Colonel Young Oak Kim

Young Oak Kim t a time when Japanese Americans were being interned as enemy aliens, this Corean American forsook a safe assignment to fight with the all-Nisei 442nd/100th Regimental Combat Team. Kim earned the respect and love of his men with bold battlefield leadership and unflinching devotion. He is a shining symbol of Asian American unity when the chips were down.

     Colonel Young Oak Kim was born in 1919 in Los Angeles, California. His father's active participation in the Korean American Association of Hawaii gave Kim a strong sense of his Korean identity from an early age. After graduating Belmont High School in Los Angeles, Kim went from job to job, unable to hold any one successfully because of his ethnic background.

     In 1940 when war broke out Kim applied to the U.S. army but met rejection. The Congressional ruling of 1941 allowing Asian Americans to be drafted in the army turned things around for Kim and he was quickly drafted. For the first year and a half he worked as an engineer, but his exemplary service soon earned him a place in the Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He graduated in January 1943 and was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion—an all-Nisei unit. Kim refused to transfer to a different unit, stating: "There is no Japanese nor Corean here. We're all Americans and we're fighting for the same cause."

     The 100th Battallion quickly gained recognition under Kim. They were initially sent to North Africa but Kim requested to be assigned to the Italian front. His excellent map-reading skills and unwavering courage led to remarkable successes in what were considered impossible missions.

     In the critical Battle of Anzio the Allies needed to determine the location of German tanks in order to make the next move. Kim rose to the challenge. With the help of one private, and in broad daylight, Kim brought back two German soldiers who had been resting up for their evening watch. The information gained from the captives was crucial in deciding the Allied force's next step in breaking the Gustav Line and liberating Rome.

     Kim was injured in France and returned to Los Angeles for 6-month leave to recooperate. The European war was already over by the end his recovery. He quit the Army and decided to settle down. He opened his own "launderette," one of the first semi self-service laundramats of the day, but his success in business was no match for his deisire to fight for his country. In 1950 Kim abandoned his business to re-enlist in the Corean War.


     At the time Corean speakers or Corean Americans were ordered to work in the Army Security Agency. By favors and request, Kim was sent to East Asia where he pretended not to know the Corean language. He joined the infantry and saw Corea for the first time in his life.

     Kim was assigned to the 31st Infantry of the 7th Infantry Division as the Chief Intelligence Officer under William J. McCaffrey. Kim acted simultaneously as intelligence officer and operations officer, and soon after his arrival, the battalian once known for its incompetence, won nearly every battle it fought. Kim's unit established itself as the major contributor in shaping the Corean border and was the first unit to cross the 38th parallel.

     Ironically, a friendly fire incident was responsible for Kim's most serious injury. His unit was mistakenly bombarded by the 555th Artillery Battalion because of its suspiciously deep, northern position. This time it was luck instead of courage that saved Kim. He was rushed to doctors from Johns Hopkins University who were stationed in Tokyo. Kim returned to Corea after two months of recovery.

     Waiting for him was the commanding post of the 1st combat battalion of the regiment, making Kim the first-ever minority officer to command an Army combat battalion in U.S. history. Kim fought in Korea for nearly a year before returning to the states in September 1952l. Colonel Young Oak Kim died from cancer at the age of 86.

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