By Tim Oberle, Eighth Army Public AffairsMay 12, 2015
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea (May 8, 2015) -- The KumGok Academico Cultural Foundation hosted the 6th Annual Korean Culture Night May 8 at the Sheraton Grande Walkerhill Hotel in Seoul, South Korea to introduce Servicemembers, Civilians and Family members to Korea's vibrant cultural history and thank them for their contributions to the US-ROK Alliance.
As the event kicked off, Scholar Ha, Yeon-Soo the Chairman of the KumGok Academico Cultural Foundation discussed why the event is held at the Sheraton Walkerhill Hotel each year.
"It is my honor to host the 6th annual Korean Culture night with Eighth Army," said Ha. "I sincerely thank you all for attending here at the (Sheraton Grande) Walker Hill Hotel, which is a sacred place for Eighth Army here in Korea."
"This hill, the cradle of the ROK-US spirit, was named after the late Gen. Walton H. Walker in commemoration of his great courage and Soldier spirit," Ha explained. "He served as commander of the Eighth Army during the Korean War and is known for his words during the fight at the Nakdong Riverfront, where was quoted as saying, 'I will defend this country Korea till the end, even if I have to die right here'. His (General Walker's) spirit continues to live on in the hearts of many Koreans today and by hosting this event here we honor his memory."
During the event, American servicemembers were treated to various Korean performances including a reworked version of the Beatles hit "Let it Be" by students from Sookmyung Women's University with a traditional Korean instrument called the 'Gayageum', as well as a traditional Korean percussion piece performed by members of the South Korean Command Defense Command.
Lt. Gen. Bernard Champoux, Eighth Army commanding general thoroughly enjoyed the performances, and it was clear from his remarks that he is well-versed in the rich cultural history that has permeated this nation for thousands of years.
"On your way here tonight I'm sure you noticed the colorful lotus lanterns that line the Korean streets in preparation for Suk-Ka-Tan-Shin-ill (Buddha's Birthday) and Yeon-Dung-Hwe (the Lotus Lantern Festival)," said Champoux. "It reminded me just how rich the culture and history of this noble country truly is."
"And that is why this night is so special," he said. "Our Servicemembers deeply respect our host nation and its warm, friendly and welcoming people. They enjoy serving in this beautiful country, eating its delicious food and exploring its fascinating culture."
In addition to the cultural themes of the night, Scholar Ha and the KumGok Academico Cultural Foundation also hosted the event to thank members of the US-ROK Alliance for all that they do in defense of South Korea.
One of the preeminent Confucian authorities in the world today, Ha has been a staunch supporter of the Alliance since he was a little boy when he witnessed American Soldiers repel the communist invasion. Often times he would walk to the local base to learn English from the Soldiers and they would take him for a ride in one of the military Jeeps.
"As a young boy during the Korean War, Scholar Ha learned about America through the eyes and actions of American Soldiers along the Nakdong River during the period that Eighth Army established the Pusan Perimeter," said Lt. Gen. Bernard Champoux. "The sustained acts of kindness and the way that the Americans treated this little Korean boy is the engine that drives this evening's generosity. By hosting tonight's event he (Scholar Ha) has been able to fulfill the promise he made to himself as a little boy…to repay the humanity he received during those difficult days."
"This year (marks) the 65th anniversary of the Korean War and the 70th anniversary of Korea's independence," Ha said. "Each year in May we hope to further consolidate the ROK-US Alliance to achieve peaceful (re)-unification of the Korean Peninsula and defend its freedom to renew that same spirit and blossom anew."
While Ha experienced the Korean War first-hand as a child, Lt. Gen. Champoux is no stranger to the 3-year conflict. His father, then Cpt. Francis Champoux, served here during the war as a company commander with the 65th Infantry Regiment "Borinqueneers". While the 65th Inf. Reg. took part in numerous battles during the War the most famous battle they fought in took place at Jackson Heights.
"Last April I had the chance to accompany the Champoux family to Jackson Heights in the 6th Infantry Division region of Cheolwan, where his father, Francis Champoux fought risking his life during the Korean War," recounted Ha. "His older sister's eyes swelled with tears as she gazed…across the barbed wire fences and as we watched her we were also moved to tears and could feel his (Lt. Gen. Champoux's) resolve to continue his work to strengthen the Alliance."
Following Ha's remarks, Champoux thanked him for paying homage to his father, but also extended his gratitude and reverence to the many other attendees who had family who fought valiantly during the Korean War.
"Scholar Ha, thank you so much for mentioning my father," Champoux began. "So many of our fathers and grandfathers fought here and when you mention my father you honor all of our family members who have served here."
"I would also like to thank all of our current servicemembers for continuing to defend liberty here on Freedom's Frontier," Champoux went on. "You are part of a storied legacy of service and sacrifice here in the Republic of Korea that has endured for the last six and a half decades."
At the close of the event the KumGok Academico Cultural Foundation held a raffle to hand out prizes to servicemembers in attendance. Among the gifts given away were Apple I-pads, bicycles and a grand prize drawing for a Hyundai i-30 sedan. The lucky Soldier who drove off in the new car was Pvt. Austin Manney from the 2nd Infantry Division.
From the young Korean boy who used to walk miles through a war-zone to hitch a ride in the back of a U.S. Army Jeep, to a well respected Korean leader who went out of his way to repay the favor by handing out a brand new car to a current American Soldier it was a fitting end to a story that had been developing for the last 65 years.
The irony of the situation was not lost on Champoux who took the gesture as a true sign of the mutual respect between South Koreans and their American partners.
"The car that Scholar Ha gave to (Pvt. Manney) is in genuine thanks for the many rides he received from various military jeeps and two-ton trucks those many years ago," said Champoux. "Tonight is the fulfillment of a promise by a gracious and kind man who provides an example for us all to follow."