Sunday, July 15, 2007

Shin Kim laid to rest

WHITTIER – An Army general kneeled, holding out a tightly folded U.S. flag. A stocky man with an ashen face bowed and accepted the flag, a spent shell hidden in its folds.

On Saturday, men in uniform and hundreds of family and friends from Southern California's tightly-knit Korean community stood under the open skies of Rose Hills Memorial Park to honor Sgt. Shin Woo Kim, a 23-year-old medic from Fullerton. He was killed in Iraq June 28.

Kim's funeral was just a day apart from services for another 23-year-old Fullerton man, Shane Mikel Stinson, who died in Iraq June 23. Both men were killed in combat. Kim and three others were killed on patrol by makeshift explosives.

"I don't think people understand why Shin Woo joined the Army," said Tammy Cho, her voice breaking and words rising to the soaring beams of Sky Rose Chapel. "He wanted to appreciate his life more. He wanted to stay out of his comfort zone. Yes, Shin Woo tragically lost his life for his country. But he did it for his family."

Kum Ok Kim, Kim's mother, and Yoo Bok Kim, his father, sat in the front row, fighting tears. His brother, Josh Kim, 31, and his sister, Shinae Kim, 27, sat nearby, wearing green metal name tags with Kim's name.

Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1984, before his family immigrated. In 2002, he graduated from Sunny Hills High School. After attending Fullerton Junior College, he enlisted with the U.S. Army in January 2005. He was sent to Iraq in October 2006.

"He felt a real responsibility for this country," said Joanie Hinson, a counselor from Kim's high school.

Army Brig. Gen. Butch Tate flew in from Charlottesville, Va., to present Kim's family with his posthumously awarded honors: the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct, Iraqi Campaign and Global War on Terrorism Service medals.

"He responded to our nation's call for duty at the most demanding time," Brig. Gen. Tate said. Kim was also promoted to sergeant after his death.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted Kim U.S. citizenship to recognize his bravery and sacrifice to the country, said the department's representative, Jordan Rund. There are 40,000 non-citizens currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. During Operation Freedom, which includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 98 immigrants were granted citizenship posthumously.

As officials and family members spoke at the services, scores of volunteers from the Patriot Guard Riders stood outside, with U.S. flags, ready to escort the casket to the burial site nearby. Their leather motorcycle jackets were adorned with patches showing wars and branches of the military they served in.

Fullerton sent its fire chief and a fire crew to show the city's respect.

Evelyn Stinson attended Kim's services in the same black dress she wore a day ago at the funeral of her own son, Pvt. Stinson.

"I feel their pain and their sorrow," she said after hugging Kim's parents. "I have been wanting to grieve with parents of soldiers."

Kim was buried on a hillside punctuated by other gravestones bearing Korean names. Soldiers fired three shots by his grave site. Family and friends released hundreds of white balloons and chanted, "See you again."

As funeral workers hauled yellowish soil and packed it to fill Kim's grave, his sister, girlfriend and scores of his childhood friends stood nearby, arrested by the eerie sight. The dust blew over their heads.

From the Orange County Register

Related Link:
Shin W. Kim dies 'of wounds sustained when his unit was attacked in Baghdad by insurgents using improvised explosive devices'