About Colonel Young Oak Kim
In 2016, the Council of Korean Americans (CKA) led diverse civic, political and military leaders from across the United States in nominating the late Colonel Young Oak Kim for a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States. Young Oak Kim’s extraordinary service in the United States Army and his compassion for the underprivileged and marginalized epitomize the meaning of public service and social justice. Kim’s legacy reminds us that all of us can be agents for positive change in society by lifting each other up.
Young Oak Kim was born in 1919 in Los Angeles. He was a decorated U.S. Army officer whose career included serving in the famed all-Japanese American 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II and becoming the first minority in U.S. Army history to command a battalion in combat, during the Korean War. For his extraordinary military service, Colonel Young Oak Kim was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, three Purple Hearts, two Legions of Merit, and several military commendations from foreign governments – Italy’s Bronze Medal of Military Valor and Military Valor Cross, France’s la Legion D’Honneur, and the Republic of Korea’s Moran Order of Military Merit.
In 1972, Young Oak Kim retired from the U.S. military and dedicated the remainder of his life to humanitarian work in his native Los Angeles.
As a civic leader, in his native Southern California, Young Oak Kim founded or served on the board of numerous pan-Asian nonprofit organizations that continue to thrive today. Kim’s vision and leadership birthed a wide range of organizations, including the Center for Pacific Asian Families; Go For Broke Educational Foundation; Korean Health, Education, Information, and Research Center; Korean American Museum; and the Japanese American National Museum.
Kim passed away from cancer in 2005 and is buried in the Punchbowl National Cemetery in Honolulu, Hawaii.
If selected, Young Oak Kim would have been the first Korean American to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom since it was established in 1960. Past recipients include Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
While Colonel Kim was not selected to receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom, CKA is proud to honor a Korean American hero whose legacy continues to inspire us to make positive contributions toward American society.