"Koreans celebrate it as one of the most important events in one's life," Dillingham said.
During the recent "hwangap" celebration, Dillingham, his wife Jeong Hee and his stepdaughter, Sarah Deludos of Manassas, Va., dressed in traditional Korean attire. The party was held at the Fin Fusion Sushi restaurant on South Church Street in Murfreesboro.
In addition to sushi, guests dined on traditional Korean food, such as "bulgogi," thin strips of beef that are marinated and then barbecued; Korean noodles; spring rolls; "kimchi' and rice cakes. The party was held at the Fin Fusion Sushi Restaurant in Murfreesboro, and about 40 attended.
The "hwangap" means a person has officially entered old age, he said, and that is also significant because Koreans place a great emphasis on honoring their elders. The party is often thrown by the person's children, who hold a day-long open house for people to pay respects to the birthday celebrant.
The retired colonel has long been fascinated with Korean culture, and has made several visits there since 1979. He was stationed at the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul with the U.S. Air Force from July 2001 to August 2003 as deputy judge advocate for U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command. His nickname is "Horangi," the Korean word for tiger.
Dillingham, who graduated from Shelbyville Central High School in 1971, met his wife in Washington, D.C., in 2007. They were married in July 2009, and moved to Shelbyville that August.