Chronicling an American Hero

A book signing for the just released Unsung Hero: The Story of Colonel Young Oak Kim, chronicling the life of the highly decorated veteran of World War II and the Korean War, will be held this Wednesday, June 1, at 6 p.m. at the Young Oak Kim Academy, 615 Shatto Place, in Los Angeles. The event, sponsored by the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California, Riverside, will also include the presentation of documentary on the life of the late Kim, with Unsung Hero author Woo Sung Han and other speakers on hand.

Unsung Hero is the English translation of Han’s Korean-language book The Beautiful Hero Young Oak Kim. The book will be sold during the event and can also be ordered online at or through the center at

KoreAm contributing editor Katherine Kim covered a press conference in May announcing the book’s release. Here is her story, which will appear in KoreAm‘s June issue, hitting newsstands soon:

It was a completely meta moment in early May at the Young Oak Kim Academy in Los Angeles’s Koreatown. A group of Latino middle school students, wearing green and white uniforms with the school’s name emblazoned across their chests, took photos at a book launch for a biography on Young Oak Kim, the U.S. military hero.

Adding to the self-reference? The publisher of Unsung Hero: The Story of Colonel Young Oak Kim is the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies. It is the first book published by the center, which opened last September at the University of California, Riverside.

The 370-page biography was written in Korean by award-winning journalist Woo Sung Han and translated into English by Dr. Edward T. Chang, the center’s director.

Chang said he hoped the book will serve as an important resource for English-speaking Korean Americans, “not only for reaffirming their identity, but also [to teach] the younger generation to work for social justice.”

The book details the battles that Kim fought in World War II, as a member of the famed U.S. 100th Infantry Battalion and the largely Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, as well as the Korean War. For his valor, Kim was awarded 19 medals, among them a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts. France and Korea also honored him with their nations’ top military decorations.

But Kim’s service to country did not end there. The final chapters of the book summarize his community work in establishing several nonprofit organizations, including the Korean Health, Education, Information and Resource Center, the Korean American Coalition and the Korean Youth and Community Center.

Marina Duff, the Young Oak Kim Academy’s teacher librarian, noted there is already an audience of readers anxiously awaiting its arrival at her school. “I’ve had students from all cultures come up to me and ask, ‘Hey, where is there a book on Young Oak Kim in English?’ This is our school. We honor him and talk about him at all of our assemblies. The students know his name and his background, but they want to read about him.”

The school’s principal, Edward Colacíon, added that he would like to see the book incorporated into the eighth-grade U.S. history curriculum. “It’s important that the kids here in Koreatown, in Los Angeles, learn about the contributions of Korean Americans, which have historically been overlooked.”

(Photo by Eric Sueyoshi)

This article appeared in the June 2011 issue of KoreAm.