Korean War Legacy Project

Peter Y. Lee


Peter Y. Lee was born in 1949 in the southern part of Korea in the Cheonggyecheon Province. In 1972, he came to the United States and settled in Hawaii. In 1976, he was a minister, and by 1986, he joined the United States Army and became a Chaplain. He served in the army for 25 years and retired as a Colonel. Peter Y. Lee is now pastor at his Baptist Church, the All People Mission Church in Hawaii. He hosts yearly appreciation dinners for Korean War Veterans living in Hawaii, because he feels gratitude for their service in his birth country.

Video Clips

"God Blessed Korea Through the Americans"

This clip portrays Peter Y. Lee's extraordinary point of view about the Korean War and the soldiers who fought to rid South Korea of communism. As a child, during the Korean War, he recalls "bad war stories" and the gratitude felt by South Koreans for American intervention in the war. Peter Y. Lee conveys the devastation of an impoverished country, in the years after the war, with recollections of hunger, and the constant question of when one's next meal would come. The now thriving contemporary South Korea is worlds away from the Korea he was born into, and he credits the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the Korean people.

Tags: Communists,Fear,Food,Poverty

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

P:         Uh, I born in 1929 in southern part of Korea called, uh, Cheonggycheon Province.  Then I grew up in [Seoul, Korea], and then I came to the, uh, United States 1972, uh.  Then, um, I became a minister 1976, and since then I was pastor full-time and then 19, uh, 86 I joined the military as a Chaplain.


And then, uh, I called and India [INAUDIBLE] Technician.  Now official title is, uh, Missionary to the U.S. Army from [Southern Baptist Commission], and since then I worked 25 years [INAUDIBLE]  I retired last year as a Colonel 25 year service in the Army.  In the same time, I pastoring the, uh, local Korean Baptist Church.

I:          Baptist church.

P:         [INAUDIBLE] Hawaii.

I:          How about your family?


P:         We have , uh, one daughter and two sons.

I:          Um hm.

P:         And then, uh, a daughter, she graduated the first time after she, uh, takes the Master Program.  Now she’s working over here for the, the United States Investigates, uh, Investigator.  And then my son is a teacher intermediate school.  The youngest one, he just graduate Boston College, and now he’s competing to be a


full time missionary to, to Africa.
I:          Ah, that’s very nice.  So when did you come to Hawaii?

P:         Nineteen seventy-two July.

I:          Nineteen seventy-two July.  And since then, you’ve been serving as a pastor in the military, right?

P:         From ’76 years.

I:          From ’76.  So you must have a lot of relationship with Korean War veterans.

P:         Yes.

I:          Since most because Hawaii was the center of the, yes.

P:         Yes, indeed.


Uh, especially I’m not sure what year.  But one day I saw the newspaper, uh, some of the people from Korea, they tried to destroy the, uh, statues of, uh, MacArthur, General MacArthur.  And I was so upset about it.  And then I said well, that is totally, you know, few guys, uh, you know, [INAUDIBLE] to the Communist party they are doing that kind of a thing.  Well, thinking t hat kind of stuff.  But not a majority  Koreans.  So I


called, uh, my sister and pastor and then asked him to look for the, uh, Korean Veteran in Hawaii.  And then I invited my church, and then about 120 people showed up at night, and then, uh, we had a nice dinner and t hen a program of dance and music and all kind of uh, uh, programs, singing and song.  So it was such a good time.  And t hen I tell them, uh, a few people in Korea, they are such a, a, they have


[INAUDIBLE] against American.  I came here to, uh, express my, uh, gratitude to them all, Korean veterans especially because of their sacrifice, I believe Korea is the state it is.  And, uh, personally because of their service, I became a U.S. Army Chaplain, and then I became a Colonel, uh, because of their sacrifice.  So I said, you know, thank you to them and that I appreciate for them, and since then every year I’m, having the


same kind of program, uh.  One time may be more than 50, uh, singing groups and some time, uh, last year we had a, a dancing group and singing group, all different people come from different part of the, uh, church and then, uh, we made a  program with, uh,   And we’ve  had a appreciation dinner like that.  So  that’s why I have kind of a close relationship [INAUDIBLE]

I:          Hm.

P:         But now I’m also a veteran, too.  Yeah.

I:          Yeah.


Definitely the Korean Church played central role, uh, connecting the Korean War veterans and Korean populations wherever in the United States, and that’s very nice  So you regularly do provide some kind of programs

P:         Yeah, yeah.  I’m, I’m doing the once a year, um, major program.  But, uh, not only that because of that, sometime we have a Canadian, some other programs coming up.  So like months ago the, uh, Korean Council General, uh, the office, they provide us a movie.


They have, uh, such a nice Korean  movie.

I:          Um hm.

P:         So there is some lot of people now in Hawaii.  They like a Korean culture movies and so on.  So they invite our church to have a movie day.  And then they showed the movie and we provided [INAUDIBLE] as well

I:          Um hm.

P:         So they have such a good time.  And so I encouraging to, uh, when they go to a different city to talk to different pastor, Korean pastors, to introduce my program and then I tell them, encouraging them to, to develop the same kind of programming for the Korean War veterans.


I:          Could you say the name of your church that you are now pastoring now?

P:         Yeah.  My church name is All People Mission Church.

I:          All People Mission Church.

P:         Yes.

I:          Yes.  Um let’s go back to the period of Korean War.  I, I just heard that you born in 1949.

P:         Yes.

I:          So you may not have

P:         Memory

I:          memory

P:         I just heard about, lot of stories.

I:          Where were you when the Korean War broke out?

P:         Uh, in [Chunam]

I:          [Chunam]

P:         Yeah, middle part of, uh, southern part Korea.
I:          Um hm.


P:         I was a baby

I:          Baby.

P:         Yes.  Uh.  But, uh, when, as we grew, uh, we just listened to the, all the war story from the, you know, first, uh, eyewitness in the general, uh, [INAUDIBLE] generation.  So, so that, uh, how, uh, you know, she is the [INAUDIBLE] how bad, how many people killed, how they killed, you know, all kind of, uh, bad war story.  Uh, but, you know,  that is such an awful time for Korean, uh,


you know, people.

I:          So after the Korean War 1953, I think you were in kindergarten and elementary school and those, went to the middle school, what was the life at the time?  How as it?  How, for our economy was and how was daily life?

P:         Uh, in my memory, uh, Korea at the time was, uh, so poor and, you know, hardly, many families, uh, had to,


to have a three meal for the, that was the main concern, uh, was the next meal, uh, when it’s coming for the next meal, what kind of a food you gonna have.  So everything was, uh, uh, based in, uh, assist the human being.  And mainly it’s like what’s gonna be for next meal.  That  is main, main kind of question, uh, many times.  So that was kind of a common people, uh, of Korea at the time.

I:          So what do you think the


important contribution that Korean War veterans made for what Korea is right now.  As we all know, Korea is 13thlargest economy in the world and so powerful in terms of the information technology and substantial democracy’s been achieved.  What is the legacy that you think the Korean War veterans contributed to what Korea is right now?

P:         You know, there, because of the personal belief and what I have experienced in history,


uh, personally Korean people in general, they’re in debt to the American people.  Personally, I believe, uh, Korea became a independent country, uh, from the Japanese, uh, occupation because of the, uh, uh, power and sacrifice of the American people.  In Korean War time, the nation saved


by, from the Communist party, uh, because mainly of the sacrifice of the young, uh, peoples like Americans.  And more than that, more than 110 years ago, the first missionary came to Korea from America.  So personally I believe

I:          Uh huh,

P:         Spiritually and in many other ways, uh, we adapt to the Americans.

I:          Um hm.

P:         So personally, uh, somehow God gave me the vision and, uh,


we had to pay back to, for their love.  So that was one of my kind of a theme or my, uh, dreams as a pastor

I:          Um hm.

P:         to come to this country.  And, uh, I believe that, uh, we should pay  back for their love.  We cannot pay back actually.  But, uh, we have to know, uh, why this thing happened.  But not, because we’re not American but, you know, build Americans or politics or history, I believe in God’s hands was there.


God has some master plan for the future because God knows what can happen to the [Americans] and when this country, uh, so rich and became powerful and a super power or whatever, and somehow any country in history they’re, you know, one time is strong and then, uh, the other time is not strong.  And there is so much problem in this country, and then God bless Korea and through the  American, now God sent many Korean to this country


to bless them, to pay back their love so that, uh, I wanna contribute something to this society, uh, whatever I can.  And, uh, so that, you know, that is my heart.  I mean, this is what I wanna do, uh.  That’s the reason I wanted to join the, uh, Chaplain’s [INAUDIBLE]

I:          Um hm.

P:         thinking that I wanna pay back to their love, a soldier who came to Korea and sacrificed their life, their lives and so on.  So, you know, I do the same thing to the Army of the people.

I:          Um hm.


P:         And now I’, I’m American also anyway.  I’m an American Korea.  So yeah.

I:          So when you were growing up in Korea, were there any relationships that you had with, uh, American soldiers or any other American missionaries?

P:         I never had any relationship.  But, uh, we have a lot of good missionary friends and pastors.  We work together side by side in the church.

I:          I heard that there are about 220 Korean War veterans live around the islands here in Hawaii.


P:         Yeah.

I:          And according to your experience, how do they live here?  Are they, there are many people wounded?
P:         Uh well, you know,

I:          Suffering from the, uh,

P:         Yes.  Many people, uh, they are still suffering, not only, only the mentally but physically.  They, they have a wounded soldiers and they are, uh, uh, you know, they are scarring still there, and there are a lot of peoples like that.


And unfortunately, uh, a lot of people are getting older now.  So when I have a first dinner we have like 120, uh, people and then, uh, next year may be 100, maybe, every year the decrease the number.  So last year we had only about 70 people.  So I  feel sorry, upset about that because a lot of people, they call m e and said, uh, I really wanna go, uh, your dinner but, uh, I’m too old.


I can’t see.  I cannot move.  I cannot drive, whatever.  So all kind of reasons.  So.  Getting people, getting old.

I:          Hm.  And are they well off here in terms of living qualities and so on, and do they have a, um, appropriate medical service from the, from the government?

P:         Yes.  Uh, because we, we have a, the, uh, all the Headquarters in [Cascade] um, Navy,


uh, Army, Air Force and Marine and, uh, we have a big hospital, troop hospital, middle of here [INAUDIBLE]

I:          Um hm.

P:         So yeah, we’re here, taking care of the veterans.

I:          Um hm.  So before we having interview, uh, we had a chance to look at the Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial that was completed by the 15th of December last year.  It was funded by the Ministry of Patriots and, uh, Veterans Affairs of Republic of Korean Government.


P:         Um hm.

I:          And the, one of the main, uh, goal is to preserve Korean War veterans history

P:         Yes.

I:          in the form of interviews and, um, digitize and put it into data form of the artifacts that they brought from Korean War.

P:         Um hm.

I:          What did you think about this, uh, website and, uh, just


P:         uh, was thank you, uh, personally and then, uh, somebody for things that collect all the history and, uh, preserve, that is a really good thing.  Uh, last year I went to the, uh, uh, [INAUDIBLE] morning a, I mean, uh, the morning breakfast meeting, the, uh, veterans meeting.

I:          Um hm.

P:         And the one, uh, gentleman, and he’s like a second generation Korean, and he was entering the people. So I asked him whatcha doing and he said, uh,


before they get passed away, uh, I would like to collect some information from them.  So he was kind of recording, uh, individually their story to the, you know, recording.  So that was interesting.  And then, I don’t know how far he goes, and then I believe that he went to the, individually many people and listened, listen to their story and how they fought the war, where, you know, they were and all kind of story.  So that was interesting.  And then, uh, somebody, uh,


thinking that individually, uh, they, you know, kind of the importance of history and wanna preserve and do something like that, and that was great.  And then I mentioned today the profession that I, uh, appreciate for your effort.  And then I saw the website, and that’s great, uh.  We should, a lot of people didn’t know.  A lot of people said that’s Forgotten War.  But, you know, that is, uh, one of the most, uh, important war in history for American soldiers as for Korea.


So maybe, uh, somebody put together and then, um, let them get to know, uh, what is happening in history.

I:          Hm.

P:         So that we have to, we have to prevent the future [INAUDIBLE]

I:          One of the emphasis of this Korean War Veterans is to memorial is to, to inherit, to give this, uh, lessons of the Korean War in the form of Korean War veterans interview and their artefacts to our future generations.

P:         Yes.

I:          So your point about this


young Korean student.  Was he student ?

P:         I believe so, yeah.

I:          Um hm.  And we want to build that kind of relationship so that they can collect this interviews and artifacts from Hawaii

P:         Yes.

I:          and work with us collaborating with us so that we can add more data into the Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial.

P:         Maybe I will give him the information, the President, uh, Mr. Hong and if he knows the person and can contact him and collect all of the


information with you.

I:          That will be great.  Great.  Um, I have, uh, young student, Korean students born in America, but she was, uh, she is Korean, and she’s been watching what I have been doing with, uh, Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial.  So she is very concerned, and I think she has some questions about, uh, the, your, your view and perspective about


the Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial.  So, uh, let me turn this mike to Hemin Hahn, right?
H:        Yep.

I:          Yes.

H:        Yes.

I:          Could you ask a question to Reverend Lee?

H:        Um, I don’t have that many questions.  But one of the things I wanted to know was, um, how do you want us younger people, the next generation, to view the Korean War, and what do you want us to think about it?


P:         Okay.  There, uh, the history, we have to learn from the history of why the Korean War is forgot and then, uh, why is so many different place they have still the wars going on.  And, then, we understand more deeply about the human, you know, being history.  So we try to prevent, uh, that kind of tragedy for the future if we can.  So that’s one, one of the main thing, to learn from the history and, uh,


prevent, uh, tragedy of [INAUDIBLE]

H:        Okay.  And, um,

I:          [INAUDIBLE], introduce yourself and ask any questions you have with regard to Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial and his opinions about it.

J:         Um, my name is Jennyun Hahn and, uh, I’m, I was born in 1999.  I’m a seventh grader, and

I:          What school?



J:         [INAUDIBLE]  And, um, how do you think the future of Korea’s gonna go on?

P:         You know, the, uh, 1969 I believe, I spent a lot of time in prayer, uh, in the mountains.  They have a lot of prayer mountains in Korea.  So like, uh, almost a year I spent time in the mountains, stay there


and, uh, meditated, [INAUDIBLE] futures, Bible and prayed, uh.  That’s all I needed in the whole, whole one year.  And God spoke to my heart clearly, uh, go down the mountain.  He doesn’t want me to stay the mountain, and you have to go down to the people committee and, and, uh, God told me that either I use the Korea for a world, and I said, you know, in Korea it is so poor all the time, uh.


But then [INAUDIBLE] power, what are you gonna do for the world?  I  mean how can we reaching up the world?  But God spoke to me very clearly.  God gonna do using the Korea.  Anyway, I came down. [INAUDIBLE] and, uh, I said to them this is a time God’s sending us to send out to the world.  So all Christian, the young generation, we have to training, we have the [INAUDIBLE] then we had to reaching out to the world


as a, you know, sending out the mission and so on.  Uh, we have about  more than, we, we, we call Thursday prayer meeting with 100 to 200, uh, student came every night [INAUDIBLE]  A lot of people, uh, have a doubt and they’re questioning, one of the main questioning was that it’s okay to have a big dream and vision.  But practicality, you know, let’s talk about Korea situation.  Financially we are poor.


Politically we don’t have any power.  How can we have a resource to reaching out to the world?  Then I said I don’t know.   But God, if God wanna do it, he can do anything.  So let’s pray about it, uh.  So we prayed for the all different nations and so on.  And then, uh, then after that I had to go to serve in the Korean Army so I draft.  So I went to the Army, and after a, a, discharge from the Army, I came to the State, and then about, you know,


[INAUDIBLE] year, almost 40 year now, and now when I go back to visit Korea, I cannot believe myself, uh, you know.  There’s so much, all the advance, all the technologies and all the economy and all the party, so much of, you know, grow up.  And more than that, uh, after 100 years of Korean history, now they are second largest country in the world setting up a mission on [INAUDIBLE]


I:          Um hm, yes.

P:         Korea, in any case, it’s the number one.  I keep praying that, I keep praying Lord, how ca you come and bless this country so we can send a mission to the world.  That’s a number one country in the world.  But now Korea is the second, uh.  They are sending a lot of missionaries for, for work.  And I asked them where you get the money because I was in their military.  I didn’t go to Korea.  I didn’t have any news from Korea.  I just cut off and t hen I living the, uh, American society.  So I didn’t know much about Korea,


how they developed.  And then, uh, 1996 I believe, and somebody told me that, you know, 2000, uh, 10,000 people they coming to visit the, you know, travel [INAUDIBLE], and I said what?  Where they have the money?  And then I said what, what country you came from, and they said, they asked me, you know, I don’t know what’s going over there.  And then I reached the Korea, and then I opened my eyes and kind of a shock.  I said wow.


Look at this.  In a short time, like, uh, 30 years, really upside down, Korea is a really not a true country anymore.  They are rich country.  I mean rich than anybody else.  And, and they are living a standard or whatever, it’s more, much higher than, uh, our standard.  That’s wow.  And not only that, any [INAUDIBLE] so  much in technology and so on it’s, uh, it’s unbelievable.  Amazing.   And then I, I, uh,


have experienced that when God gave us the vision and also God gave us the resource to fulfill God’s future.  So then, I talked to the young people, uh, searching the God’s vision for your life and then, uh, God’ll take care of the rest of it.

I:          Hm.  Great.  And one, at one point of this interview, mentioned about  the



importance of Korean War.

P:         Yes.

I:          And as we all know, it was the beginning of Cold War.

P:         Um hm.

I:          And we are still divided country because of the Cold War etiology.

P:         Yes.

I:          So could you, um, share your view of the import, historical legacy of Korean War overall?

P:         Uh, actually the, that is the Korean rule,  But actually that is not only Korean War.  That is kind of a world war


because behind, uh, North Korea, there is uh, uh, China and the Soviet, all the either Communist country in the, behind them.  And then, uh, then, uh, for the Korean side, we have, uh, 16 country who, who came and sacrificed their life to support of our country.  So actually that is a Korean so-called rule but that kind of a world rule and I hope the, uh, they, uh, uh,


kind of a, uh, you know, the, uh, what they tried to do as, as history tells us it’s kind of a [INAUDIBLE]  So all the Communist party and the, getting weak and, uh, it’s no work any more.  So even China, they changed, they had, uh, transform, uh, their, you know, the party.  So, and even in Russia also.  So I believe in North Korea, very soon they have to change, they have


to transform.  Otherwise, they will die.  So I pray that, uh, in North Korea, uh, the, uh, the leadership to change, uh, for  better then so that somehow the indications for Korean Peninsula days are coming short.

I:          Um hm.

P:         I believe it’s gonna come soon.

I:          Um hm.

P:         Thank you for your effort, and thank you for all Korean War veterans.  God bless you.

[End of Recorded Material]