the poorest countries in the world once dependent on international aid, to a country now positioned to contribute to other countries around the world.

“The blood, sweat and tears shed by veterans of the Korean War sowed the seeds of today’s freedom, peace and plenty in Korea,” Armstrong said.

While many local veterans were honored at the ceremony, Korean War veteran Charlie Waters—a long-time advocate for Valley veterans who spearheaded plans for Fresno’s new veterans home—was given special recognition.

Korean War Veteran Henry Lemay sings the National Anthem at the opening of the ceremony. He also sung “God Bless America” at the end of the ceremony.
Korean War Veteran Henry Lemay sings the National Anthem at the opening of the ceremony. He also sung “God Bless America” at the end of the ceremony.

In addition to a medal and certificate, Waters received two letters—one from Governor Jerry Brown’s office and one personally signed by President Barack Obama. Armstrong read both letters aloud.

President Obama’s letter read as follows: “Dr. Waters, I want to write to send my warmest regards. In times of war and peace alike, proud patriots like yourself have served with courage, distinction, securing more than two centuries of progress and demonstrating unfaltering commitment to our union. The selflessness which you represent, like veterans throughout this country, reminds us that there are few things more fundamentally American than doing our utmost to make a difference in the lives of others, which you have done always, and in their noble example we learn the true meaning of patriotism and devotion so strong that they are willing to risk their lives and to protect the land we love. We are profoundly grateful for the sacrifice of all veterans and their families, those of you here today and you Charlie. May God continue to bless and protect all who have served the United States of America.”

To view more photos of the ceremony, visit the Roundup’s gallery at ClovisRoundup.com