Korea 65 exhibit profiles: Nam Pyo Park and Johnathon Kupka

Korea 65 exhibit profiles: Nam Pyo Park and Johnathon Kupka

Last Thursday’s launch for the new Legacy Washington exhibit, “Korea 65: The Forgotten War Remembered,” was a great event that brought a large crowd to the Capitol.

You can watch TVW’s coverage of the exhibit launch here.

The exhibit explores the stories of 13 Washingtonians who experienced the Korean War in different ways, from U.S. soldiers who fought in the war, to a nurse who worked in a MASH unit, to Korean Americans who grew up in Korea during or after the war.

With the exhibit officially open, we’re continuing to highlight the exhibit subjects, the latest being former South Korean Major Gen. Nam Pyo Park and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Johnathon Kupka.

Legacy Washington Chief Oral Historian John C. Hughes wrote profiles on both men. Park’s profile can be read here.

Park was born in Korea in 1923. During his youth, Japan occupied Korea. As a teen, Park was allowed to attend high school in Japan. After graduating, Park passed rigorous entrance exams to attend one of top universities in Tokyo. On March 10, 1945, just months before Japan surrendered to the U.S. to end World War II, Park was still in Tokyo when American planes bombed the city, killing 100,000.

Nam Pyo Park in 1947.
Nam Pyo Park as a young Republic of Korea Army lieutenant after graduating from the Korean Military Academy in 1947. (Photo courtesy Nam Pyo Park)

After WWII ended, Park took a boat to Pusan and made his way to his hometown in North Korea before discovering his relatives were scattered in both halves of a newly divided Korea and throughout much of eastern Asia. He fled to the U.S. zone below the 38th parallel and won an appointment to the Korean Military Academy. Park was a young officer with the army of the Republic of Korea when North Korea invaded on June 25, 1950. During the war, he was a frontline soldier, becoming a colonel at 28.

In 1952, Park was selected to attend the U.S. Army’s Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He returned to combat in Korea early in 1953. By that July, an armistice was signed, ending the war and leaving Korea divided.

After the war, Park became deputy director of the Graduate School of National Defense, later serving as director of the ROK’s infantry training center from 1968 to 1970.

Major Gen. Park came to Washington state in the 1970s and quickly emerged as a leader in Pierce County’s growing Asian American community. He is the highest-ranking Korean Korean War veteran in the state. He was instrumental in raising money for the Korean War Memorial on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. Park, 94, and his wife live near Fort Lewis.

Kupka’s profile can be seen here. Kupka, 42, is the son of fellow exhibit subject Moonbeam Kupka and Michael Kupka. The younger Kupka grew up in Aberdeen and followed his dad’s footsteps by becoming a U.S. Army officer.

Lt. Col. Kupka at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall
Lt. Col Kupka (standing) with Sgt. Major Kenyatta Mack at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. (Photo courtesy Johnathan Kupka)

He’s the commander of the Headquarters Command Battalion at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall at Arlington, Virginia.

“Kupka’s steady progress up the chain of command has been propelled by exceptional soldiering, academic achievement and an instinctive ability to inspire teamwork. Kupka is a master parachutist, combat infantryman and survival school standout. He is steeped in the unconventional warfare skills required to earn the right to wear Ranger and Special Forces insignia,” Hughes wrote.

In 2015, Kupka was awarded a Ph.D. in political science. His dissertation explored the “warrior class” in the armed services and the way society perceives and stereotypes the military.

“My research set out to identify an issue that could become a real problem,” Kupka told Hughes. “I think the most danger from the warrior class mentality is to the potential fighting force. We no longer have a draft, so if Americans begin to think it’s all someone else’s responsibility; that someone else’s son or daughter will volunteer to take up arms and protect the nation, that’s a problem. And if different sectors of society, especially bright young people, don’t see the military as a viable career path, the problem intensifies.”

Legacy Washington, which is part of the Office of Secretary of State, produces exhibits and biographies about notable Washingtonians.


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