On March 26, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland (WA-10) and Representatives Andy Kim (NJ-3), Young Kim (CA-39), and Michelle Steel (CA-48), the four Korean-American Members of Congress, led the introduction of a bipartisan bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Colonel Young Oak Kim in recognition of his extraordinary heroism, leadership, and humanitarianism.
“During a time when our community is facing a meteoric rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, it is especially important that we, as the four Korean-American Members of Congress, come together to recognize and uplift the many contributions of the Asian-American community to our nation – including the exemplary legacy of Colonel Young Oak Kim. Despite the barriers and racism he faced because of his heritage, Colonel Kim excelled in his service–both in our military, and in our communities as a veteran. He is more than deserving of this high honor as a military hero during both WWII and the Korean War, and as a steadfast community leader and humanitarian,” said Rep. Marilyn Strickland (WA-10).
“Col. Young Oak Kim exemplified service to our nation. He overcame the hurdles of systemic racism to bravely fight for his country, and spent decades making an impact on countless lives at home. His example is needed now more than ever as the AAPI community faces violence and discrimination. By passing this resolution, we show the incredible contributions of AAPI individuals like Col. Kim, whose legacy deserves to include this honor,” said Rep. Andy Kim (NJ-3).
“Col. Young Oak Kim bravely served in our country’s uniform from World War II, where he helped liberate Rome from Nazi control, to the Korean War, where he became the first minority officer to command a U.S. Army battalion. His service to our country and the Asian American community only continued further after his military service. I am proud to have called him a good friend, and remember his friendship and service each day, especially as we bear the same name. Just as Col. Kim told me to honor our name, our country and duty to public service, I am honored to be able to join this bipartisan effort to award him this belated and well-deserved Congressional Gold Medal,” said Rep. Young Kim (CA-39)
“Colonel Kim broke many barriers while fighting for our country, and he deserves this high honor. He saved lives and dedicated his entire life to serving others. I am proud to join my Korean American colleagues in Congress to introduce this bill and help get Colonel Kim the recognition and honor he deserves,” said Rep. Michelle Steel (CA-48)
Young Oak Kim was born to Korean American immigrants in Los Angeles in 1919. Upon the outbreak of World War II, Kim 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, Kim volunteered to infiltrate German territory to obtain information that helped lead to the liberation of Rome. Kim was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his valor.
Kim rejoined the U.S. Army when the Korean War began in 1950. As commander of the First 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, Kim became a civic leader. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Kim founded cultural centers and non-profits to serve the community’s pan-Asian immigrant community. Kim’s 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.
The contributions and leadership of Korean Americans are often overlooked by Congress. It is time to begin rectifying these omissions and award the Congressional Gold Medal to Colonel Young Oak Kim.