Lt. Col. George S. Crockatt, a representative of U.S. Forces Korea, and commander of the 837th Transportation Battalion, gives a word of honor to Kim, Duk-hyung and his son for burying 11 fallen U.S. Airmen 72 years ago and maintaining their memorial. (Photo by U.S. Army)
USAG DAEGU, South Korea -- Every fall when the leaves begin to turn and the air takes on a chill, one man sets about his work in honoring the memory of 11 fallen U.S. Airmen by keeping a promise his father made more than 70 years ago. This year, the Namhae memorial ceremony was held on Nov. 3 in Namhae County, marking its 72nd anniversary since 1945.
On Aug. 7, 1945, during the colonization of Korea by the Japanese and just 8 days before the end of the war in the Pacific, a U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 'Liberator' bomber from the 868th Bombardment Squadron departed from Okinawa to conduct an armored search from Hwa-do Island near Jeju up the southeastern coast of Korea to Busan and back to Okinawa. The plane never returned. Instead, the bomber, piloted by Lt. Edward Mills Jr. crashed into the side of Mangwoon mountain, a 3000-foot peak on Namhae Island.
Kim, Duk-hyung, who was working as a civil servant for the Namhae County government at the time, joined Japanese and Korean laborers in climbing the mountain to strip the site of usable parts, but upon discovering that no one intended to inter the men, Kim took it upon himself to bury them, gathering as much identifying material as possible before stacking a mound of rocks atop the grave and topping it with a pine cross.
The next day, when the Japanese police heard about the burial, Kim was arrested, confined and tortured. Fortunately, the war ended shortly thereafter on Aug. 15 and he awoke to an unlocked cell and an abandoned jailhouse.
In time, he informed the U.S. of the burial location and helped to repatriate their remains, bringing closure to family members who might otherwise never have known the fate of their loved ones.
As a tribute to their sacrifice, Mr. Kim raised enough funds by 1956 to erect a 12-foot granite monument atop Mangwoon Mountain, and by 1989, he had established a memorial hall in Namhae City. Kim held the ceremony each year from 1945 until his death in 2010 when his eldest son, Mr. Kim, Jong-ki, took over. He has continued to honor the tradition, stating "My father always told us the reason he continued this memorial. He emphasized the U.S. Soldiers' sacrifices which helped our country to be liberated from Japanese rule and protected our country from North Korea during the Korean War."
Lt. Col. George S. Crockatt, a representative of U.S. Forces Korea, and commander of the 837th Transportation Battalion, said in his memorial remarks "This occasion should remind all of us that freedom and peace must not be taken for granted."
The 11 Airmen were the only known casualties in Korea during World War II.