By Walter T. Ham IV, Eighth Army Public AffairsJune 27, 2012
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea (June 27, 2012) -- The Eighth Army commanding general presented the Department of Defense's highest civilian award to a South Korean train engineer who gave his life trying to save stranded American Soldiers during the Korean War.
Eighth Army Commander Lt. Gen. John D. Johnson presented the Exceptional Public Service Award to the family of Kim Jae-hyun during a ceremony June 26, at the Combined Forces Command headquarters here.
A 28-year-old train engineer and father of two, Kim attempted to rescue the 24th Infantry Division commanding general and some of his Soldiers in the enemy-held city of Daejon on July 19, 1950. Kim knew that 24th ID Commander Maj. Gen. William Dean was one of the few American military commanders familiar with Korea's mountainous terrain.
During the Korean War, trains were a prime target because they were the only mode of ground transportation in some areas on the peninsula. Train engineers like Kim often put themselves at great risk during missions to move troops, supplies and refugees.
In spite of the long odds, Kim volunteered to drive his train behind enemy lines into Daejon with 30 U.S. Special Forces troops on board in an attempt to rescue the stranded Soldiers.
Under intense enemy fire, the rescue team broke through enemy lines and reached Daejon Station. Kim and 27 of the 30 American commandos were killed. Unable to rendezvous with Dean and his 24th ID Soldiers, the bullet-riddled train returned with the three surviving members of the rescue team on board.
In 1962, South Korean railroad employees dedicated a monument to Kim and he became the first railroad employee to be buried in the Republic of Korea, or ROK, National Cemetery in 1982.
"His commitment to his mission reminds me of the words on the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.," said Johnson.
The inscription reads: "Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met."
Johnson said the same can be said for Kim.
"Heroes like Mr. Kim Jae-Hyun prove that our ROK allies also defended a people they had never met from a country they had never known," said Johnson. "Mr. Kim epitomizes what makes the ROK-U.S. Alliance the strongest military alliance in the world our shared sacrifice and our commitment to one another and the values we hold dear."
"Korea is a free and prosperous nation today because of men like Kim Jae-hyun and other heroes who have defended freedom here during the war and after the armistice was signed," said Johnson.