Reps. Marilyn Strickland, Andy Kim, Young Kim, and Michelle Steel—the four Korean American Members of Congress—introduced a bipartisan bill this week to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Colonel Young Oak Kim in recognition of his extraordinary heroism, leadership, and humanitarianism.
Young Oak Kim was born to Korean American immigrants in Los Angeles in 1919. Upon the outbreak of World War II, Kim tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was denied because he was Asian American. Once Congress extended conscription to Asian Americans, however, Kim embarked on a remarkable military career.
“Despite the barriers and racism he faced because of his heritage, Colonel Kim excelled in his service—both in our military and in our community. He is more than deserving of this high honor as a military hero during both World War II and the Korean War,” said Strickland.
“Passing this resolution would recognize Col. Kim’s impact on countless lives, resilience against systemic racism, and his bravery fighting for our nation,” said Rep. Andy Kim.
Among his courageous achievements, Young Oak Kim volunteered to infiltrate German territory to obtain information that helped lead to the liberation of Rome. Kim was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his valor.
Rep. Young Oak Kim said, “I am humbled to use my voice to honor him, just as he told me to honor our shared name, our country and duty to public service. I am glad that all Korean American members of Congress could come together to work to award him this belated and well-deserved Congressional Gold Medal.”
Kim rejoined the U.S. Army when the Korean War began in 1950. As commander of the First Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, he became the first officer of color in U.S. history to command an Army battalion on the battlefield.
“Col. Kim is more than deserving of this honor and I am proud to join my colleagues in recognizing his public service and heroism.” said Steel.
In 1972, Kim retired from the Army at the rank of Colonel. Upon returning to Los Angeles, Kim became a civic leader. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Kim founded cultural centers and non-profits to serve the community’s pan-Asian immigrant community. Kim’s institutions, including the Koreatown Youth and Community Center, the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, and the Korean Health, Education, Information and Research Center, continue to serve the community today.
Robert M. Horsting says
This is Robert Horsting and I’m an oral historian, writer, and filmmaker who has had the privilege of meeting and working with Col. Kim. I met him when I started volunteering with the Go For Broke National Education Center’s (formerly Go For Broke Educational Foundation) Hanashi Oral History Program in 2001. That org produced the film, “A Tradition of Honor,” which was an overview of Japanese Americans in U.S. military service during WWII, focusing on the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service. Col. Kim was of course featured in that film.
Having worked on that film, directed by Craig Yahata, he invited me to partner on another project, “Citizen Tanouye,” which as it turned out was the last film Col. Kim was featured in while still healthy. In fact, we were asked to provide some of our footage for inclusion in stories being produced in Korea in preparation for Col. Kim’s acceptance of the Korean Medal of Honor. Unfortunately he was not able to go to Korea for that, as I recall and he died shortly afterwards.
The main reason I’m reaching out is to give you a heads-up when speaking/writing about military service members receiving awards, Please advise your staff not to refer to this as “winning” a medal, as this makes it sound as if this is a prize in a game. Though I have heard some veterans use that phrasing, most will tell you no one treats combat as a game, and certainly none of them are out there trying to win a prize.
Please do add me to your contact list, and if you wouldn’t mind, please let me know of any progress in either of these two honors being bestowed to Col. Kim. I am in contact with his niece, who actually honored me by inviting me to join the family in Korea for the naming of a DMZ U.S. Army building being named after Col. Kim, but she was told the invitation for this ceremony was only to direct family.
In case you’re interested:
“A Tradition Of Honor”
This 82-minute documentary provides an overview of Japanese Americans in U.S. military service during World War II. The 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team, were a segregated Japanese American unit, the majority of its officers being Caucasian. Their bravery and gallantry at the “Lost Battalion” battle made national news coverage. Working quietly without headlines in the Pacific Theater were the men in the Military Intelligence Service. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many people saw Japanese Americans as the enemy, but they served despite the denial of Civil Rights and those who would question their loyalty.
“Citizen Tanouye” Trailer
Stay safe but enjoy life!
Robert M. Horsting
Oral Historian / Author / Independent Filmmaker
818-913-0640 / email@example.com
NEW Documentary “Stamp Our Story” Trailer:
“Shadows For Peace: The Hiroshima and Nagasaki Experience”
“Never deny someone the opportunity to surprise you.”
– Robert M. Horsting