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[Korean War anniversary] Korea needs to plant a culture of honor, veterans chief says

June 24, 2024 - 15:33 By Kim Arin
Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Kang Jung-ai poses for a photograph during an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday at the ministry’s Seoul office in Yongsan-gu, Seoul. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Kang Jung-ai, South Korea’s minister of patriots and veterans affairs, says building a culture of remembering and honoring the people who fought for Koreans and their freedom is “what our country needs.”

“Honoring veterans goes far beyond giving them compensation and benefits. Thanking and respecting the people who served our country should be a part of our national identity and treasured value,” she said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday.

“Yes, we provide compensation to these men and women, medical and welfare support and burial in national cemeteries with the full military honors,” she said.

“But the act of remembrance shouldn’t be for special occasions only -- I think it is something that needs to be embedded in our culture.”

As the daughter of a Korean War veteran herself, the minister said it was not until relatively recently that Korea began appreciating the sacrifices of veterans in the official domain.

“From around 2002, we have taken steps to expand the legal recognition of veterans as well as their access to benefits and care,” she said. “Last year, this office was elevated to a ministry to enhance support and services for veterans.”

As the Korean War marks its 74th anniversary, the minister rued the war heroes fading in the memories of Korea’s younger generations.

She said that teaching younger Koreans about the history of the 1950-53 Korean War and the dedication of the veterans in defending the country was “the spiritual infrastructure of our future.”

“When we say patriotism, it sounds very grand. Patriotism, at the end of the day, is about loving our community and our neighbors,” she said.

“There is no better way to teach our youth about the love of community, and neighbors than to teach them about the history of war and veterans. That I think is the most valuable investment we can make in our future.”

She said that under her leadership, the ministry has simplified the process of applying to be recognized by the government as people of national merit.

“We have to make sure the people who lost their lives or suffered injuries while serving our country, and their families can receive the support that they need as soon as possible,” she said.

Upon being registered, the minor children of fallen heroes are eligible for government support in education, employment and health care, she explained.

She said honoring veterans was a “time-sensitive project.”

“The soldiers who fought in the war to protect this country and their loved ones have now grown gray hair, and many of them have passed away,” she said. “There’s not much time left to honor and pay tribute to them for what they had done for us.”

She said over her time as minister, she also aimed to increase exchanges with the countries that fought in the Korean War and the people who served.

“It is incredibly important to connect with the war veterans and their families, and make sure they are remembered and not forgotten not only in their country but also in Korea, and the rest of the countries that fought together,” she said.

“This is also about protecting the legacy of liberal democracy that we fought to keep safe.”

Kang says honoring Korean War veterans is also about protecting the legacy of liberal democracy. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Kang Jung-ae is the daughter of a veteran who fought in the 1950-53 Korean War. She was appointed to the top post at the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, becoming the second person to lead the government office since it was elevated to a ministry under the Yoon Suk Yeol administration. Prior to taking office, she was the president of Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul.