Slain Soldier Didn't Tell Parents He Was at War

Besides helping freedom-loving citizens of his adopted homeland and countries fighting tyranny, Jang Ho Kim of Placentia was fighting to protect his parents and sister.

Jang Ho, the son of La Verne's Nikuni Japanese Grill owner Steve Kim, thoroughly believed people everywhere should be free of worry and fear, so he enlisted in the Army in June 2005.

Not wanting his dad, mother Sang Soon Kim or little sister Michelle to fret about his safety, he fudged in conversations about his exact whereabouts after finishing basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., and combat training in Germany.

So, when two soldiers came to tell them Jang Ho had been killed in Baghdad, Steve Kim knew it had to be a mistake.

"I had just come back from lunch when I got a phone call from my wife," said Kim, then Samsung's information technology director in La Mirada. "She said two soldiers were at the house and asked me to come home."

As he drove home, the elder of Grace Korean Church in Fullerton repeatedly called his son's name and prayed to God to please not take his life.

"His life is so precious," he prayed.

When the soldiers handed him Jang Ho's death certificate, he didn't believe it. The document listed Kansas as his son's birthplace and additionally stated he was killed in Baghdad, Iraq.

"I thought it was a mistake because my son was born in Seoul, South Korea and, during two phone calls after he left for Germany, he said he was in a safe place and not in Baghdad," said the disbelieving dad.

"I didn't trust this document, so they called someone in the military. They were told when a soldier is born outside of the United States, they change his birthplace to a U.S. state. His had been changed to Kansas.

"It was him," Kim said, massaging his temple as fresh pain entered his eyes.

Pfc. Kim and Pfc. Daniel J. Allman II of Canon, Ga. were in a 2-man Humvee -- Jang Ho as the driver and Allman as the gunner -- during a combat assignment involving the Army's 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

Their vehicle was the first in line on Nov. 13, 2006. It was hit by an improvised explosive device and both men were killed instantly. Both soldiers were 20 years old. Jang Ho died six weeks before his 21st birthday on Dec. 26, 2006.

"He was so very young, still a baby in my mind," his father lamented. "He knew I would worry, so he never told me he was in Baghdad and in danger."

After graduating from Valencia High School in Placentia, Jang Ho enrolled in Fullerton Community College and worked part-time. He bought an used Lexus and put some accessories on it "like the ones young kids like so much," Kim said, chuckling when he thought about how much Jang Ho loved his car and computers.

He joined the Army, convinced he would gain the vision to chart his life course while accomplishing the dual goals of serving his adopted land and protecting freedom.

Kim, convinced his strength would help his wife and daughter endure their tremendous loss, contained his tears and personal pain about losing his only son when he was with them.

"It was very difficult, but I felt as the man of the family I'm not supposed to cry. But I was crying in my heart while encouraging my wife and daughter," said the man who regretfully became a Gold Star father when his child was killed in military action.

"At night it was hard to sleep, so I cried at night. I couldn't cry in front of my family. I loved my son and I know God loved my son, too. I found strength in that knowledge."

Kim admitted his grief was intensified when, three months after Jang Ho's death, the Army contacted him again. It had taken three months to separate the two soldiers' remains, identified only by DNA.

"It was like my son was killed twice," he said, dropping his head into his hands and not speaking for a few minutes.

The Kims permitted the Army to bury their sons' remains in a national cemetery.

Kim, Song Soon and Michelle have all since become American citizens to reaffirm their personal beliefs in American freedom and their appreciation for Army officials' thoughtful consideration during a time of horrific tragedy.

Kim also eases his grief by helping causes for soldiers and veterans.

He speaks to military families at his church and Valencia High.

He worked for Samsung for 20 years before deciding he wanted to try something new and opened the Nikuni Japanese Grill next to L.A. Fitness in La Verne five years ago.

He speaks to military families at his church and Valencia High. He purchased a brick for the La Verne Veterans Memorial Monument and periodically contributes percentages of restaurant profits to the monument construction.

"I pray all the time for the soldiers and hope the war is finished soon," Kim concluded.

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Iraq Army