Tag Archives: military


South Korean Soldier Kills 2 in Shooting Spree Before Committing Suicide

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

A 24-year-old South Korean soldier shot and killed two fellow reservists and injured two others before turning the gun on himself earlier Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

The shooter, surnamed Choe, was participating in a mandatory training session with fellow reservists. Choe had fired one round when he suddenly turned his K-2 rifle on them and fired seven times. He then used the ninth out of the 10 bullets he had been given to kill himself.

Army officials said the two reservists who died were shot in their heads; one died while being transported to the hospital, while the other succumbed to his injury shortly after arriving. Choe was also a reservist who had finished his compulsory military training: All able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve two years in the armed forces and then participate in annual military training in the reserve force for eight years, up to a max of 160 hours per year.

Yonhap News reported that Choe was put in a group of soldiers who needed “special attention” during his active service due to high risk of suicide and had received treatment for depression. In a suicide note found in his pocket following the shooting, Choe had written that life was meaningless and that he had suffered during his time in the military.

“Tomorrow, I will do shooting practice. … I am becoming obsessed with thinking that I want to kill them all and I want to die,” the note read.

Bullying and Tragic Deaths in the South Korean Military


There have been a number of incidents in recent years by South Korean soldiers at army barracks that have prompted concerns and criticism about social issues in the military, including bullying, abuse, sexual harassment and proper awareness of mental health conditions. According to statistics by the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, the army saw an average of 82.2 suicides a year between 2009-13.

An army sergeant in his 20s who went on a shooting rampage and killed five and wounded seven others in June 2014 had also been categorized as needing “special attention.” He later told investigators he had taken offense after discovering his colleagues’ drawings that portrayed him as various cartoon characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants.

In April 2014, a South Korean private died of asphyxiation after allegedly choking on food while being beaten by fellow soldiers, and two soldiers died last September during an anti-captivity training exercise, presumably due to suffocation. A female officer committed suicide in October 2013, and a South Korean military investigation determined that she had suffered repeated sexual harassment while on active duty.

Conscientious Objectors


Compulsory military service has become a contentious issue in itself. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a report on Wednesday urging South Korea to end the imprisonment of around 600 men for draft-dodging. These “conscientious objectors” had been unfairly labeled as criminals, the report said, and the men faced “harsh consequences,” including abuse and discrimination, after their release because of their refusal to serve. Many of the objectors cite reasons based on their religious faith

South Korean officials have maintained that the mandatory service must remain in place as long as North Korea poses a military threat. In 2007, the Ministry of Defense considered alternatives to military service, but any ideas were scrapped once Lee Myung-bak became president the next year. Lee took a hard line stance towards North Korea, and current president Park Geun-hye has largely continued a similar policy.


Featured image via South China Morning Post

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25 Years of KoreAm Covers: Influential Figures

To mark the 25th anniversary of KoreAm Journal, we’re revisiting some memorable covers from the magazine’s archives.

Take a look at some of the creative talent, athletes, influential figures, social issues and tragic events that have appeared on our cover. The panoply of images, we hope, will serve as a historical flashback, a glimpse into the people that inspired us, the issues we explored and the events that called for deeper reflection over the last 25 years.


Here are some influential figures who have graced KoreAm‘s cover over the past 25 years. 


Congressman Jay C. Kim (April 1998): A closer look at the first Korean American elected to U.S. Congress, who in 1998 was sentenced to two months’ home detention for campaign finance violations. “After rescheduling three or four times, we were denied an interview in the 11th hour,” John Lee, a contributing editor at the time, says.


50 Novel Ideas (June 1999): “A guide to every published Korean American novel” was the focus of this cover feature.


Chang-Rae Lee (Sept. 1999): By this time, the author of 1995’s Native Speaker was about to debut his second novel, A Gesture Life.


Lela Lee (May 2001): Spending time with Lela Lee, creator of the Angry Little Asian Girl cartoon, which Lee developed in 1994.


Our Philanthropists (June 2001): KoreAm profiles four Korean American philanthropists “who realize money’s power is not just for the taking, but for the giving too.”


Sketch of Obama (Feb. 2009): Korean American artist David Choe created this portrait of a newly inaugurated Barack Obama that formed the cover issue image.


Chef David Chang (June 2009): The famed Korean American was well on his way to building his Momofuku empire with Noodle Bar, Ssam Bar, Milk Bar and Ko.


Out: Lt. Dan Choi (Aug. 2009): KoreAm profiles Army discharge 1st Lt. Dan Choi, an Iraq veteran and vocal critic against the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.


Michelle Rhee (Dec. 2009): Two-plus years into the D.C. School Chancellor’s tenure, KoreAm looked at the education leader’s record.


Phil Yu, aka Angry Asian Man (Nov. 2010): Ten years after the launch of popular blog Angry Asian Man, KoreAm learned how its founder Phil Yu became, in the words of writer Jeff Yang, “Asian America’s most influential blogger.”


Jane Kim (Feb. 2011): KoreAm spoke with Jane Kim, the first Korean American elected official in San Francisco and “unabashed policy geek.”

In the next chapter of “25 Years of KoreAm Covers,” we share some of the tragedies and natural disasters that KoreAm covered over the years.

Go to Next Chapter -> 


Read the previous chapter, “Koreans on the Road to Fame.” 

This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


Army Veteran Turns to Social Media in Search of His Long-Lost Twin Children

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

Army veteran Allen Thomas had spent over 40 years unsuccessfully searching for the whereabouts of his twin children he left behind in South Korea. But since taking to Facebook just a week ago with the assistance of his daughter, the story of his search has since gone viral. It’s been shared over a million times, while the public group has swelled to over 30,000 members.

Thomas told NBC News that he would understand if his children refused to see him. “I just need to know they’re OK and tell them I love them,” he said. “These are my kids, and I’ve never stopped loving them.”

“I want to share our family health history with them, because some of it is serious,” he added. “I want them to know that I have never stopped trying to get them.”

Thomas was 18 years old when he joined the Army in the mid-1960s. When he was shipped out to South Korea the next year, he met a woman who soon became pregnant with twins. James and Sandia (who also went by Jamie and Sandra) were born on Sept. 10, 1967, and Thomas married their mother a few months later.

First BirthdayAllen Thomas and his wife celebrating the first birthdays for their twin children.

Although the initial plan was to have the entire family eventually move to the States, the marriage “disintegrated,” according to Thomas’s daughter, Charlene Roberts. Thomas stayed in Asia following his Korea tour to be close to the children, and he took a 30-day leave in January 1971 while he was stationed in Vietnam to visit them in Korea.

It turned out to be the last time he saw James and Sandia in person. Thomas’s wife did not want to follow him back to the U.S. or allow the children to leave. “He even considered going AWOL to take his kids,” Roberts said.

Allen ThomasAllen Thomas in uniform.

Thomas sent letters and money to his family in Korea when he returned to the U.S., but his wife cut off all communication with him. He obtained a default divorce, and he remarried in 1973.

In 1974, Thomas received a final offer from the twins’ mother, who said she would relinquish the children to his custody. But Thomas and his wife couldn’t come up with the money to immediately bring them over, and he found out that the children had been adopted by another American family in 1976, right after he had left the U.S. Army. According to Korean law, his permission was not needed, and the mother would not give the address of the children.

Since then, Thomas continued to search for his kids, checking with American adoption agencies and registering with Korean American groups where the twins might be members. Thomas and Roberts expanded the search to Facebook when he moved in with his daughter recently. Roberts and fellow admins have posted daily updates on the search, and you can see the latest developments on the Facebook page.


Featured image via Facebook

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U.S. Soldiers to Participate in Korean Culture Program


U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea are literally going to get a kick out of this week.

Soldiers from the United States Forces Korea (USFK) will have the opportunity to participate in a two-day taekwondo camp as part of the “Friends Forever” event, a series of programs organized by Korea’s Ministry of National Defense that aims to introduce Korean culture to U.S. soldiers, according to the Korea Times.

Starting Tuesday, South Korea’s national taekwondo team will teach USFK soldiers the origin and history of taekwondo as well as basic posture and self-defense moves, said the national defense ministry.

The USFK’s event calendar shows the next upcoming event as a two-day cultural orientation program beginning May 27, which will consist of a “tour of the ancient palaces and museums in Seoul.” The tour will also be offered a second time on June 9.

Another two-day tour will take place starting July 8 in Gyeonggi Province, featuring Suwon Castle, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Second Fleet Command of Navy, which is also home to the wreckage of the Korean vessel Cheonan, which was sunk by a North Korean torpedo in 2010 and led to 46 deaths.

In late October, U.S soldiers will also be able to partake in a “temple stay” at Haeinsa Temple in South Gyeongsang Province so they can “sample Korea’s spiritual culture in traditional Buddhist temples.”

However, promoting good relations between the U.S. and Korea through cultural exchange is nothing new.

As part of its Good Neighbor Program, the U.S. army aims to contribute to the South Korea-U.S. alliance, which includes “Koreans and Americans, service members, family members, and civilians, all working together to maintain stability and prosperity and to serve the military community,” according to General James Thurman. For instance, USFK soldiers periodically host an English Camp for Korean students, allowing them to meet and practice conversing in English with foreigners.

“I appreciate the efforts of USFK soldiers for peacekeeping on the Korean Peninsula,” Defense Minister Han Min-koo told the Korea Times. “I want to ask them to make further efforts to set up the strongest and the most effective combined defense system in the world.”


Featured image courtesy of the U.S. Army

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British Korean War Veteran Donates Medals to South Korea


A British Korean War veteran has donated 10 military medals to South Korea on Tuesday in honor of the country and its people.

William Speakman, 87, presented a total of 10 medals he earned during his 23-year-long military career to the South Korean people on Tuesday, three of which were awarded for his service in the Korean War over 60 years ago, Yonhap News Agency reported.

One of the donated medals was the Victoria Cross (VC), Britain’s highest military decoration for valor. Among the four former soldiers who received a VC for their heroism during the Korean War, Speakman is the sole living holder of the medal.

“I donate my medals to the people in South Korea because what they have done since the war finished has really touched me,” Speakman said in a press conference at the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan, according to the Korea Times. “They rebuilt South Korea. I am very proud of what [they’ve] done.”

Although the original VC awarded to Speakman is currently preserved in the War Memorial in Scotland, the replica will be on display at the National War Memorial in Seoul, alongside nine other medals the veteran has donated, including the British Korean War Medal and the United Nations Service Medal. Speakman said that they will hopefully serve as reminders of the past.

“I sincerely hope that the future generation of South Korea will follow their forebears and look after this beautiful place of yours,” he said.

During the 1950-1953 conflict, Speakman earned the VC for fighting against Chinese and North Korean forces on November 4, 1951, using hand grenades while under a series of attacks until reinforcements came, according to BBC. The donated medals are also a tribute to British troops that fought bravely in the Korean peninsula. About 100,000 British military personnel were involved in the Korean War with over 1,000 killed.

Speakman also expressed his wish for his ashes to be returned to the country that he fought for.

“I want my ashes scattered in No Man’s Land,” he said, referring to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea.

Speakman, who arrived in South Korea on Monday with a group of fellow British war veterans, expressed his hope for the reunification of the two Koreas, calling for North Korea to realize the consequences of separation. The veterans will visit the U.N. Memorial Cemetery in Busan and DMZ before leaving on Saturday, according to the Korea Times.


Featured image via Yonhap/EPA

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Suspended Brig. General John M. Cho Will Not Be Reinstated

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Brig. Gen. John M. Cho, who was suspended from his post at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) after an investigation found that he failed to treat his staff with respect, will not be returning to command, the Army announced last week.

Cho, a one-star general and thoracic surgeon, lead the Western Region Medical Command, which oversees 11 Army military treatment facilities and 11 Warrior Transition Units across 20 Western states, according to the News Tribune. With his new promotion, Cho’s responsibilities at JBLM included expanding preventive care and streamlining the administration of Defense Department hospitals in the Puget Sound, including Navy hospitals.

He was suspended in September by Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army’s Surgeon General, when a complaint was filed about his leadership. Following the suspension, the Defense Department Office of Inspector General launched an investigation.

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway said the investigation determined that Cho “failed to treat select subordinates with dignity and respect.” While the findings said there was no toxic command climate under Cho’s leadership, it revealed that the general had failed to conduct an Army-required survey with his subordinates.

She added that the investigation did not involve Cho’s quality of medical care.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Tempel Jr., who led JBLM as the interim commander for six months, will be promoted to a permanent commander. Meanwhile, Cho will be reassigned to the staff of the Office of the Army Surgeon General.

According to the News Tribune, Cho is one of eight senior Army medical commanders to be suspended or relieved of command since 2012. This means that nearly one in five major Army hospital leaders have been dismissed from their positions during that time period.

In 2013, Cho became the first active-duty officer of Korean descent to achieve the rank of brigadier general by promotion. A West Point graduate, Cho previously served as the commander of  Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and as the deputy commander for support at Army Medical Command.


Featured image via Army.Mil

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South Korean Soldier Gets Death Penalty Over Killing His Comrades

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

A South Korean army deserter who fired shots at unarmed comrades near the country’s border with North Korea has been sentenced to death by the military court on Tuesday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

The 23-year-old sergeant, known only by his last name Lim, killed five and wounded seven of his comrades by detonating a grenade and firing shots in June of last year near the northeastern coast of South Korea. He also escaped from his unit with a rifle and a stash of ammunition before a siege by thousands of troops caught him.

At the time of the capture, Lim had botched a suicide attempt.

“Capital punishment is inevitable for such a hideous crime that shot the innocent,” said the chief judge of the general military court in a verdict. The judge also added that it “is necessary to hold [Lim] responsible for causing a security vacuum in military zones and to ring an alarm bell against brutal crimes.”

Lim claimed that bullying by his comrades motivated his rampage, which had been rejected by the court. A psychiatric test conducted on Lim in November showed that he was “generally normal,” although he was struggling to adapt to life during his military service, which is compulsory for all able-bodied men in South Korea.

One of the victims in the shooting was a staff sergeant in Lim’s unit. The military law in South Korea stipulates that a soldier could face capital punishment for killing a superior officer.

Lim’s defense lawyer said that he plans to appeal the ruling on the basis that the court dismissed Lim’s claims on being bullied.

Some 60 convicts are on death row in South Korea, but the country’s court hasn’t executed anyone since 1997.


Photo courtesy of Eto.cr.kr

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1st Marine Division corpsman awarded Silver Star

Navy Corpsman Jonathan Kong Receives Silver Star


When former Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Jonathan Kong saw a Marine go down in open ground from a Taliban ambush, it was more than his training that spurred him into action. Kong remembers that it was like seeing his little brother in trouble.

“Dawers and I were pretty close friends,” Kong told KoreAm in a phone interview, speaking about Cpl. Michael Dawers, the injured Marine. “So I saw him get hit … but I wasn’t really thinking at the time. My feet were already moving. He was already squirming and screaming.”

After reaching the Marine, Kong managed to pull him to safety as the firefight raged on. For his actions, Kong received a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest award for valor in combat, during a ceremony at Camp Pendleton in California on Sept. 19.

“There’s not a Marine or sailor here that can say they haven’t been scared under fire. But it’s what you do with that fear,” Major General Lawrence Nicholson, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, said at the ceremony, addressing Kong. “It’s how you channel it, and how you react to it.

“On that June morning, Doc Kong reacted instinctively … [He] saw that Marine laying there in great anguish, and Doc Kong decided at that point that he had to get to his Marine,” the general said. “It is humbling today for all of us to hear that citation, to know what you did in the face of enormous risk and peril to yourself.”

As the squad’s battlefield medical specialist, it was Kong’s job to take care of his fellow Marines, from gun- shot wounds to minor cuts. But the relationship between a Navy corpsman and Marine goes much deeper than doctor-patient.

“Basically, if you’re a corpsman, the Marines will call you a Marine,” said Kong, 25. “They’ll call you ‘Doc.’ We literally do every single thing with them. You definitely get close, and there’s always the underlying theme where I’m there for them as their caregiver.

“You develop this brotherhood that the Marines have with each other. If anything, it might be an even deeper bond, because we’ re there to keep them safe.”

Kong, then Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class, was on his second deployment in June 2011, serving with Company B of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The squad had trained together for months, but they had yet to see any action during a seasonal fighting lull. That changed during a four-day clearing operation in Kotozay, a village in the dangerous Sangin district in Afghanistan. They kept hearing from the locals that the Taliban were nearby.

The Marines were moving cautiously from compound to compound, minimizing their time out in the open. Kong recalls he was at least 15 meters behind Dawers—a tactic to minimize IED damage—when the Taliban opened fire.

“The first burst hit him right in the chest,” Kong said. “After that, it just erupted. They opened fire on us, and I just started running. I didn’t think about it when I started running, and halfway to him I started thinking, ‘Oh sh-t, this is it.’ It was very clear what was happening at that point. The volume of rounds started increasing. What [the Taliban] like to do is wound you and hope the other guys come out, then shoot [them].

“It seemed helpless as I was running out there. I started shooting back, and I finally made my way to him. I was trying to pull him away, [but since] we were doing a four-day operation, we had a lot more gear than normal. He had a 100-pound rucksack on him, and he was lying in some mud. I was trying to pull him, and he wasn’t moving—I couldn’t get him out. Rounds were kicking all around me and hitting the wall behind us.

“As a desperate measure, I grabbed my rifle and started shooting back,” he continued. “It was basically go down fighting at this point. I thought we were dead in the water and we weren’t going to make it out, so I started returning fire. That’ s when our machine gunner posted up on the corner of the compound and started putting down rounds. I turned back around and unsnapped the pack.

“I grabbed Dawers, and the rounds were still coming down around us, so I just started dragging him away. We ducked behind a wall, and that was that.”

Pot-Intro-ON14-KONGDAWERSJonathan Kong with Michael Dawers, who is holding the chest plate that stopped the bullet. Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps

Kong began stripping the Marine down to assess his condition. Dawers was lucky: A bullet had nicked the top half-inch of his chest plate, and he had suffered a crushed sternum and bruised lung. An inch higher, and the bullet would have probably hit his heart.

As Kong prepared Dawers for air evacuation, the Marine’s first words to the corpsman were, “Doc, you just saved my life.”

It was a defining moment for the young corpsman, who had been entertaining the idea of going into medicine as a career.

“I always wanted to do medicine,” Kong said. “After joining the military and becoming a corpsman, that’ s when it started to click for me. I understood it. I felt that I was good at it, and it made sense for me.”

Kong, who finished his six-year Navy enlistment last year, is now attending classes at De Anza Community College in Cupertino, Calif., before applying to transfer to a university as an undergraduate next year. He isn’ t setting any limits for himself: Ivy League universities are at the top of his list, and then it’s medical school. Kong, who has also been awarded the Navy Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, has his sights on becoming an emergency room doctor to utilize his skills and training.

“After that deployment to Afghanistan and after coming home,” Kong said, “we had around 200 Purple Hearts, and 17 guys didn’t make it home. I think I was like, I’m just going to go for it. I’m going to do big things in my life.

“That’s when med school came on to the blotter. … This is what I’m going to do, and I’m going to attack it with everything I have.”


Featured photo courtesy of Cpl. Ismael E. Ortega/Marine Corps

This article was published in the October/November 2014 issue of KoreAm under the title “Courage Under Fire”  Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the magazine issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).