Rochester, Minn., Korean vets welcome young man to the club
ROCHESTER, Minn. — At 10 a.m. Monday, 16-year-old Neal DeYoung was called to the front of Hunt's Silver Lake Drug to help serve a customer.
Much to his surprise, he was the one who was served.
Six members of the local Korean War Veterans Club awarded him one of their white hats and made him an honorary member of the club. A week before, DeYoung, who was adopted from South Korea when he was 9 months old, had stopped by a club meeting to thank the members for keeping his country free.
He was surprised by the hat and the offer of honorary membership.
"That would be a great honor," he said. "I can't describe how much this means to me. Thank you for your service, all of it."
The hat is going to be more than a symbol of his kinship with the veterans. He hopes it's a way to get more Rochester people interested in the Korean War.
"I'm a patriotic American. And, as a Korean, I feel a connection toward Korean veterans," he said. "I feel it's important that they get the credit they deserve."
Part of giving that credit, he hopes, is to raise awareness of the veterans.
"I I feel that not many people in the community recognize them, so I may as well raise my voice and get something started," De Young said.
The surprise began when a longtime customer of the drug store needed help moving out of her home, said Manager Tom Otten. Someone found an old American flag, one that said it was made to honor veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and gave it to him.
Otten knew just the person who would know what to do with it — DeYoung. He's only 16 but is mature for his age and has a strong sense of honor.
DeYoung knew what to do with it.
He attends the Alternative Learning Center and takes classes in the afternoons and evenings so he can work at the store during the day. The Korean veterans club meets next door each Monday at Grandma's Kitchen.
So, DeYoung walked over last Monday and gave them the flag, said Commander Cyril Kubista.
"He said he would like to thank us for keeping him free," he said.
Members were stunned. Some shed a tear, Kubista said. Thinking about it "still gives me goose bumps."
"We gave him a standing ovation," Kubista said. "We never got much of a thank you for the Korean War."
About half the members in the club served in Korea, the rest in the armed services during the war. The flag will be placed in the Korean War room of the city's military history museum when it's built, he said.
The ovation wasn't enough, Kubista said. They had to say thank you to the quiet, well-mannered boy.
The best way they could think of was to give him one of their hats and make him one of them.