Society

'You Are My Family's Hero': Sixth Grader Writes Heartfelt Letter To Korean War Vet

| by Jonathan Constante

A Korean War veteran was so touched by a sixth grader’s letter that he visited him at his elementary school to thank him in person.

Ralph Heck was just one of nearly 2 million American service members who fought in Korea, The Journal Sentinel reported.

Last month, he joined 93 other veterans of Korea War and World War II for the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight out of Milwaukee to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C.

The veterans received letters from family and friends on the flight back home. Heck opened one letter that really choked him up.

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The letter read:

“Dear Mr. Heck,

Thank you for your service!! Mr. Heck, your sacrifice has saved my grandpa’s life. If you hadn’t helped Korea then my dad would have never made it to USA and never met my mom. So I personally thank you for saving also my life.

Love,

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6th grader Andrew Jiang Hong”

The boy drew an American flag in the middle of the letter and added “You are my family’s hero.”

The 83-year-old veteran and retired electrician was so moved by the letter that he reached out to his Honor Flight contact to find out where the boy went to school. His inquiry led him to Swallow School in Hartland, Wisconsin.

Fellow sixth grader Rachel Roelke, whose mother is the Stars and Stripes publicity chair, had asked classmates to write letters to the veterans for their special trip. Andrew requested a Korean War Veteran because his family came from Seoul.

The boy’s father, Jonah, explained to him that his father had lost both parents in the war when he was a child. Jonah’s mother also lost her father in a bombing.

“My dad said that without that war, I might be North Korean,” Andrew told the Journal Sentinel.

Instead, Jonah and some family members moved to Indiana in 1985. He married his wife Jina in 2000 and had two children, Andrew and Justin, who is 8 years old. The couple had been living in Korea, China and Italy before moving to Wisconsin last fall. Andrew and his brother had never lived in an English-speaking country before.

Andrew said he never anticipated that his letter would mean so much to the veteran. "We want to teach him that little things you do can make a difference," Jina told the Journal Sentinel.

Heck said there were two reasons why he was so touched by the boy’s letter. One reason being that, during his service, a Korean boy about Andrew’s age helped his unit throughout the war.

The boy would make soldiers coffee, shine their shoes and make sure they got up on time to work their shifts. Heck said he never saw the boy again after leaving Korea.

The other reason is that the father of four’s youngest daughter, Linda, had adopted two orphaned children from South Korea — both are teenagers now.

Heck visited Andrew at his school on May 6 to thank him for his kind words. The veteran and sixth grader exchanged a casual fist bump when they met.

The vet spoke with the boy about what he wanted to do when he grows up. Andrew told him he was thinking about a career in eSports or competitive computer gaming. Heck then joked that he had trouble just trying to work the GPS to get to the school.

“He never guessed he was going to write to somebody as old I am,” Heck said.

The vet also spoke to the boy’s class about his military service. He said he was drafted in 1952 and spent 16 months in Korea. He was first stationed with an anti-aircraft unit in Suwon and then joined an Air Force aircraft control and warning squadron in Kimpo.

“If you had to be there, there was a pretty good place to be. Most times you weren’t in too much trouble,” Heck told the class.

Sources: Journal Sentinel, Stars and Stripes Honor Flights

Photo Credit: via Journal Sentinel