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Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 11:11pm
GAPYEONG, South Korea — Veterans from the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division returned to the school they helped to build here for the opening of a museum that chronicles the 62-year relationship between the school and the division.
Accompanied by 40th Infantry Division Deputy Commanding General for Maneuver Brig. Gen. Mark G. Malanka, the veterans received a hero's welcome at the opening of the Kaiser Hall Museum and at the school's graduation ceremony, Feb. 7.
Gapyeong High School Principal Han Byung-heon thanked the veterans and said that the students voted to the name the museum after Los Angeles-native Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Kaiser, the first 40th Infantry Division Soldier to die during the Korean War.
"The U.S. came to our country and shared our suffering during the Korean War," said Han. "They are the only people and country that gave us the chance to have such a great school."
American Soldiers from the 40th Infantry Division took part in some of the fiercest fighting of the Korean War, including the Battles of Sandbag Castle and Heartbreak Ridge. In 1952, the division defended Gapyeong, a strategic town located along the mountainous eastern flank of the South Korean capital city of Seoul.
Then division commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Cleland, saw more than 150 South Korean students studying in a tent near artillery fire. The general decided that the students needed a real school. His Soldiers donated $2 each to the school and the division helped with its construction.
South Korean school officials originally wanted to call it the Cleland School but the general insisted that they name the school after Kaiser.
The division's relationship with the school continued after the Korean War. After Cleland retired from the Army, he also donated part of his pension to the Kaiser School.
Today, the 40th Infantry Division maintains its 62-year relationship by returning to the school each year and donating scholarships to its students.
Much like the rest of South Korea in the six decades since the brutal war, Gapyeong High School has flourished and excelled. The school that started in a tent now graduates 900 students a year and is one of the top five high schools in South Korea.
Korean War veteran Dave Pressey presented a plaque to Principal Han on behalf of the 40th Infantry Division Veterans Association.
A former infantry Soldier from Ojai, Calif., Pressey came ashore at Incheon and fought in the Taebaek Mountains during the Korean War.
"The Korean people have risen from the ashes," said Pressey outside the new museum that honors his division's six decade relationship with the school. "They're fantastic."