Eight Decades - Giving Back to Neighborhood and Country
Paul Rojas – a member of the Missouri Korean War Veterans Memorial Board – left high school early at the height of the Korean War, planning to “join up” as his brothers before him. Of four brothers, two were already drafted into the Army and one of them already sent to Korea.
Marine recruiters looked a bit askance at Rojas’ ID – a baptism certificate from Our Lady of Guadalupe with the date of birth a little smudged. But Rojas successfully signed up with the U.S. Navy and served 1952-1955, including serving on the USS Bataan – a heavy cruiser converted to an aircraft carrier supporting troops fighting on the Korean Peninsula. When the Korean War Armistice was signed in 1953, Rojas finished his enlistment serving in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands frontline of defense.
Born in 1934, Rojas grew up in Kansas City’s tight-knit Westside neighborhood. He recalls a church-centered neighborhood – the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish – that hasn’t changed much since his childhood. Rojas’ mother died by the time he was 5 years old and families in the neighborhood took the five Rojas brothers in so they wouldn’t be sent to an adoption organization and split up. The community was Rojas’ foundation for lifelong commitment to service and giving back to help others.
“I want to give as much back to my neighborhood that was good to me, and to my country that was good to me,” Rojas said.
In 2023 at the age of 88, Rojas serves as Chairman of the Board Emeritus of Guadalupe Centers, still helping to take care of the people in the neighborhood who took care of him and his family more than 80 years ago.
Following Navy service, Rojas and his wife focused on raising eight children. Rojas was active in the American Legion, founding nearby posts. Politics and elections intrigued the Korean War veteran, and he began working precincts in his westside neighborhood to educate people and inspire them to become politically active to increase Hispanic voices and representation. In 1972, Rojas became the first Latino elected to the Missouri General Assembly where he served until 1978.
More recently, the mayor appointed Rojas to the Kansas City, Mo. Planning Commission which approves most major development project proposals. He is ever watchful of gentrification adversely affecting his neighborhood.
For 10 years, Rojas has served on the Board of Directors of the Missouri Korean War Veterans Memorial that honors all Missourians who served in the Korean War, especially 900 Missourians who gave their lives in the war.
“For those who lost so much, we should continue to finish the memorial,” Rojas said as he looks forward to helping raise funds to add an impressive sculpture to the memorial. He hopes through the fundraising to educate the Kansas City community to the sacrifices Missourians made in the “Forgotten War.”
“Even the smallest children need to be told about the war and how grateful we are to those who served, and the importance of American involvement so it is not forgotten. We should not forget the war,” Rojas said. “Freedom is never free.”
Written By: Martha Walker