Updated on February 9, 2016
Back in November 2015, Captain Jason Pak was invited to a Friendship Dinner in Atlanta hosted by the American Korea Society.
In addition to commemorating Veteran’s Day, the dinner was also an opportunity to present the New American Hero Award to two Americans of Korean ancestry who have made significant contributions to the United States. One of the recipients was James Suh, a Navy SEAL who passed away during Operation Red Wings in mid-2005 in Afghanistan. (You may have see the movie Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg, which is based on Operation Red Wings.)
The other New American Hero Award recipient was Captain Pak, who lost both his legs and two fingers to an IED (improvised explosive device) blast on December 12, 2012, barely two months after he deployed to Afghanistan in October. The Award came with a check for $10,000—which Jason promptly donated to America’s Fund.
“Everyone at America’s Fund are genuine members of my family,” Jason says. “They helped us at a time of need. Most, if not all, of the America’s Fund caseworkers that I’ve met are spouses or family members of people who are actually serving. They genuinely care for your well-being and will try to help in whatever way they can. They’ll go head-over-heel to get you what you need. You can see the dedication and longing to help. I don’t see that from many organizations.”
Jason is often invited by various Korean and veteran groups to speak about his experiences, and he is always enthusiastic and generous about sharing his story.
“Many people see my injuries and think that they have affected me in a negative way,” Jason says, “but they didn’t. You become wiser and more thankful for the little things of life. If this didn’t happen to me, I wouldn’t be grateful for what I have.”
“Everyone goes through a dark time, every person goes through trials and tribulations, everyone has problems, mine are merely more visible,” Jason continues. “You embrace those difficulties and you make them serve as motivation.”
“I do what I can to show people that adversity is not going to deter our focus to do what we want to do. I hope my story gives them motivation to do what they want. Speaking about this never gets tiring for me. I’m Christian, and while some won’t agree with me, I believe God has a purpose and will only give you what you and your family can handle. I never expected to be doing this, but I love getting out there to meet new people and I never think twice that this isn’t something I should be doing.”
Jason currently works full-time at Boeing (“It’s a different perspective than actually being in the Army, but it’s rewarding. I’m challenged on a daily basis, forging new relationships with customers and coworkers, and I characterize that as an opportunity”) and remains incredibly active—not just with speaking engagements, but with getting out and participating in athletic events that are both physically challenging and remarkably inspiring. Indeed, as he said in a speech last summer to the 2015 annual meeting of the Korean American Spine Society:
“I traveled to Breckenridge, Colorado, this past winter for a week-long skiing event and I also successfully handcycled the Boston, Detroit and New York City marathons. I have begun to run in prosthetic running legs and aspire to one day run a marathon. I’ve even surfed in the water. What keeps me going is the desire to prove to people that this injury will not prevent me from doing the things that I love doing. And I want to help those in need who may be in a similar situation.”
“I have vowed to live by the guidance of Winston Churchill and never be the pessimist who sees the difficulty in every opportunity—but to always be the optimist who sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”