Over 60 years ago, my father served with the Army’s Third Infantry Division during the Korean War. He was always proud of the role that the U.S. and over 15 other nations played in keeping South Korea free of Communist domination. He then watched from afar as the war-ravaged nation rose from being one of the poorest in the world — per capita income was less than $100 a year — to the 13th largest economy in the world with per capita income of over $24,000 a year. It also has shaken off authoritarianism to become a vibrant democracy that’s an example to other Asian nations.
My father always wanted to return to South Korea and see how it had changed, but he never did. Last week, I attended a conference in Seoul sponsored by the Washington Times and Segye Times of Korea. In my speech I was able to express my father’s pride in the economic and democratic miracle that South Korea has become. “Sometimes when you fight for others, you also fight for your own values and principles,” I told the audience. “By becoming the nation you have become, you have made him even prouder he is an American who fought for your freedom.”
I knew my father’s health was failing as I made that speech, and I planned to see him in California on my way back from Asia this week to tell him more of my experiences there. Sadly, it was not to be. He passed away a few days ago at the age of 87. But he told me he was immensely happy I was able to see what he had fought for. He slipped away with me having an even better understanding of what he believed in life and wanted me to champion. I owe my parents, now both deceased, so much in helping me understand the principles of freedom and how fighting for them could bring out that which is the best within me. May they rest in peace.