50 years later, a trailblazing local reporter gets her due


POSTED: Thursday, April 02, 2009

Star-Bulletin reporter Sarah Park recently was added to the Journalists Memorial at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., which honors newspeople who died while covering stories. Park was covering a tsunami on March 9, 1957, when the light plane she was in crashed in the ocean off Laie, killing her and the pilot. (See http://www.hsblinks.com/6c)


Sarah Park, how I aspired to be like her! Not as a writer or journalist, but as a fun-loving yet serious and honest person in dealing with reality. Sarah was the adviser/mentor for the Beta Beta Gamma sorority at the University of Hawaii when I was a freshman there in 1949. I remember so clearly that night she drove me home from one of our meetings in her sleek yellow convertible. The stars were out, the convertible roof was down and the soft tropical breeze passed through our hanging locks as we descended Maunaloa Heights. We sang along with the music from the radio ... “;Bangles and Beads”; ... all the way home. I sighed, saying I wanted to be like her. She laughed and said, “;Oh, you will do better. Keep studying hard.”;

Sarah disappeared after that evening. Later, I realized she was assigned to Korea in 1950. By the time she came back I had graduated from UH and moved on to San Francisco, New York and to Korea. But I never forgot her. In fact, she will be in my next book on Koreans in Hawaii, not because of her recent enshrinement in Washington, D.C. I had planned more than two years ago to highlight her because of two incidents relevant to the history of the Korean independence movement in Hawaii.

While covering the Korean War in 1950, Sarah happened to be in the area when Kim Koo, candidate for president of the Republic of Korea against President Syngman Rhee, was assassinated. Sarah was the first journalist at Kim Koo's side when he was shot. She did not see who shot him, but saw him bloodied. The country went into great mourning and there was much speculation as to who could have shot him.

Three years later Sarah noted this incident in an article. She said that she had happened to be called to meet Hawaii's Korean War soldiers at the same spot where Kim Koo was attacked three years earlier. She said it was strange to be there.

In the other incident, Sarah was in Korea when the first group of Koreans in Hawaii toured Korea at the personal invitation of President Rhee. They were treated royally because they were his followers in Hawaii. Later, at home in Hawaii, Sarah discovered and reported that members of Rhee's opposition organization were consistently denied visas to Korea and were further humiliated by being forced to be interviewed by Rhee's loyal followers before being allowed to go to the Consul General. Some of the opposition members relented and joined Rhee's church and organization in order to be permitted visas.

Sarah's mother was a follower of Rhee and had no problems regarding visiting Korea. It could be said that Sarah herself belonged to that camp, but she expressed disdain that the Koreans in Hawaii who belonged to the opposition group were denied visas, even though they had for years supported the independence movement.

Sarah, you are indeed an inspiration to all who believe in truth and righteousness. I am glad you are rediscovered.


Roberta Chang's first book, “;Koreans in Hawaii, A Pictorial History, 1903-2003,”; was published by UH Press; she is working on a second book about the the Korean independence movement. She lives in Honolulu.