Honoring Chambers County’s veterans from the Korean War

Published 12:36 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023

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OPELIKA, Ala. — Nine Korean War veterans from Chambers County were honored in an appreciation luncheon Monday afternoon at the Coca-Cola Event Center in historic downtown Opelika. The group included Edward Ray Anderson, Lanny Bledsoe, Leon Davis Brown, John Daniel, John Emfinger, Will Maples and Charles Pigg. Rev. Perry Duffey and Jasper Ussery were invited but couldn’t make it.

Most living veterans of the Korean War are in their late eighties or early nineties. It’s a number that dwindles each year. Ajin USA and Wooshin USA combined forces to say thank you for what these U.S. soldiers helped accomplish. Intervention by the U.S. and its allies in this early 1950s conflict prevented all of Korea from being communist ruled. Without such intervention, all of Korea would be like North Korea is today. While North Korea is widely regarded as undesirable, the south side is home to the Republic of Korea, which offers a comfortable way of life, bustling urban culture mixed with laid-back countryside and a reasonable cost of living. Companies like Hyundai, Kia and Samsung have a global presence. Hyundai and Kia in particular have had a huge impact on Alabama and Georgia.

Mr. Jung Ho Sea, CEO of Ajin USA and Wooshin USA, welcomed a huge gathering in the event center’s ballroom and personally thanked each Korean War veteran present for what they did during their service years. South Korea would not be the modern, progressive country it is today without the sacrifices made by the south Korean people and the allies that helped defeat the aggression from the north in the early 1950s.

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Mr. Sea was in a very happy mood. First of all, veterans of the Korean War were being honored, and he could tell the big crowd that Ajin and Wooshin have turned a significant corner. “We started here 15 years ago,” he said through an interpreter. “We are in the black now and making a lot of money. We’d like to return that to our employees and to the community.”

One impressive example of gift giving was to the local veterans recognized on Monday. Each will receive a custom-made refrigerator with large images of the U.S. and South Korean flags on the front and a large digital clock. The refrigerators are ultra nice and cost around $4,000 each.

“It’s a thank you gift for what you did when our country needed help,” Sea said. “I wish each one of you happiness and good health.”

Several Chambers County veterans of the Korean War who passed away in recent years were recognized and thanked for what they did. They include William Rogers, Bill Hayes, Charles Hall, Tom McDonald, Daniel Mason and Mack Lett. A moment of silence was held to remember them.

Special guests present included Chambers County Commissioner Sam Bradford, Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA) Board President Bruce Emfinger, Executive Director Valerie Gray, Deputy Director Chris Busby and Project Manager Ansley Emfinger. The CCDA has worked diligently with industries like Ajin and Wooshin to locate in Chambers County and to assist them with their continuing needs.

The Atlanta Cello Ensemble played beautiful music while the food was being served. Lunch included a house salad with Ranch and Balsamic dressing, parmesan crusted chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, Southern-style green beans, rolls with butter and bread pudding with creme Anglaise.

Blue Suede, an Elvis tribute band from Marietta, Georgia, provided the early afternoon entertainment. Elvis Presley was very popular in the 1950s, the era when Korean War veterans came of age. Like them, Elvis served in the military during that decade. He was in the U.S. Army from 1958-1960 and was stationed in Germany.

Howard Schulz, the lead singer for Blue Suede, talked about Elvis’ years in the Army and performed “G.I. Blues” and “the Frankfurt Special,” two songs he recorded during that period. Singing into a hand-held mike, Schulz worked the crowd doing perfect renditions of Elvis’ famed love songs such as “Love Me Tender,” “I Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” On stage with the band he did more lively numbers such as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Maybelene.”

The Daegun Students, a Korean boys choir, took to the stage to do a well received version of “Suwanee River.”

At the end of the program, David Wilkerson of Ajin presented a plaque of appreciation to the Korean War veterans. Lanny Bledsoe accepted it on behalf of the group.

The veterans seemed to enjoy the program and appreciate some much deserved praise for doing what the cause of freedom and democracy needed in a time of much uncertainty.