April 13, 2005: Headlines: COS - Korea: Museums: Omaha World-Herald: RPCV Kyle Kopitke relocates National Korean War Museum from Hawaii to Nebraska

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Korea: Peace Corps Korea : The Peace Corps in Korea: April 13, 2005: Headlines: COS - Korea: Museums: Omaha World-Herald: RPCV Kyle Kopitke relocates National Korean War Museum from Hawaii to Nebraska

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RPCV Kyle Kopitke relocates National Korean War Museum from Hawaii to Nebraska

RPCV Kyle Kopitke relocates National Korean War Museum from Hawaii to Nebraska

RPCV Kyle Kopitke relocates National Korean War Museum from Hawaii to Nebraska

Pain, pride of Korea kept alive An abandoned nursing home in Oxford, Neb., now houses memories of the "forgotten war"
Apr 13, 2005 - Omaha World-Herald
OXFORD, Neb. -- A grass-roots museum of America's "forgotten war" has found a new home in a long-closed nursing home in this farming village.

Now the challenge will be to persuade visitors to venture 40 miles off Interstate 80 to visit the National Korean War Museum, dedicated Tuesday before about 350 people.

"It's off the beaten track, we know, but it's getting more and more news coverage," said Jack Kurtenbach of Kearney, an Army veteran of the Korean War who is a museum volunteer. "As great as it is, it's going to take some support."

It is a decidedly low-budget, low-tech museum. The abandoned rest home cost $100,000, and veterans and their families donated the 5,000 exhibits.

The rooms of the 40,000-square foot nursing home have been turned into 38 "galleries"--a reference to the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea. The walls of the rooms are covered with photographs, uniforms, flags, letters and newspaper articles telling stories of specific battles, units and branches of the services involved in Korea.

If emotion and powerful memories translate into money, the museum -- built by volunteer labor -- has a pretty good chance.

Tears filled the eyes of several Korean War veterans as they swapped memories, jokes and tales of comrades lost on a faraway peninsula five decades ago.

"It's hard to reflect back on the past," said George Kucera, 74, of Pleasanton, Neb. He was recalling the bloody 10-day march in subzero weather from the Chosin Reservoir, where 16,000 U.N. peacekeepers were overrun by 125,000 Chinese troops.

Kucera, a Marine combat engineer, lost 100 pounds on the march and nearly starved to death. The tips of three of his fingers had to be cut off because of frostbite, and Kucera wears gloves to this day because his hands always feel cold.

"I just can't do it . . . it was just a terrible thing," he said, his voice breaking with emotion as he ended his remembrance during the dedication ceremonies.

The crowd gave him a standing ovation. Kucera, one of the "Chosin Few" survivors of a battle where 3,000 soldiers died, said he'd never before talked about his Korean War service.

Kucera and other veterans commended Oxford, a village of 876 people about 50 miles southwest of Kearney, for taking on the museum, which was conceived in Utah in 1998 and first opened in a Quonset hut in Hawaii in 2001.

The museum's director, Kyle Kopitke, an Army veteran of the Cold War and a former Peace Corps volunteer, has been with the project from the beginning.

Kopitke said it is one of the few museums where people rarely walk through without shedding a tear, and it's the only Korean War museum that concludes that America won the war.

"It was a pivotal victory for freedom," he said.

Kopitke said his board of directors sought a location in the central United States, one more accessible to veterans and where buildings would be more affordable.

Towns in South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma were contacted via e-mail. In the end, the nursing home in Oxford won out over an abandoned high school in Carmen, Okla.

Oxford's Village Board provided $2,500 in incentives, including a vehicle for Kopitke and plane tickets for his family to move to town.

Dennis Wolzen, Oxford's village administrator, said filling the empty rest home and the possibility of providing new jobs and a draw for tourists were all motivations.

Lisa Rhynalds, an Oxford insurance agent, said the local chamber of commerce is organizing a committee to promote the Korean War museum and get signs on I-80 directing tourists to the center. She said that local veterans and others have invested so much time that "we're not going to let it fizzle."

On Tuesday, as crowds milled through the rooms, officials took donations, sold museum memberships, and sold engraved placards that will be displayed on a memorial wall that will feature the names of the 38,000 Americans who died in Korea.

Several veterans, including Kucera, said they'd be back.

"I need to spend a whole day here," he said. "I might find somebody I know."

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Story Source: Omaha World-Herald

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Korea; Museums


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