Korean Consul General Young-jun Kim and members of his staff paid honor to the City of Miami and one of its war heroes by donating 5,000 COVID-19 masks to the city, along with an Ambassador for Peace medal and 1,000 additional masks to Burley Smith, who exhibited valor and kindness in that conflict.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez accepted the honor at Miami’s City Hall in Coconut Grove on Friday afternoon on behalf of the city and presented Miami’s flag to Kim and the people of Geoje in the Republic of Korea.
The honor for the 92-year-old Smith, who has lived in Coconut Grove for 35 years, commemorates his service aboard the SS Meredith Victory as it rescued 14,000 Korean refugees, 70 years ago, from the beaches of Hungnam around Christmas 1950.
According to a media release from Windstar Cruises, Junior Third Mate Smith was on his first service trip aboard the 7,600-ton SS Meredith Victory, when the ship and staff “performed a historic rescue of 14,000 Korean refugees early in the Korean War.” The Meredith Victory was later called the “ship of miracles” because it was designed to carry just 12 passengers and 47 crew, which, at the time, included Smith, a recent U.S. Merchant Marine Academy graduate.
Two of those North Korean refugees — Moon Yong-hyung and Kang Han-ok — would become parents to current South Korean President Moon Jae-in, 67, Smith said.
“Three classmates of mine from 1950 at Kings Point, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in New York, were on board that ship. Only two of us are still alive — myself and one of the engineers,” Smith said. “President Moon Jae-in invites us over to have luncheons with his people every year in December and It becomes a celebrated event. The Koreans were always terribly grateful we did that.”
Smith believes the cities of Geoje, in South Korea, and the City of Miami “have a special link,” he said.
“When they said they were bringing this gift of masks for me I said it was important to let the city of Miami know,” Smith said. “I don’t know Mayor Suarez at all, but I keep reading he’s interested in making great contacts with industrial firms and growing Miami as a business center.”
Geoje is where the Americans’ SS Meredith Victory delivered its record number of refugees. The southern resort town is also home to one of the world’s largest shipbuilding enterprises — Samsung Heavy Industries. “And Miami is a major southern resort and the world’s largest cruise ship port. Potentially, ideal sister cities, though Miami outnumbers Geoje in size, they have a strong potential industrial link,” Smith said.