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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, October 11, 2004

Museum hoping to relocate

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

Kyle Kopitke — whose stated mission in life is to make sure Americans remember "the forgotten war" by establishing a Korean War museum — has resigned himself to the fact that his latest attempt will conclude at month's end.

National Korean War Museum founder Kyle Kopitke says he hopes to find a new home for the museum in Hawai'i.

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"The museum is hoping to relocate to another area in Hawai'i, and, if we're unable to find a place in Hawai'i, then we'll have to have to relocate to another state on the Mainland," Kopitke said last week as he prepared to vacate the museum's current home inside a World War II era Quonset at 235 Kellogg St. in Wahiawa.

"We've had a groundswell of support from veterans around the country encouraging us to hang in there and accomplish our mission of finding a permanent home where the sacrifices of the veterans can be told," he said.

Until that time, the museum collection will go into storage in a secure location, he said. Those who want donated items returned will get them back.

"We haven't refused anybody who's asked," he said, although he added that hardly anyone had done so. "We haven't had any problem with that."

From Utah to the Big Island, Kopitke's repeated efforts came to naught in the past. But on Feb. 20, Kopitke and his wife, Annie, opened the National Korean War Museum in Wahiawa to little fanfare and great expectations. It was, they said, "a labor of love."

The museum featured Korean War-related murals and statues as well as 38 incomplete galleries containing photos, posters, medals, foot lockers and combat gear.

The purpose was to perpetuate an ever-expanding tribute to the thousands of veterans who served and gave their lives in one of the fiercest, though routinely overlooked, wars in American history. More than 33,000 Americans were killed in the three-year conflict between North and South Korea.

But within five months of opening, the museum was struggling financially, Kopitke and a woman he said he hired to manage the museum's fund-raising campaign were embroiled in a tangle of mutual accusations, and the Quonset hut had become the target of a foreclosure action.

The ax fell on Sept. 9 when the courts confirmed the foreclosure sale and Kopitke, a 46-year-old former Peace Corps volunteer and Army veteran, was told he would have to move out.

Although discouraged, Kopitke vows to press on.

One person who thinks Kopitke is in for an uphill struggle is Hal Barker of Dallas, founder of the Korean War Project, a research web site dedicated to the 1950-53 war.

"It's very tough to do something like Kyle's trying to do," said Barker, who was instrumental in raising $22 million to build the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. "One of the things we have learned here at the Korean War Project is that there is not a lot of overwhelming financial support for such projects as the museum or the Korean War Project — or really much else relating to the Korean War."

Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.