To Korea, with love
40th Infantry Division continues close bond with South Korean Communities
Story by Sgt. Simone Lara
40th Infantry Division Public Affairs
Courtesy photos by Sgt. Hunter
United States Army Public Affairs
March 15, 2023
LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. – “Honorable guests, ladies and gentlemen, and most especially the graduating students,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael Leeney, the commanding general of the 40th Infantry Division. “Thank you for allowing the 40th Infantry Division to participate here once again, as we remember the relationship forged between this great school and the Division almost 70 years ago during the Korean War.”
Leeney’s opening remarks seem typical for a graduation ceremony, however there is one very unique circumstance. He is addressing students and their families in the Gyeonggi Province of South Korea.
“It is important to the Division to keep this relationship going in order to remember the sacrifices made by Sunburst Soldiers on the Korean Peninsula all those years ago,” said Leeney. The enduring partnership honors those Korean Veteran Division Soldiers with this momentous occasion.
Leeney was the guest speaker for two high school graduations in that province this past January, continuing a seven decade-long relationship between their community and the Sunburst Division.
“As we remember that conflict now, we also still long for the day when Korea will be unified under a government in which its people are free,” said Leeney. “The 40th Infantry Division is very proud to have served with the Republic of Korea Army during the war, and to have helped rebuild this school, and we continue to this day to be committed to recognizing these distinguished graduates as they move forward with hope and commitment for a brighter tomorrow.”
The 40th ID has long celebrated its contribution in the Korean War and enduring relationship to assist the civilian population following the conflict. At Joint Forces Training Base, the 40th ID’s Headquarters, the building features numerous museum displays of photos and artifacts from historic moments when the Sunburst Division was in Korea.
Among its most cherished items are those that tell the story of Gapyeong High School and Kwan-In High School.
“The 40th Infantry Division is very proud to have served with the Republic of Korea Army during the war, and to have helped rebuild this school, and we continue to this day to be committed to recognizing these distinguished graduates as they move forward with hope and commitment for a brighter tomorrow.”
In 1950, President Harry S. Truman activated the 40th ID to respond to the invasion of South Korea by North Korea. The Division participated in the battles of Sandbag Castle and Heartbreak Ridge, suffering nearly 360 fatalities.
In 1952, Maj. General Joseph Cleland, then Division commander, witnessed Korean children studying under a tent after their school had been destroyed. Cleland led an effort to collect a $2 donation from each of his soldiers which funded the building which is now Gapyeong High School.
“The construction of these schools during the Korean War was something not required by a higher headquarters, but ultimately a ‘labor of love’ by the 40th ID to instill hope for the future in the youth of Korea, specifically in the area the Division was fighting in and for,” said Leeney. “The schools, and the cities in which they reside, rely on this continuing relationship to preserve that hope, while also acknowledging and remembering the historic and ongoing U.S. commitment to the people of South Korea."
Following the ceasefire in 1955, the 40th ID also funded the building of Kwan-in Middle School and High School.
Like the JFTB Headquarters in Southern California, both schools feature displays with photographs, gifts and artifacts chronicling their founding and long-term friendship with the 40th ID.
In 2014, Gapyeong High School unveiled the Kaiser Hall Museum to much fanfare. Kaiser Museum was named after Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Kaiser, the first soldier from the Division to be killed in action during the conflict.
A representative from the 40th ID, including veterans and family members of the fallen, have continued to visit the schools nearly every year for their graduation ceremonies since 1953.
After this year’s graduation ceremony concluded and an official photo was taken with the principal and local government officials, one of the high school graduates approached Leeney.
“He asked if he and his parents could take a shot with me, which I whole heartedly agreed to,” said Leeney. “Then, another asked, and then another, and before I knew it there was a long line of graduates and their families waiting to capture that moment with the 40th ID Commander.” They were all so appreciative and grateful,” he said. “It was very humbling, quite frankly, but also very rewarding and fun for me, personally.”
Through the unbroken ties kept with these schools, the 40th ID demonstrates to each generation of Koreans that America, and specifically the 40th ID, is still committed to peace and security for South Korea and is always ready to come to their aid in times of crisis.
“The 40th Infantry Division stands with them, and with the entire Republic of Korea, in the shared dream of ongoing peace and prosperity on the Peninsula, but if there is ever another call for U.S. Forces to support our South Korean allies, rest assured that the 40th Infantry Division will answer that call,” said Leeney. “Congratulations to the graduating class, and all our best wishes for the future.”
“He asked if he and his parents could take a shot with me, which I whole heartedly agreed to. Then, another asked, and then another, and before I knew it there was a long line of graduates and their families waiting to capture that moment with the 40th ID Commander.”