At the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was split at the 38th parallel between the Soviet-backed North and the U.S.-backed South. Neither governments recognized the legitimacy of the other, escalating tensions that led to all-out war. The Korean War thus became the first military action of the Cold War, when communist soldiers from North Korea invaded the South on June 25, 1950.
The Knights of Columbus condemned the North’s actions and passed a resolution pledging their “loyal and unreserved support” to the South and agreed for “further mobilization” in order to “destroy the power of the Soviet Government.”
Dr. Chang Myon — a Knight of Columbus from Council 224 in Washington, D.C. — was serving as the first ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the U.S. when the peninsula was thrust into war. Immediately, he appealed to the newly establish United Nations for aide, and found support from the U.S., United Kingdom, France and the Republic of China.
Dr. Chang also received financial support to help the suffering civilians in Korea from the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council. Upon accepting their contribution, he said, “It is with heartfelt gratitude that I express my appreciation of the magnificent gift which I have received from the Knights of Columbus for the people of Korea who are in distress. On their behalf, permit me to say that the Knights of Columbus will have the enduring gratitude of my countrymen for this generous manifestation of their sympathy and concern for our suffering.”
The U.N. forces were primarily comprised of U.S. soldiers. Among those who valiantly served were members of the Knights of Columbus. Lieutenant Sylvester Porubsky from Council 2608 in North Topeka, Kan., posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross — the second highest military award — for leading his platoon in retaking an enemy defense position outside of Chirwon-ni.
Then-Colonel John T. Corley, considered one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. Army history, was reportedly one of 21 commanders requested by the U.N. forces. He was a Knight from Council 269 in North Cambridge, Mass., and commanded a battalion consisting of Black soldiers during a period of segregation within the military. Several of the soldiers expressed high praise for his leadership and valor. During the war, Corley received a Distinguished Service Cross and three Silver Stars.
Knights around the U.S. and world also contributed to the war effort. Councils served meals for soldiers, provided Catholic literature oversees, conducted holy hours at home for peace and their safety, and even provided gifts to the wounded. Newport Council 256 in Rhode Island sent medicine, soap, clothes and other items urgently needed by the Maryknoll Sisters Clinic at the behest of Captain Dan Carlson — a member of the council who served in Korea — to help provide aid to those impacted by the war.
The fighting lasted until 1953 when an armistice was signed, which led to the creation of the demilitarized zone. But neither side claimed victory and no peace treaty was ever signed; the North and South are still technically at war.
In the years since, the K of C have never lost its ties to South Korea. In 2007, Bishop John J. Kaising Military Council 14223 at the U.S. Army Base Camp Humphreys near Osan became the first K of C council in the country. Today, the country has seven councils with more than 175 members. Together these members have conducted countless acts of charity, such as providing homes for refugees fleeing persecution, and assisting a local orphanage and hospice during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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