South Korean Memorial Day — Remembering My Grandfather, General Chae Myung Shin

Korean National War Cemetery, my mother, and my grandfather (General Chae Myung Shin’s place of rest)

Today is Memorial Day in South Korea. My family sent me this picture of my grandfather’s grave at the Korean National Cemetery. I took a quiet moment of reflection this morning to thank him for crossing the 38th Parallel from North Korea as a young soldier to fight against the tyranny and oppression of Korean citizens. Sometimes I imagine how different life could be if my grandfather accepted North Korean’s President Kim Il Sung’s offer to stay in the North and command his troops. But he rejected his offer THREE times. Against all odds and in extreme danger, he recognized the brutality of a North Korean Communist regime and left everything behind, including his loved ones, to fight for democracy and equality in a completely war-torn country. He then went on to lead the entire Korean Armed Forces in Vietnam against another extremely oppressive and totalitarian regime and is recognized as one of the most courageous, strategic, and dedicated military leaders in the free world.

To get a sense of his integrity, as a retired general in Korea, his body could have been laid to rest in a 26.4 square-meter tomb reserved for the highest ranking military generals. But he requested the smallest grave option (3.3 square meters). Before his death, he told us he wished to be buried in a cemetery for rank and file soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. The Korean ministry opposed his wish saying there was no precedent. Three days before his death, my grandmother wrote a letter to the Korean President and she granted his last request. Growing up, I remember my grandfather visiting the cemetery and crying at the tombs of those who had served and fallen in Vietnam. It is the first time in the history of Korean armed forces for a general to be entombed at a graveyard for ordinary soldiers.

Thank you to all who fought under him in Korea (Skeleton Corps), Vietnam (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force), and all soldiers worldwide who fought in all and any Korean conflicts. Thank you for championing democracy and creating a better, free world for all of us. Thank you for your service and sacrifices, ladies and gentlemen.

South Korea, and I remember you today.

General and Ambassador Chae Myung Shin (채명신, 蔡命新; November 27, 1926 — November 25, 2013)

  • Second Lieutenant, Skeleton Corps (Korean War)
  • Commanding Officer of Republic of Korea Armed Forces (Vietnam War)
  • South Korean Ambassador to Sweden, Greece, and Brazil
  • Recipient of the Taegeuk Order of Military Merit
  • Recipient of the Hwarang Order of Military Merit
  • Honorary President of the Vietnam War Veterans Association of Korea
  • President of the Korea Taekwondo Association
  • Best grandfather ever
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