Sung Kil Kim
Sixty five years ago, on June 25, 1950, North Korean Forces attacked south across the 38th Parallel igniting the Korean War. The United States entered the war six days later and the U.S. and ROK militaries have been committed to preserving the freedom of the Republic of Korea ever since. The article you are about to read is part of a six-part series on Korean War veterans living in the Republic of Korea today. Through the eyes of these veterans, we got a glimpse into an important chapter in Korean history.
~35th Air Defense Artillery Public Affairs Officer, Capt. William Leasure
An elderly Korean veteran’s eyes wrinkle and his voice rises and falls like an infantryman assaulting the enemy as memories of the Korean War leave his lips. His voice echoes through the room as he ardently recalls more than fifteen years of service in the Republic of Korea Army, a service that would begin with a war now paused by Armistice.
Less than a decade after his family immigrated to China, Sung Kil Kim found himself fighting the Chinese at the gates of his adopted hometown of Seoul.
Kim remembers when the Korean War broke out, they had been living in Korea for 4 years and he knew Seoul was not prepared for the reinforcement of troops North Korea would send streaming southward. He remembers thinking that the fight was hopeless and the possibility of survival for his family was unlikely.
Sung’s older brother was an Army officer and his service inspired Sung to serve his country as well. Kim joined the Army in Seoul and was stationed in Daegu for his initial training held in a middle school commandeered by the military.
On January 4, 1952 the Korean Army retreated to Pyeongtaek. Kim recalls that they didn’t even have time to put on warm clothes for their march.
Until April, they fought in those same clothes, and then a wave of new equipment and uniforms were issued courtesy of the U.S. Army.
His favorite improvement, the M1 Garand Carbine, would replace the old, rusted rifle he had once carried.
Kim was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division under the command of the U.S. Army. He served as a squad leader and remembers resting the M1 carbine on his shoulder as they would march from village to village. He remembers thinking without the U.S. they all might die.
“The Americans were fearless,” said Kim. “They motivated us by telling jokes and reassured us with a smile even under heavy enemy fire.”
After the war, Kim continued to serve. He was poor and didn’t even consider ending his military service, but as he progressed through the ranks he said life became much easier. In the end, life had become considerably less difficult as a sergeant major and his country was at peace.
Now, at 82 years old, Kim is an active member of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs – Osan branch and despite enduring more than a decade of arduous military service Kim said he is thankful for the U.S. forces that continue to uphold the country’s Armistice. The presence of American forces today comforts him like the M1 Garand he once knew many years ago.