Korean pilot remembered as 'family man first'
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 18, 2006 2:04 AM
Nearly a year ago, airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base watched as Republic of Korea Lt. Col. Kim Sung Dae led his daughter, Ah Rom, across the wing of an F-15K -- holding her hand all the while.
Today, Kim is mourned by those he flew, trained and traveled with last year. He died June 7 after his fighter jet crashed off the coast of Korea during a night intercept mission.
Major D.J. Abrahamson remembers a family man -- one who loved his wife and children above all else.
"They had a son and then years later they had a daughter," he said, adding Kim once told him he didn't know he wanted another child until he saw that little girl for the first time.
"He said it was a watershed moment in his life," Abrahamson added. "He told me, 'I've got to be the best father I can be, the best husband.' I loved the way he would interact with his kids."
After a brief stint in San Antonio for a course in English, Kim and his family arrived in Goldsboro. Quickly, they found a Baptist church to attend downtown and Kim began his training -- and his travels.
Sponsor families from Seymour took the pilots on a tour of America -- to the mountains, coast and nation's capital. Abrahamson said his hope was to help the Koreans learn about the United States.
"We wanted them to understand America before they left," he said.
But on a trip to Washington DC, Kim taught him something about insight and wisdom.
"After we talked about the Founding Fathers ... he pulled me aside and said 'I used to think America was great because of its bountiful resources. Now I know it's great because of the leaders it has had,'" Abrahamson said.
A year later, Kim's words still surface in his mind.
Lt. Col. Mark Kelly was Commander of the 333rd when the Koreans were training at Seymour. He remembers Kim as "self-confident, sincere and genuine."
And while he didn't speak perfect English, Kelly said that fact revealed more of the man he was.
"Of all the aviators, he probably struggled the most with English," he said. "He had to be more animated to get his message across."
That animation combined with deep facial expressions, showed the Seymour pilots the emotional side of their comrade.
For that reason, and many others, hearing about Kim's death was hard, Kelly said. The news came in shortly before he himself would be in the air.
"When I first heard an F-15 K had crashed in the East Sea, I didn't know who it was," he said. "I knew we had lost an aviator that we trained."
Then, just before take-off, Kelly got the word -- Kim was the pilot lost in the crash.
"It truly is like the loss of a family member," he said. "What I felt for the most was the ROKAF family. And then I equally felt for Mee Kyung and the kids. It was a huge loss for both families."
Kelly added he will also remember Kim's love for Korean tradition, which he and the other aviators displayed one night on base by dressing in traditional robes and singing national songs -- playing ceremonial drums all the while.
Still, it is the father and husband that will be missed the most.
"He was a very devout family man," Kelly said.
And that's how many of the Seymour pilots who flew with Kim will remember him -- as a loving husband and father -- walking hand-in-hand on the wing of that jet with his pig-tailed little girl.
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