UCLA Honors Veterans With Ceremony in Wilson Plaza

Photo by Christopher Hoo

Being the only woman in a platoon of men in the Afghan desert had its challenges.

And, being the sergeant responsible for keeping those men alive in an area of conflict was, at times, life-threatening.

“It wasn’t about dying myself, but planning to try and not get my soldiers killed,” said Yun Hee Kim, now a law student at UCLA.

Kim, who is a member of the distribution company in the California Army National Guard, was one of the guest speakers for UCLA’s Veterans Day ceremony on Friday. The ceremony is an annual event held by the university to honor UCLA students, alumni, faculty and staff who have defended the nation through their military service. The event took place in Wilson Plaza with about 100 attendees.

Recalling her undergraduate years at UCLA in her late-twenties, Kim said she had more trouble acclimating to life as a student than she did to life as a soldier.

“After having been trained to think about others, it was really difficult to do everything for myself,” Kim said. “It was hard to find what my motivation was.”

Kim first enlisted in the military at the age of 18, looking for new experiences.

“At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just wanted to jump out of airplanes,she said.

Serving in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 near the city of Khost, Kim’s platoon’s mission was to clear the roads leading to the Pakistan border of planted bombs.

“We were the first ones (on those roads), so the first ones to find the bombs,” Kim said.

Taliban ambushes could follow these planted bombs, Kim said.

According to Kim, platoons of American soldiers such as herself would leave the military base in the cold morning before the sun rose, work during daylight in the blistering desert, and return after the sun set.

“I see the military not as an institution, but as a group of people. I think about my soldiers, my battle buddies,” Kim said.

That kind of camaraderie is not uncommon for veterans, Kim added.

“(Members of the military) put themselves out there to represent and defend our country,” said Victoria Sanelli, military science’s department manager at UCLA.

Veterans Day is important because it remembers the efforts and the sacrifices that it takes to work in the military, said Air Force Capt. Eric Moore, the host of the Veterans Day ceremony, U.S. Air Force operations flight commander and assistant professor in aerospace studies at UCLA.

But for veteran James Klain, UCLA alumnus, staff retiree and guest of honor in Friday’s ceremony, Veterans Day does not have a particularly special meaning.

“I, in fact, have trouble remembering (the holiday),” Klain said with a laugh.

Klain, however, has several vivid memories of his time in the military — including one moment during the invasion of Guam, when he saw a U.S. officer lay on a nearby ship with his chest ripped open by a Japanese bombshell.

“That image stuck with me for a long time, even up until today,” Klain said.

Klain is a 92-year-old grandfather to 12 and great-grandfather to 6. He could not attend his own graduation from UCLA because he had to leave to train in the Navy in April 1933.

“I felt saved — I absolutely despised analytic geometry,” Klain said, laughing.

Klain served for 12 years in the military, three of which he served during World War II as a communications officer of the USS Egeria repair ship as the U.S. fought to recapture five Pacific Islands from the Japanese.

Apart from occasional reminders of the risks of their mission, Klain said his time working on the repair ships was fairly uneventful. Each day, if the ships survived without explosives being planted on their underwater layers, the ships would exchange movie reels with each other and screen them each night as entertainment for the crew, Klain said.

At the end of his service in 1945, Klain left for a civilian life running backstages in New York City theaters. After a year in New York, Klain was offered a job from UCLA as Royce Hall’s events manager. He remained at that position for 38 years.

For Kim, the nationwide celebration of Veterans Day distracts from what else can be done for veterans today, such as the quicker provision of soldiers’ benefits by the government after they leave service.

“I am grateful for the celebration and recognition, but it would be better to actively do something about the situation,” Kim said.

She added that she wishes that people would view and help veterans as regular people instead of just offering praise.

“At the base, we’re just people, ordinary people,” Kim said.


Originally published at dailybruin.com on November 12, 2013.

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