WASHINGTON — Reps. Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.), Andy Kim (D-N.J.), Young Kim (R-Anaheim), and Michelle Park Steel (R-Cypress), the four Korean American members of Congress, introduced a bipartisan bill on Jan. 27 to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Col. Young Oak Kim (1919-2005) in recognition of his extraordinary heroism, leadership, and humanitarianism.
“As the four Korean American members of Congress, it’s important for us to come together to recognize and uplift the exemplary legacy of Col. Young Oak Kim,” said Strickland. “Despite the barriers and racism he faced because of his heritage, Col. Kim excelled in his service, both in our military and in our community. He is more than deserving of this high honor as a military hero during both World War II and the Korean War, and as a steadfast community leader and humanitarian.”
“AAPI individuals’ enormous contributions to our country often go unknown or unrecognized,” said Andy Kim. “Col. Young Oak Kim has earned this recognition through exemplary service not only in uniform, but as a steadfast community leader. Passing this resolution would recognize Col. Kim’s impact on countless lives, resilience against systemic racism, and his bravery fighting for our nation. It would also help honor the many heroes and contributions of our Asian American community that deserve to be seen and celebrated.”
“Col. Young Oak Kim spent his long, full life defying the odds and giving back to our country and our Asian American community,” said Young Kim. “He was a dedicated military hero, from helping liberate Rome from Nazi control during World War II to commanding a U.S. Army battalion during the Korean War. His service only continued after his time in the military, and I feel so blessed to have called him a good friend and mentor.
“I am humbled to use my voice to honor him, just as he told me to honor our shared name, our country and duty to public service. I am glad that all Korean American members of Congress could come together to work to award him this belated and well-deserved Congressional Gold Medal.”
“Col. Young Oak Kim’s determination and courage is the epitome of the American spirit,” said Steel. “Through his service, Col. Kim broke barriers for generations of Asian Americans to follow his footsteps. Col. Kim is more than deserving of this honor and I am proud to join my colleagues in recognizing his public service and heroism.”
Young Oak Kim was born to Korean immigrants in Los Angeles in 1919. Upon the outbreak of World War II, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was denied because he was Asian American. Once Congress extended conscription to Asian Americans, however, Kim embarked on a remarkable military career. Among his courageous achievements, he volunteered to infiltrate German territory to obtain information that helped lead to the liberation of Rome. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his valor.
Kim rejoined the Army when the Korean War began in 1950. As commander of the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, he became the first officer of color in U.S. history to command an Army battalion on the battlefield. While in Seoul, Kim exemplified humanitarian leadership by leading his battalion to sponsor an orphanage of more than 500 children.
In 1972, Kim retired from the Army at the rank of colonel. Upon returning to Los Angeles, he became a civic leader. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he founded cultural centers and nonprofits to serve the community’s pan-Asian immigrant community. These institutions, including the Koreatown Youth and Community Center, the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, and the Korean Health, Education, Information and Research Center, continue to serve the community today.
He is also remembered as a leader of the mostly Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II as well as efforts to preserve the history of the Nisei soldiers through such projects as the Go For Broke Monument in Little Tokyo.
Strickland serves as a member of the House Armed Services Committee and is one of the first Korean American women elected to Congress, along with Steel and Young Kim, and the first African American to represent the Pacific Northwest at the federal level.