Not Forgotten: Woman travels coast to coast commemorating Korean War veterans

NASHUA – Hannah Y Kim is a woman on a personal mission to visit a Korean War Memorial in all 50 states, and as she approaches the last leg of her journey, she stopped by Nashua’s monument Saturday morning.

“This is my 41st state, so I am on my last leg of my journey across America to honor veterans, you and promote peace,” Kim said to the veterans who gathered for her brief commemoration at Nashua City Hall. The majority of those veterans who gathered fought in the Korean War, while others present were involved with the Vietnam War, but nonetheless, she presented each of them with a small gift, a heart-shaped American flag pin that she individually pinned upon the shirts of each hero.

“I’m Korean-American, and when I was 22, I almost died from a car accident,” Kim said. “I believe that many of you who served, especially in combat and have sadly seen many of your brothers in arms not return, but you returned. There’s some sense of duty to honor them and to live a life that is a little bit larger than just yourself.”

As a result of receiving what she calls a bonus life after being involved in that accident, she promised God to do exactly that, to do something a little larger than herself. That’s when she made the decision to pack her bags and head to Washington, D.C., where she lobbied for a congressman from New York. At the time, she didn’t know much about politics, but did know she had a mission to embark on. She was U.S. Rep. Charles B. Rangel’s communications director, later becoming his chief of staff, and when he retired in 2017, she set out on a journey around the world visiting every country that was a part of the UN effort during the war.

However, leading up to her career walking through the halls of Congress, she became involved with activism in 2008, when she was a 24-year-old graduate student in Washington, D.C., establishing Remember 727. Her organization is dedicated to honoring veterans of the Korean War, or the “Forgotten War.” Lobbying in Congress, she enacted legislation signed by then-President Barack Obama in 2009, that established July 27 as National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day. She will host her 11th annual Armistice celebration on that day when she completes her 50-state mission in Washington, D.C.

However, after her world tour in 2017, she kept the ball rolling, and on April 27, she set on this three-month journey to thank veterans and spread peace in every state.

“I saw that the state motto for New Hampshire is Live Free or Die, so I don’t need much explaining to do to you of what it means to secure, defend and fight for freedom,” Kim said. “I truly believe that those who didn’t return, they protected not only freedom for South Korea but altered the spread of communism around the world, and that’s what you all did.”

During her pinning ceremony, and her brief speech, she referred to all of the veterans standing before her as her grandpa, and paused to explain to them why she refers to them as such.

“It’s not because you’re old, but it’s because, literally, if you didn’t fight in Korea, almost 70 years ago, I wouldn’t be here,” Kim said. “That isn’t my opinion, that is a fact.”

She said every single visit she’s done has been different, and that she still remembers every single veteran.

“You know what the crazy thing is, is that every single one, they thank me for being there to thank them … that is so humbling,” Kim said. “They’re thanking me for thanking them.”

From here, she’ll travel to Maine to continue thanking more veterans, having traveled West to East from Los Angeles. From there, she said she’ll still have to visit Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and ending with the culmination of her journey happening in Washington, D.C., on July 27.

“The state’s motto is Live Free or Die, but somebody paid the price for that freedom, and we often don’t think about that,” Kim said. “But for me, because it’s doubly personal being a Korean and American, and I live in this country I’m so proud to call home, to me it’s the best country in the world, because we have that freedom.”

After speaking and pinning each veteran, she had one last gift to present, a commemorative wreath, that Alan Heidenreich, commander of New Hampshire Korean Veterans Association, set before the monument at City Hall. Aside from commemorating, thanking and spreading peace, she also hopes this journey will raise awareness about the Wall of Remembrance in Washington, D.C., and the long overdue addition to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. In 2016, the Wall was approved by Congress, but lacking the funding, construction has been delayed for two years, resulting in 37,000 Americans who died in Korea still waiting to have their names inscribed.

Adam Urquhart can be reached at 594-1206 or aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.