Local Korean-American residents are footing half the bill for Washington's $30,000 fireworks display on the 4th of July, the National Park Service has announced.
The donation, intended as a demonstration of the immigrants' appreciation for the United States, was the idea of Korean karate entrepreneur Jhoon Rhee, who made a splash in last year's Fourth of July parade with a "human Stars and Stripes" made up of 229 of his karate pupils.
Rhee was named chairman of this year's National Independence Day Festival and Parade, which are run by the private nonprofit group called National Independence Day Parade Inc.
The group, which has organized the local festivities for the past two years, traditionally gets no government funds and depends on private contributions for its activities, chairman Charles W. Ferguson said. The National Park Service runs the fireworks display on the Mall.
Rhee was selected by Parade Inc.'s five-man parade advisory board because of his past support of Independence Day parades, board member Jerry D. Harvey said.
"We are enjoying our life, so we feel some kind of responsibility to celebrate the birthday of the U.S.," said Hanyong Cho, president of the Korean Association of Greater Washington, which ran a fashion show that netted about $4,000 for the fireworks. Most of the remaining $11,000 was raised through the sale of certificates for courses in black-belt instruction at Rhee's Tae Kwon Do karate schools. Rhee donated the certificates, which sold for $1,200 each. Black-belt courses normally cost $2,500.
There are an estimated 42,000 Korean-Americans in the metropolitan area, Cho said.
Rhee, 51, came to the United States in 1957 and made a financial success of his Korean-style karate schools. For three years he was a member of the Unification Church of Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon.
In 1976, Rhee's business contacts came under scrutiny during federal grand jury investigations into activities of the South Korean government on Capitol Hill. He was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury investigating the alleged bribing of U.S. congressmen by the South Korean government, but Rhee was never charged with any crime.
Rhee said he left the Unification Church to devote himself full time to the martial arts, adding, "I don't know why people keep bringing up that thing of the church ."
Rhee's human flag with its 229 marching participants--one for every one million Americans--will lead this year's parade celebrating "our nation's birthday," Rhee said.