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December 13, 2012

Yong-Min Chi, M.D.


Dr. Yong-Min Chi, a native South Korean who served alongside American soldiers during the Korean War and who started his medical practice in Cooperstown and Delhi, passed away peacefully on Saturday, Dec. 8, in his Cummaquid, Mass., home. He was 82.

Dr. Chi was born in Korea in 1930 to Chang-Il Chi and Bong-Yi Choi, the fourth of nine children and the eldest son. Dr. Chi grew up during World War II, when Japan occupied Korea. As a boy, Dr. Chi was forced to help build airfields for the Japanese in his bare feet and to speak in Japanese rather than Korean.

Korea was liberated from Japan at the end of World War II. But soon after, the Korean War began. Dr. Chi’s father, a pharmacy owner, opposed communism and resisted North Korean soldiers who tried to take his property. He was shot by the North Koreans for doing so, leaving his son Yong-Min as the family’s eldest male.

Dr. Chi became a captain in the South Korean army. A top student who attended Korea’s prestigious Seoul National University, Dr. Chi possessed extraordinary English language skills. In fact, his English was so good, that as a teenager, he was hired to translate into Korean George Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm,” which satirized totalitarianism. Dr. Chi used his excellent English as a translator and liaison between South Korean and American military officers. He first came to the United States as part of his military service, with stops at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and Fort Bliss in Texas.

Dr. Chi moved to the United States in 1954 with little money and few connections but the determination to become a physician. He gained admission to Columbia University in New York but could not afford the tuition and instead attended Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., which offered him first-year student aid. He was accepted to and graduated from Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, where the faculty admired the immigrant’s willingness to sacrifice and persevere. 

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