For years now, Hannah Y. Kim has been focused on July 27 — the date that she would like to see a peace treaty signed with North Korea officially recognizing the end of the Korean War.
The Korean War unofficially ended on July 27, 1953, when a negotiated agreement was signed in Panmunjon, a village north of the 38th parallel separating North and South Korea – after three years of bloody fighting, which claimed almost 37,000 American lives and 100,000 wounded.
The death and casualty count for North and South Korean soldiers has been reported at more than 217,000 South Koreans and 406,000 North Koreans. More than half a million Chinese soldiers reportedly were killed. And more than 1.5 million civilians from both North and South Korea reportedly died during the war.
The signatories at Panmunjon included a U.S. Army lieutenant general, a senior delegate of the United Nations and a North Korean general. The agreement took 158 meetings over two years and 17 days. Eighteen official copies of the final document were printed, but none signed by any of the government officials from any of the countries that participated in the war.
A sense of incompletion has hung over the results of that July 27th date since no official declaration of peace was finalized. The Korean War Armistice Agreement continues to serve as an example of an armistice that has not been followed by a peace treaty.
Today, almost a full 65 years later, the lack of a final peace agreement once again becomes a contentious issue and a bargaining chip in negotiations concerning the Korean peninsula’s future.
At 35 years of age, Ms. Kim continues her personal mission promoting the signing of a peace treaty that would bring the war to a conclusive close on July 27 and the establishment of an Armistice Day in keeping with that of Nov. 1 1918 that ended fighting on land, sea and air in World War I between the Allies and Germany.
The daughter of a Los Angeles pastor who brought her to the U.S. when she was six years old and a former chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, a former Korean war veteran who served in Congress from 1971 to 2017, Ms. Kim has been on a worldwide mission to meet with veterans of the Korean War and pursue her vision of a peace treaty formally ending the war and the establishment of an official July 27 Armistice Day celebrating peace on the peninsula.
She started working for Mr. Rangel after leading an effort to have Congress pass a bill that created a memorial day for Korea War veterans on July 27, 2009. Only 24 years old at the time she then launched Remember727, an organization dedicated to honoring Korean War veterans and promoting peace on the Korean peninsula. She also has hosted an annual commemoration for Korean War Armistice Day at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington to renew the call for peace.
Once Mr. Rangel retired in 2017 she launched her four-month journey including visits in all of the United Nations countries involved as well as China and North Korea to record the stories of the veterans, most of whom are now in their late 80s or early 90s. Whenever possible she held at local Korean War Memorials candlelight vigils with community members at the symbolic time of 7:27 p.m.
Having returned to the U.S., she is making a similar three-month tour of the country – finding shelter from welcoming veterans or other lodgings as chance and hospitality provide — to visit memorials and meet with veterans in each of the 50 U.S. states. On this journey, she also is committed to increasing awareness of the lack of a formal peace treaty and the sacrifice of so many combatants by raising funds to help build a Wall of Remembrance at the National Korean War Memorial in Washington.
Congress approved the construction of such a wall in 2016 but the project hasn’t been realized because of a lack of funding. Ms. Kim is proceeding with this campaign with the official endorsements of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation and the Korean War Veterans Association.
On Tuesday, June 12, the same date that President Donald Trump met with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, Ms. Kim met with veterans and leaders of Atlanta’s Korean communities on the grounds of the Korean War Memorial near the Floyd Veterans Memorial Building on state grounds downtown.
Among the attendees were several veterans as well as Mike Roby, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Veterans Service; Gordon Sherman, president of the Raymond G. Davis chapter of the Korean War Veterans of Atlanta and local businessman Sunny Park who helped raise funds on behalf of Korean-Americans of Georgia for the 1993 memorial that lists the names of the 740 soldiers who were killed in action, and the 1,404 who were wounded, the 97 prisoners of war and the 96 who were unaccounted for, all from Georgia.
At the wreath laying ceremony in honor of those who died while serving, Ms. Kim recounted her efforts to draw attention to their sacrifices. “As a Korean-American I was embarrassed I knew so little about the ‘Forgotten War,’ but when I was 22 I almost died in a car accident,” she said at the ceremony.
“Afterwards I determined that I wanted to do something beyond my own self and live a ‘bonus’ life. I started to work on behalf of the veterans whom I call my ‘grandpas,’ collecting their stories. All veterans want to see peace on the peninsula and it’s a Korean custom to thank our elders.”
Following those comments, she lay on the ground in front of the veterans and officials standing by the monument to show her respect.
“The Korean War veterans are almost 90 years old and many are passing away each month,” she told Global Atlanta after the ceremony. “During their youth, they volunteered and risked their lives for a country that they did not know and for people they had not met. They gave so much of themselves, and I want to ensure their stories and sacrifices are not forgotten. If they didn’t fight in Korea, I wouldn’t be here today.”
She also said that she has been feeling better about the prospect for peace on the peninsula since the meeting between the U.S. and North Korean presidents. “Yes, there are so many naysayers and skeptics, but anytime people are talking it’s better than war. I want the peace treaty to be signed on July 27. My vision for 11 years has been to create an Armistice Day, a day of peace just like the World War I Armistice.”
“Think of me,” she said. “I’m 35 years old, but a decade ago I was only 25 doing this and people thought I was crazy. I’ve visited with veterans from every single country, even China, Russia and North Korea, and I keep in touch with them and keep posting on Facebook. I share their thoughts and their greatest gift is to complete their stories and share them. This is how I think peace can be achieved. A great global effort. For Korea it’s all the countries that participated. It’s like weaving a great quilt.”
She continues to be inspired by her father the Rev. Edward Kim, who is the pastor for the New Hope Church in Los Angeles who brought her to the United States when she was six years old. “It’s not just hope in which we believe,” she said. “It’s new hope. My father always told me that when you fall down you get pick yourself up again and again. Like all Koreans he wants to see reunification. He’s an eternal optimist. That’s why he started New Hope Church.”
She also stays in touch with former congressman Mr. Rangel. “Just yesterday I called him. It was his birthday. I wrote five bills while working for him. We wanted to have the POWs and MIAs returned in 2013 and encouraged peace and unification. We share the same heart and vision of reunification.”
Although she admitted facing a wall of skepticism about the prospects for peace for more than a decade, she added that “Even when I began it wasn’t too farfetched – remember the New York Philharmonic Orchestra went to Pyongyang in 2008. At that time I wrote an article that we cannot become too complacent.”
“For almost 70 years there have been ups and downs,” she added. “When leaders change situations can change, policies can change. We have to keep pushing. It’s not just the leaders who determine our fate, our own futures. So I am guardedly optimistic, but I’m not complacent and I’m not just hoping for it. I keep calling for it. That’s why we have tomorrows.”
Before departing for Greenville, S.C., the latest city on her nationwide tour, she said that she places her hopes on her generation to bring about permanent change on the peninsula. “It will be up to the younger generation who can adapt more rapidly. Young people are quick to learn new ways. I’ve been working with hundreds of college students and young professionals and it will be the diaspora all over the world that will make the change.”
Ms. Kim may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about Remember 727, which she founded, click here.