Over the past year, a Mercer University team has honored 29 Korean War veterans through an innovative service project.
Dr. Sinjae Hyun, professor and chair of biomedical engineering, began his work on the “Remembering Korean War Heroes” project during the sixth Mercer On Mission trip to South Korea in summer 2022. Participants of this program, led by Dr. Hyun and School of Engineering Associate Dean Dr. Scott Schulz, work with North Korean refugee children at the Drim School on English and robotics skills and 3D printing projects.
During past Mercer On Mission trips, Mercer and Drim School students have created 3D face models for visually impaired individuals, an extension of the School of Engineering’s 3D yearbook project with Georgia Academy for the Blind. But last summer, at the request of the Drim School students, they made plaques with 3D faces for 11 Korean veterans of the Korean War. They collaborated with a South Korea nongovernmental organization and presented the plaques to the veterans during a ceremony at the South Korean Congress, Dr. Hyun said.
During the Mercer On Mission trip, the team also completed plaques for two American veterans of the Korean War: Conard Tharpe, father-in-law of Dr. Schultz, and the late Dr. Paul Cable, a former Mercer professor. The plaque honoring Dr. Cable was presented to his two sons during a program on Aug. 25 on the Macon campus.
The project continued during the fall and spring semesters under sponsorship by Mercer’s Center for Engaged Learning. This time, Dr. Hyun focused on Korean War veterans and missing in action soldiers from Georgia. In total, 26 Mercer students were involved in the project this academic year.
“I saw this project, and I thought it would be an awesome way to honor those veterans and show them that we still care and appreciate everything they’ve done,” said David Burke, a graduating mechanical engineering major who served as project manager during the spring semester.
Dr. Hyun said remembering Korean War veterans is especially significant and meaningful now, as the 70th anniversary approaches of the armistice agreement that was signed to formally end the war on July 27, 1953. The plaque project is also important to Dr. Hyun on a personal level.
“I came from South Korea, so without the sacrifice of these people, I wouldn’t be here. Because of their sacrifice, I am able to be here living in the United States. I am very appreciative of those people who served,” Dr. Hyun said.
Dr. Hyun and his students made five plaques during the fall semester and presented them to the veterans or their family members during a ceremony in the School of Engineering building on Dec. 7. The Mercer team created 11 more plaques during the spring semester. Dr. Hyun, Burke and Kaitlyn Puckett, a junior industrial management major, presented the plaques to those veterans on April 5 at Petite Violette restaurant in Atlanta, the regular meeting place of the Gen. Raymond G. Davis Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association.
“Everyone was delighted and have commented how proud they are to have (the plaques),” wrote Norman Board, president of the Gen. Raymond G. Davis Chapter, in a letter to Dr. Hyun. “Most will pass them down to their children. You and your (students) were so kind and thoughtful to do this for our group, and we appreciate your interest, generosity and expert craftsmanship.”
The Mercer team reached out to veterans associations and organizations for help connecting with Georgia veterans and their families. They created 3D likenesses of the veterans using submitted photos and face scans they did in person with handheld equipment, Burke said.
Then, they used software called Meshmixer to enhance the details of the scans and photos before printing the 3D faces, said Puckett, who has also been involved in Mercer’s 3D yearbook project. They made nameplates with the veterans’ information, built wooden frames, and put all the materials together. Students signed the back of the plaques they helped create.
“The veterans hadn’t seen this (technology) before,” Dr. Hyun said. “They saw their face on the board, on the frame, and they really loved it. One of the veterans said, ‘Thank you for not forgetting us.’”
The Rev. William H. Stubba, an American Korean War veteran, was among those honored during the ceremony in Atlanta last month.
“My sincerest thanks to you and your students for the unique shadow box with my bust,” he wrote in a letter to Dr. Hyun. “This is an outstanding piece of creative thinking. It will be prominently displayed in our home to be a constant reminder of times of my past. The Korean-American community never ceases to amaze me with the continual expression of thankfulness to American veterans.”
Dr. Hyun said his students learned a lot about the history of the Korean War from their research and from their interactions with the veterans.
“The veterans were so appreciative,” Burke said. “It was awesome to see and hear about their stories and how much they’ve learned over their years. They have great insight.”
Puckett said it was surreal to see and meet some of the veterans after working with their photos and 3D models throughout the semester.
“I think it’s always a great honor to give back to the people who have served our country,” she said. “Our freedom comes from the people who have fought and are still fighting today. One of the men (at the Atlanta ceremony) said, ‘I’m not the hero; it’s the ones who lost their lives in the war. They’re the true heroes.’ That was really sweet to hear. It’s cool to see their humility.”
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