NORTH WALES — About 100 people gathered to commemorate an addition to a Montgomery County park that fortified the friendships of two countries: the United States and the Republic of Korea.

“Welcome to the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Korean War Memorial and America Korea Alliance Peace Park,” said Grand Master Bong Pil Yang, general secretary of the park committee.

The July 25 ribbon-cutting ceremony commenced with a “presentation of the colors” from various local veterans associations, as well as renditions of the United States and Republic of Korea’s respective national anthems sung by Ocean County College Professor Sungii Kim.

The flags of the United States, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Republic of Korea were seen blowing in the wind on a particularly hot morning at the park on Kenas Road in North Wales. Organizers hoped this memorial would ensure people never forget the conflict that was often described as “The Forgotten War.”

Former state representative Kate Harper, co-chair of the park committee, underscored the need to remember the fallen American and South Korean soldiers.

“Today is an important day for us,” Harper said.

Harper said there were 40,000 American soldiers who were killed during the Korean War. She added there were more than 100,000 others injured, 2,000 of them from Pennsylvania. Additionally, she said that 138,000 soldiers from the Republic of Korea, and nearly one million civilians lost their lives during the war. While 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, Harper noted that U.S. service members are still there today.

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to all of those soldiers who have helped forge bonds that cannot be broken between the Republic of Korea and the United States of America,” she said.

Harper expressed her appreciation to a number of participants including representatives from Montgomery Township, as well as the project’s architect, Joseph A. Lavalle, who also serves on the Upper Moreland Township Board of Commissioners.

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, whose Dad served with the United States Armed forces in Korea, spoke at the ceremony.

The monument was the brain child of Bong Pil Yang, who recruited a committee of public spirited citizens from the area to plan the memorial and find funding for the construction, a statement from Harper said. Franklin Kwang Soo Lee, a Korean American Montgomery County businessman, co-chaired the committee.

The memorial was funded through donations of many individuals and veterans and their families and also received significant financial support from the Republic of Korea and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. State senators Bob Mensch and Maria Collett and state representatives Todd Stephens, Tom Murt and Steve Malagari were on hand for the ceremony, according to the statement from Harper.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17th dist., acknowledged the importance of the countries’ alliance.

“Because of a war, we’re here today celebrating a peace,” Leach said.

While organizers broke ground on July 19, 2019 at the site located within Memorial Grove Park, it took years to bring the Korean War Memorial to fruition.

Korean community members first cultivated proposals for the commemorative monument in 2014. High ranking South Korean officials visited the park in 2015 and fundraising efforts began in 2017. To learn more about the Korean War Memorial and American-Korean Alliance Peace Park, visit www.koreanwarmemorialpeacepark.com, or check out the initiative’s Facebook page, “The Korean War Memorial, American-Korean Alliance Peace Park.”

The park’s land is owned by Montgomery Township, but it was purchased with funds from the county’s Open Space Program in 1998, according to Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh. Arkoosh added that any augmentations to the land would need to be submitted and approved only under specific parameters.

“So this beautiful space will always be this beautiful space,” Arkoosh said.

Other speakers from Saturday’s event were from military and veterans organizations, as well as Montgomery County Sheriff Sean Kilkenny, and Ambassador Won Sam Chang, consulate general of the Republic of Korea, based in New York City.

Dignitaries addressed the current global health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chang expressed his condolences to those who’ve lost their lives, and his gratitude to the health care workers and first responders working “on the front lines.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt normal life in Montgomery County, spectators and veterans were still able to safely gather to pay tribute to the park’s new monument under the stipulated conditions in Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandated green phase.

Arkoosh noted how the area’s Korean community has “stepped up” during this difficult time. Specifically, the Korean American Association of Greater Philadelphia, whose members have made masks to help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. Arkoosh, donning a mask made by the organization, said that acts like this are “the real meaning of this memorial.”

“When two countries come together to help each other out in a time of need -- not because they necessarily had a long standing preexisting relationship, but because it was the right thing to do. To protect our shared values,” Arkoosh said. “To protect a way of life and a way of government that is deeply meaningful to all of us.”

“When two countries come together in that way, that bond is there no matter what the future brings, no matter what challenge, no matter what pandemic, no matter what emergency, and we will forever be grateful for that,” she said.

This article was updated to reflect the name of the organization as the Korean American Association of Greater Philadelphia. 

@rachelravina on Twitter

Rachel Ravina is a journalist covering news and lifestyle features in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Blue Bell and graduated from Penn State. She's also a news enthusiast who is passionate about covering topics people want to read.

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