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Anchored in Memory: Remembering USCG CDR Scott Hyung-Wook Kim

Jessica Manfre Avatar

Commander Scott Hyung-Wook Kim immigrated to the United States with his family from South Korea when he was just 10 years old. He never dreamed he’d make his way back decades later in service to the Coast Guard.

“Scott was the second son in a family of three kids. He was gentle and kind, a good son to his mom and his younger sister still to this day says he was their mother’s favorite child. Scott was always helpful with the small business his parents owned in Philadelphia as the first generation immigrant from South Korea,” his wife Soo Kim shared. “He was also independent and had a few part-time jobs even while keeping up with his grades in high school, playing football and volleyball and participating in Young Life.”

He and his siblings were allowed one personal item from their home country and Scott chose a framed picture he received at Sunday school. The words engraved into the photo were from Psalm 139:10:

“Even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” 

Those words would comfort a young boy in a new country and follow him all the way to the Coast Guard Academy in 1989. After graduating four years later, Scott began his career as an officer where he hoped to do international work for the service.

“Scott was kind and generous. He freely gave himself to others. Whether someone needed a hug, a laugh, a listening ear, or help with moving their furniture, he was always the first to volunteer to meet whatever their needs were,” Soo said. “I loved how he made me laugh. From the early days of our dating, he knew he could always make me laugh by impersonating the Pillsbury Doughboy.”

By 2006, he had realized his dream of becoming an international affairs officer for the Coast Guard and was stationed back in his birthplace, Seoul. His wife and her family had also immigrated from South Korea. As the only Coast Guardsman in the joint military unit, Scott found himself a bit lonely in a sea of sailors and airmen. But, it was a full-circle experience for him.

The couple had two beautiful children, Henni and Elliot. By 2012 they were stationed in Hawaii when a terrible accident would lead to a devastating brain injury. Scott was taking an early morning bike ride with Elliot when they were hit by a car. 

Though his recovery seemed to be moving along, a move just a year later to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington D.C. would slow it. 

“We had already learned through an extensive evaluation they did in Hawaii that the verbal functioning, such as retrieving words and structuring sentences, was the most adversely affected area of his particular TBI. The colder weather also caused his pain and tingling on his right side to get worse,” Soo explained. 

By the New Year’s Day 2014, Scott told his wife he was feeling suicidal. The couple sought help and brought in support through their pastor. Around the same time, his neurologist put him on a new drug that significantly changed his depression symptoms. Soo described it as finally having her husband back after two years. 

The family celebrated with a summer trip to California. 

“We decided to go up to Lake Tahoe where Scott and I spent a lot of the weekends when we first got married and lived in Berkeley,” she added. “Four hours later he drowned in the lake after most likely having a seizure.”

When Soo reflects on the first year without Scott, she credits many things with surviving the loss. Her Christian faith, family, friends and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. 

“They actively sought us out and reached out to us when we felt so lost and disconnected from the military. Through them we met many people like us who know exactly what we are going through,” she said. “They became our extended family and took us to various sporting events as well as other local happenings. I spent my first Valentine’s Day and Memorial Day without Scott with them.”

Today, the family celebrates Scott every day – not just Memorial Day. The kids quickly came up with an alphabet of adjectives to describe their dad and often share quirky memories of the many who loved them so much. When they spend time with other military kids through the TAPS programs, they feel confident in knowing they aren’t alone.

For Soo, she remains proud of her husband and his service to America. 

“Serving our nation is a profound honor, one that demands sacrifice and dedication. Military service is a multifaceted commitment, encompassing a wide range of roles and responsibilities beyond the battlefield. Whether it’s providing humanitarian aid, maintaining peace, or defending against threats, each servicemember plays a vital role in safeguarding our country’s values and freedoms,” Soo explained. “While the nature of military careers may vary, the underlying purpose remains constant: to protect and serve the United States, an honor worth sacrificing one’s life for. It also impacts the life of the entire family, not just the service member, so it is a deep commitment from the entire family to serve in the military.” 

Jessica Manfre is an author and freelance writer for multiple publications. She is a licensed social worker, earning her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Central Florida in 2020. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Northwestern State University. Jessica is the co-founder and CFO of Inspire Up, a 501c3 nonprofit promoting global generosity and kindness through education, empowerment and community building. She is the spouse of an active duty Coast Guardsman and mother of two. When she isn't working, you can find her reading a good book and drinking too much coffee.
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