Korean American shares experiences during Fort Gordon observance
June 9, 2014
FORT GORDON, Ga. (June 6, 2014) - Fort Gordon joined President Barack Obama and the nation in celebrating the accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders during May as part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This year's AAPI Heritage Month's Theme was "I Am Beyond."
The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese people to the United States on May 7, 1943, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. Many of the workers who laid the tracks of the transcontinental railroad were Chinese immigrants. This May, according to Obama in his proclamation for AAPI Heritage Month, the Chinese workers will receive long overdue recognition as they are to be inducted into the Labor Hall of Honor.
The 35th Signal Brigade (Theater Tactical) hosted Fort Gordon's command program May 29 in Alexander Hall. During opening remarks, Col. Robert L. Edmonson II, the 35th TTSB commander, introduced a local leader, who immigrated to the United States about 40 years ago.
"Mr. Eugene Yu is living the American dream," Edmonson said. "His is the life of an immigrant who came to the United States with nothing more than a dream and the promise of opportunity. The Yu family immigrated from South Korea to Augusta over 40 years ago and Eugene has called Georgia home ever since."
Yu graduated from Butler High School in 1974, and then became a Richmond Country firefighter. After attending Augusta College he enlisted into the U.S. Army, where he served as a military policeman.
Upon returning home after being honorably discharged from the Army, he became a Richmond County deputy and later, founded Continental Military Services Inc., which supplies military grade armaments to allies in the continuing fight against global terrorism.
"Eugene believes an integral part of his American success story is his work in the community," Edmonson said. "He has proudly served as president of The Federation of Korean Associations, an organization with over 3 million active members nationwide that unites and governs all of the Korean Associations in the United States."
Edmonson mentioned Yu led the effort to finance and build the Korean War Memorial in downtown Augusta before inviting him on stage at Alexander Hall.
Yu surprised everyone by standing in front of the podium and rendering a military salute. "I want to salute you," he told all the service members.
He shared his experiences of basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Yu talked about arriving at the post with long hair. It was the '70s and the hippie era, he reminded the young Soldiers.
" The drill sergeant seemed nice when first arrived at the post," he recalled. "We went to bed and after breakfast they marched us to the barbershop. There was one way in and one way out. Within 10 seconds all my hair was gone."
Yu told the audience he was proud to be an American. "Look around the room," he said. "We all look different, but we all should be grateful because we live in a great nation."
He talked about coming to America as a teenager with his parents from Korea. "I came here with $29 in my pocket," Yu said. "At the time I didn't speak English very well."
Yu talked about his family going to the grocery store in Augusta for the first time and how his brother purchased cans of food because it was cheap. He said the family didn't know at the time it was dog food. "We bought a lot of it," Yu said. "It tasted so good."
He took a can to school and ate it for lunch. "Kids looked at me," he said. "I didn't understand."
One of the students explained to Yu, "People don't eat dog food here." Later his mom told him during the Korean War you ate anything when you were hungry.
"I came to America 40 years age," Yu said. "Now 40 years later I ran for congress. Only in America [can you do that]."
"I want you guys," he told the Soldiers, "to continue to dream."
The father of two grown children encouraged the Advanced Individual Training Soldiers to learn all they can while at Fort Gordon. "Be the best Soldier you can be," Yu said. "Be proud of yourselves. This nation will thank you for what you do. Take care of yourselves and always be proud of being Americans."