Korean MemorialKorean War & Korea Defense Service Veterans, Lake Co. (FL), Chapter 169















Freedom “seeds” planted over 60 years ago bear fruit in baseball series; but it was much more than just baseball. 

by Tom J. Thiel

Sixty years ago, more or less, we all left freedom seeds in Korea; in August 2014 we experienced first-hand some of the “the fruits of those labors."

From August 5-10, 2014, five games between baseball teams from the South Korean University Baseball Federation (KUBF) and the Florida Collegiate Summer League (CFL) were played in Sanford, Deland, and Leesburg, Florida.

The baseball alone was great.

But, Korean Vets got a first-hand glimpse of what they had preserved so long ago-Freedom for South Korea; Freedom to play the U.S. pastime, baseball!

All KWVA involvement in this unique cultural exchange must be attributed to Chapter 169’s special Honorary Associate Member, Bob Peters, a Vietnam War AF Veteran , who is moderator for LakeFrontTV’s outstanding “Salute (to veterans) program.”

When Bob became aware that the KUBF team was coming to Leesburg, he crystalized a group to plan and carry out a program to welcome the KUBF team to the U.S.A., and to Central Florida.

Leesburg attorney, Chuck Johnson, a baseball fanatic and a Director of, and the P.A. announcer for the Leesburg Lightening; Jennifer Magavero, Asst. Dir. Public Works for the City of Leesburg; Rob Sitz, President of the Florida Baseball League; Joseph Ryu from the local Korean-American community; Don Rixie of Veterans Carpets, Leesburg; and Bob Peters and me, Tom Thiel, representing KWVA.

Without the vision and active support of this group, KWVA would not have been involved! Anywhere!

Korean War Veterans Association, KWVA, Leesburg, FL, KBUF, baseballChapter 169 Color Guard, with South Korean and U.S. teams along the 3rd and 1st base lines, respectively, during the singing of the national anthems prior to the August 8 game in Leesburg. (Photo by Bob Peters) (click photo to enlarge)

I learned that games were to be played in Deland and Sanford, and invited Chuck Husbands of Chapter 189 and Chuck Travers of Chapter 173 to welcome the KUBF team in their areas, which they did.

Our story starts around 3:30 p.m. Friday, Aug 8, in sweltering heat at Leesburg’s Historic Pat Thomas Stadium. Our Color Guard, Bob Peters and some of the LakeFrontTV film crew, Gloria and Jim Courbet with the Chapter Tell America table-top display at the entrance to the Stadium, and other members—all were there.

Thank goodness for the stadium roof that protected us from the direct sun’s rays.

 Korean War Veterans Association, KWVA, Leesburg, FL, KBUF, baseball, Tom Thiel lapel pin to South Korean Team membersTom Thiel presents Chapter 169 lapel pins to members of the South Korean team; Bill Shumaker did the same for the Central Florida team. (Photo by Bob Peters)

  

With batting practice underway, and some thunderclaps in the south as well, Bob videoed a short segment with CID169 members that appeared on Inside Leesburg. Click to View Video.

A few moments before the 6:00 p.m. starting time, the coaches of both teams exchanged signed home plates on the field.

Our Color Guard (Joel Briggs, Frank Keaser, Gordon Talbot, Al Schuetz, and DJ Lynch) had taken positions midway between Home and the pitcher’s mound.

So did Bill Shumaker and me, Bill on the 1st and me on the 3rd.

The players of both teams were then introduced and aligned themselves on their respective base lines, KUBF on the 3rd and the CF on the 1st. As the players were introduced, Bill and I each distributed the very nice CID169 Lapel pins to all players and coaches of both teams.

For me, this was one of the most emotional events as each team member expressed great appreciation, bowed and shook my hand firmly. Bill Shumaker said most of the CF team thanked him for his service.

Korean War Veterans Association, KWVA, Leesburg, FL, KBUF, baseball, Korean-American Kyoung Park provided a beautiful rendition of both the South Korean and the U.S. National Anthems. (Photo by Bob Peters) (click to enlarge)  

The Color Guard presented colors, and Ms. Kyoung Park gave a thrilling rendition of the National anthems, Korean first, and Star Spangled Banner second. Colors were retired. Congressman Daniel Webster then tossed the ceremonial First Pitch, and the game commenced at the scheduled 6 p.m. start.

We returned to the seats Chuck Johnson had roped off for us; I had never been seated where I could “see” curve balls! KUBF won 3 to 1!

Bob Peters, Congressman Daniel Webster, Bill Shumaker and DJ Lynch prior to  Friday’s Leesburg gameFrom left: Bob Peters, Congressman Daniel Webster, Bill Shumaker and DJ Lynch prior to  Friday’s Leesburg game. (Photo by Bob Peters)

  

That was Friday, August 8.

Our Meet and Greet was held three hours before the second game on Sunday August 10, in the beautiful Leesburg Club’s Boat House on Lake Harris.

As the players entered the building, each was presented with an orchid corsage from the Korean American Ministers Association of Central Florida.

The team members then each sought out all Korean Vets there and warmly exchanged bows and handshakes. We were all emotionally impacted when we met the KUBF and CF Team members up close.

MC Chuck Johnson held each speaker to just a few minutes.

Our President, Wally Jones, introduced Maxine Parker, DoF 1st VP and CID188 member, and Hank Butler, Commander CID172 (we sincerely thank them for being there). He warmly welcomed the teams, and conjectured that without the service of the U.S. Veterans, there quite likely would not have been a Meet and Greet or game today. Wally’s and everyone’s remarks were translated by Mr. Kim.

Rev. Pyoung Ok Hur, President of the Korean-American Ministries Association of Central Florida, spoke a few words in both English and Korean about the significance each played in the affair.

Leesburg Mayor, John Christian extended “Leesburg welcome,” and closed by saying “Freedom is not free.” He then presented the KUBF team with the first edition of the Leesburg City Flag plaque.

The KUBF team responded by presenting autographed baseballs to the Korean Veterans in attendance.

What a treasure! Mine was signed by and given to me by #16, Ji-kyu Park, Shortstop, from Sung-kyun-kwan University! I hope he makes it to the U.S. Major League!

Next came the light baseball lunch—hot dogs, sausages, hamburgers, chips and soft drinks provided by the Leesburg High School Boosters Club.

The teams then left to get dressed, but pre-game practice was more limited as the field had received a typical Central Florida summer thunderstorm around 1:00 o’clock.

Korean Vets visited for a while and then went to the ball park, some riding in golf carts that had been arranged for those with limited mobility.

Jim and Gloria Corbet gave members of each team a special U.S.—South Korea crossed flags lapel pins at their respective dugouts.

Our 169 Color Guard, which on Sunday consisted of D.J. Lynch, Bill Shumaker, Gordon Talbot, and Joel Briggs, presented the Colors, and Ms. Park again gave bone-tingling renditions of the National Anthems.

CID169 Color Guard on Sunday. (photo by Briggs)

Then CID169 Member Frank Keaser threw out the first pitch, saying that he did it for all the “old guys in 169 who made him feel so at home in the Chapter.”

Chuck Johnson paid special tribute to Korean War and Service Veterans and to all veterans who have given so much to keep freedom alive.

And to the delight of many in the stands, he played most of the thirty-five 1950’s tunes I had downloaded from Amazon.com specifically for that event – Dear John, Cold cold heart, Comeona my house, Song of Arirang (aka Ah de dung), etc. Here are a few>

Dear John    Come on my house    Goodnight Irene    Hey good lookin    Sinatra    Bell bottom blues    Till I waltz      Cold, cold heart    Arirang Kim Sisters    Arirang Lee Chun     China Night

The game was great; the KUBF team won this one with the identical score of Friday’s, 3 to 1!

After losing the first two games, the SKBU team won the series, 3 to 2!

Well maybe next year. Yes, next year as South Korea has invited the Central Florida League to come to South Korea next year. Rob says the League is definitely interested and is exploring its financial options. Maybe us Korean Vets can arrange a Revisit Korea tour simultaneously!

Sunday’s was the final game in the series, and the sight of the U.S. and South Korean teams mingling together after the game, exchanging hugs, handshakes and jerseys made me feel really proud to have had played just a small role in enabling this grand event!

“As the two teams met on the field (after the last game), swapping jerseys, hats and handshakes, it would be hard to tell that a team had just lost a baseball game. … it was easy to see that this series was about more than just baseball.” Phil Chinnery photo by Phil)  

I had a tremendously enjoyable time, not only at the events, but also at the four Planning Group meetings. Jenn Magavero, Chuck Johnson, Bob Peters, Joe Ryu, Rob Sitz, Don Rixie—all are terrific human beings. Yes, it was more than just baseball! Tom J Thiel