Sunday, August 19, 2001


From left, Kyle Kopitke, Sharon Har, James Ward
and Casey Choi, all board members of the National
Korean War Museum, and Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono
held a model of the proposed museum Wednesday
in front of the Korean War Memorial on the state
Capitol grounds. The facility is planned for the
Big Island in Kona near the Mauna Lani Resort.

Isle Korean War
museum urged

A fund-raising dinner will be held
to build support for the facility

In The Military

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Attempts are under way to commemorate the Korean War sacrifices of Hawaii veterans -- Hawaii had the largest number of deaths per population -- and those of the 33,000 other Americans who lost their lives.

After several unsuccessful attempts to build a National Korean War Museum on the mainland, organizers hope a proposed $6 million facility near Waikaloa on the Big Island's South Kona coast could be possible as part of the island's tourist attractions.

Kyle Kopitke, museum spokesman, said a fund-raiser will be held Aug. 29 at the Ala Moana Hotel to drum up interest in the museum.

Speakers at the fund-raising dinner will be Harley Coon, who was taken prisoner during the war and now serves as the national president of the Korean War Veterans Association; retired Marine Corps Gen. Ray Davis, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions in the Chosin Reservoir campaign; and Hiroshi Miyamura, another Korean War Medal of Honor recipient.

They will also speak at the Aug. 31 groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the proposed museum, located across Queen Kaahumanu Highway near the entrance to the Big Island's Mauna Lani Resort.

City Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jason Kim, one of the museum's 26 trustees, said tickets to the Ala Moana dinner are $30 and can be obtained by calling him at 957-0481. He said the event will be more than just a fund-raiser. "It's also to educate the public about what we are trying to do," Kim said.

The museum is not only about the American soldiers who fought in the war, Kim added, but also will feature Koreans who fought there and the civilians who were killed in the war.

"It also will feature the relationship that developed with the Korean-American community," Kim said.

Kopitke said the 14-acre museum is part of a 3,000-acre commercial, golf and housing project on land donated by John Baldwin to honor his father and his uncle, who fought on the Korean peninsula. He said the land is currently zoned agricultural and will need a special use permit from the Hawaii County Planning Committee.

Current plans call for opening the museum next summer to coincide with the state convention of Korean War veterans, which will be held in Hilo, Kopitke said. Apollo 11 astronaut and Korean War pilot Buzz Aldrin serves as national spokesman, and "M*A*S*H" star Jamie Farr is another national celebrity spokesman, Kopitke said. Other supporters include Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a Korean War veteran who donated $1,000 before he was named to the Bush Cabinet.

To hold down costs, Kopitke said plans now call for small modular structures.

"Rather than spend $15 million for one large museum building," Kopitke said, "we're looking at building a small South Korean village with 38 halls, each with a separate theme focusing on various elements of the Korean War.

"The museum will be very respectful and very dignified," Kopitke said.

The 38 halls are a reference to the 38th Parallel, which now divides North and South Korea.

The modular buildings will be solar-powered, and each building will be 15 feet by 20 feet.

The museum hopes eventually to construct a wall listing the more than 33,000 Americans who were killed in the 1950-53 Korean War and, later, the names of allied soldiers from South Korea and the 15 other countries that were part of the United Nations' forces.

Over the past four decades, Kopitke said, there were numerous unsuccessful attempts to build the museum in Utah and Honolulu.

Organizers also unsuccessfully tried this year to get state lawmakers to appropriate $3 million for the facility.

Kopitke said one of the reasons his backers decided to move the museum to Hawaii was because "they thought it would be a good way to help the tourism market."

"Also, we knew that Hawaii had the highest percentage of Korean War casualties and that it also had a large Korean-American population," he added.

Kopitke explained that of the 33,000 Americans killed in action, 456 were from Hawaii, and the ratio of Hawaii men killed in Korea to population was four times as large as it was for mainland soldiers.

Local Businessman Casey Choi, chairman of the museum's board of directors, said initial talks centered on placing the facility on the North Shore or in Waimanalo. He approached the South Korean government for financial support, as well as the Legislature.

"It wasn't until we got the donation of land that everything started, since we weren't able until then to get any big sponsor," said Choy, who moved to the islands from South Korea 18 years ago.

The Korean War, Kopitke said, has been described as "the first war America lost."

"Others call it the stalemate war," he added. "Most history books call it the 'forgotten war.'"

Now it is being called the "forgotten anniversary."

During this, the middle of the Korean War 50th anniversary, Korean War vets were hoping their side of the "forgotten victory" would finally be told.

"Sadly, it has been the year of World War II, of Pearl Harbor," Kopitke said. "When the remains of World War II soldiers are returned home, it is front page, but when the remains of Korean War soldiers are brought home, hardly anyone notices."

The association has a Web site at

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