Joseph Yi was born in South Korea but moved to the United States when he was 10 years old. When the Korean War broke out, Yi volunteered to support and serve the U.S. A private first class in the Marine Corps, Yi played a key role for the U.S. during prisoner exchange between the two sides.
Despite his importance, when the war ended, Yi was never recognized. The pain stayed with him for more than 60 years.
Then, on Sept. 7, 2016, Yi received his day of honor and a flight to Washington, D.C., with Honor Flight Chicago. His son-in-law encouraged him to participate, and the 86-year-old is so grateful that he did.
“It was a tremendous day,” Yi said, “probably one of the best days of my life.”
Yi visited a collection of memorials that day, including the Marine Corps Memorial, built to honor him and his comrades. He enjoyed spending quality time with other veterans that day, and the experience was extra special because his son served as his Guardian.
On the return flight to Chicago, Yi was surprised by Mail Call. He read letters from his family, friends, and even people he didn’t know. He kept the letters and still rereads them from time to time. They help him remember precious moments from his day.
One moment forever ingrained in his memory, though, is the celebration that awaited him and his fellow veterans when they arrived back at Chicago’s Midway Airport. Thousands of people welcomed Yi home, cheered for him and thanked him for his service.
It was the recognition he deserved, but never received.
Yi lived with the disappointment of not being recognized for more than 60 years, but on that September evening – as men, women and children of all ages shook his hand and said thank you – the agony and discouragement began to slip away.