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Novi neighbors honor Korean War vet on his birthday
Published: 9/13/2021
Although 9/11 is recognized as Patriot Day commemorating the victims and heroes from 2001, this past 9/11 some Novi residents gathered to celebrate the 94th birthday of a local patriot - Lee Currie.

Born Sept. 11, 1927, Currie enjoyed a surprise birthday visit from some local Scouts, neighbors, family, and some local Korean special guests. Lee’s neighbor, Trina Klassa, who is also Cubmaster of Pack 54 of Novi coordinated the event.

“I wanted to celebrate Lee’s 94th birthday, yet also offer the opportunity to my scouts to learn about this wonderfully independent man who dedicated his life to hard work, his family, and patriotism while in combat during the Korean War," she said. "Rarely do we get an opportunity to learn about the life of someone who grew up without electricity, a furnace, plumbing, or a vehicle. I wanted to show the kids a living example of perseverance.” 

Currie was one of 14 children who grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. Before breakfast, his job was to milk the cows, every single day, “seven days a week," Currie said. Klassa related his life to the scouts, and added, “There were no trips to Disney World for the Currie family, because for one, Disney World didn’t even exist until Currie was 44 years old. Two, their family was too committed to the farm to stop working for one day, or the cows would explode! And three, their family was too poor to take any vacations because they couldn’t even afford a luxury item of a toothbrush.”

Currie was in his teens during World War II and he talked about the time his dad added a business of growing turkeys for their cash crop, and one year they sold 1,200 turkeys, “which was a lot of work.” They got electricity when he was 20, and a couple years later, they got running water and a coal furnace. He also remembers after WWII when they were able to buy their first red, Farmall tractor. Until then, they only used animals to do the heavy plowing and farm work.

Growing up, once a year he’d get $0.50, so that he could buy a new pair of overalls, that he’d cuff at the beginning of the year to spread out the growing over the next 12 months. He was more excited though, about the penny left over with which he could buy some candy.

Part of the motivation behind Klassa choosing to honor Lee Currie, was to connect some of the Korean guests to him.

“When we were on a pack hike a couple of months ago, I talked at length to one of the dads in my pack, Sung Gon Chung. He’s a professor from Wayne State University, and his family came to the U.S. from South Korea. When I told him that my dad served in the Korean War, he was very deeply thankful, and told me, 'My family thanks your family,'" Klassa said. "I wished at that time I could have relayed the message to my own father, but he passed in 2014. This gratitude stayed in my mind, and when I was thinking about doing something for my neighbor to celebrate his birthday, I thought about what my dad would have wanted. I think he would have wanted to hear those thanks firsthand."

Klassa called the Chung family and asked them if they’d feel comfortable meeting Currie, a U.S. Korean War veteran, on his birthday and Patriot Day. Although Song Gon was in South Korea this day, his wife, Hyewon Chung was very receptive to the invitation. In fact, she invited two other Korean families to show gratitude, and spoke about her father who was a general in the South Korean Army, and that her father enjoyed visiting U.S. Army personnel on a trip to Washington D.C. and the Korean War Memorial.

Hyewon showed pictures to Currie and the Scouts and spoke about the strong gratitude that her father and her family have towards the United States and those who served in the war. Klassa talked to the scouts about the United States entering the Korean War to help defend the democratic government, and the meaning of the inscription at the Korean War Memorial of “Freedom Is Not Free,” and that we need to appreciate the choices we get like which church we go to, if we have the privilege of taking a vacation, or the ability to join the best cub scout pack in the world.

"We all need to be grateful for our freedoms because often the choices that we get to make, are based upon the sacrifices made by others living like they had no other choice," Klassa said.

Some of the Scouts had questions for Currie, like what kind of animals he had on his farm, or what his job was in the Army. The pack also presented him with a gift - a brand new toothbrush.

The tribute ended with the scouts saluting the American flag, and Currie, and led by Da Sung Chung, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance.