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Jesse Green Harmon
Beverly Hills, California-
"The Korean War is considered the forgotten war even though there were well over a million human beings that lost their lives because of it. In all wars it seems that the protagonists soon after make up and resume trade with each other as if all the deaths, suffering, and destruction never happened. For me, Korea was a life-changing, eye-opening, bittersweet experience."
- Jesse Harmon
My full name is Jesse Green Harmon Jr. I was named after my father. My birth day is June 13, 1931 and I was born in South Bend, Indiana. My parents' names were Jesse Green Harmon Sr. and Virgie Mae Harmon. My father was born in Dickson, Tennessee, and my mother was born in Columbus, Mississippi.
I grew-up in a multiracial neighborhood where there were Jewish, Eastern European, black Christian, black Moorish-American, and Asian families. We had the usual array of small businesses, grocery stores, cleaners, furniture stores, salvage yards, and many other small businesses. We all seemed to get along without trouble. The different ethnic groups usually stayed within their own created cultural environment; however, when a common problem arose that affected everyone, all the groups rose to confront whatever was pressing. Periodically there were interdenominational gatherings of support for different religious persuasions such as Christians who went to a Jewish synagogue for their services, a Moslem who went to non-Moslem churches for their services, and Greeks and others who did the same thing solely to pay their respect for each other's religion.
When I was growing up, I never had any feeling of poverty. There were some things that I may not have been able to afford at the moment, but they were reachable in time. South Bend was a small industrial city with many industries that hired most of the people in town. At that time there was a classic domestic economy where we consumed that which we produced. I remember one large family of eight that lived on my block. Five of the brothers were working at the Studebaker plant, and at certain hours of the day or on weekends we saw five Studebakers parked in their circular driveway. My father worked at Studebaker's and my mom was a maid for a Jewish family. Besides raising my brother and me, my mom worked so long for the Mello family that she raised their two daughters, The Mello girls stayed in touch and visited mom until she passed away April 2000 at the age of 91.
My mother, father, brother, and I have always been close. I am forever grateful for my early life. Within our neighborhood we had a community center called the Hering House. Hering House was donated in 1925 by Frank and Clarabel Hering. Frank Hering is recognized and considered the “Father of Mother’s Day” for his promotions to established that national holiday as early as 1904. Hering House is supported with designated charitable funds of South Bend Community Chest. The Herring House served as our sports, educational, social and activities center. As youngsters we were fully occupied by a variety of activities that kept us on the straight and narrow. All of this was prior to the arrival of the drug culture. The advent of the drug culture changed South Bend into a place that I hardly recognize today. I return to South Bend periodically because I still have family there.
All the schools in South Bend were integrated. I attended elementary school in 1937 and I was the only black in my class. I attended Oliver Junior High School. I played football and basketball. I went to Central Senior High School and graduated in 1949. I had many interracial friendships with my classmates, but as I approached high school they began to drop off and each ethnic group tended to gravitate to their own ethnicity group. I opted to go to college with my best friend to his father’s alma mater, West Virginia State College in Institute, West Virginia. That was the first time that I experienced an all black college. Now in 2008, the college is ninety percent white. All through my educational endeavors I have always had good teachers.
My family seemed to have gotten through World War II without any overwhelming difficulty. We used the ration books and stamps effectively. I remember the end of World War II when everyone was running downtown in South Bend. The streets were blocked off and everyone was milling around hugging and kissing each other. I thought how sad I was because no one hugged or kissed me.
Year in California
All my life I have had a love affair with the idea of traveling to foreign places at home here in the United States or abroad. When I was young my traveling was limited to the local movie theater, which I attended as often as possible. In 1951 I was out of school and had some money, so I decided to take a train to Los Angeles, California. I knew no one there, but I went anyway. My father had gone to California about five years prior for a job that lasted about one year. Before I left home he told me about the New Union Hotel where he had stayed, so I took a taxi from the train station to the New Union Hotel when I arrived in Los Angeles.
The New Union Hotel was somewhat picturesque and a couple of points above the seedy side. I walked in and identified myself as my father’s son. I was pleasantly surprised because the manager and clerk staff fondly remembered my dad. I knew that I was in good hands. The hotel was located in the southeastern section of downtown right in the middle of the produce market, which was abuzz all night long. The neighborhood was well diverse and basically a commercial area where most of the people were older adult workers. I was twenty years old at the time and the youngest adult in the whole neighborhood. I had no contemporaries living in the area.
There were all types of restaurants--Japanese, Chinese, Mexican and American. I ate at the Japanese restaurant most of the time. I hadn't found a job and at the restaurant they served weenies and rice for $0.42 a plate. That is how I became an expert using chopsticks. I could snatch a grain of rice floating in soy sauce. The restaurant owners got to know me and I them. That is where I first learned that Japanese families were interned during World War II. They told me about it, but I could hardly believe it. Back home I had never heard that.
I found a job as a metal-platter in a factory. A metal-platter's job is to chemically treat metal parts of all kinds so that they will not corrode. Plating facilities usually have two or three huge tanks about six feet deep, four feet wide and thirty feet long. These tanks are filled with a solvent or cleaning agent which is an etching agent to remove impurities and a plating agent to adhere to the metal, thus protecting it from corrosion. Above the tanks there is a moveable crane on tracks that are about the length of the tank. The crane tracks extend beyond the tanks to an assembly area. There are attached metal clips that extend the full length of the crane. In the assembly area the metal parts to be processed are attached to metal clips on the crane. After the crane is loaded with these parts the crane is remotely positioned over each tank and lowered into the tank to begin treating the metal parts.
Interestingly, I met a gentleman on the job that had a business on the side and wanted me to help him on weekends. I agreed. His business was to service cars for rich people and movie stars. Two of his clients were June Allyson and Dick Powell. Twice a week we went to their homes to vacuum, empty ashtrays, wash windows and dust all their cars. Every two months we took their cars to the local service station and waxed them.
Not too far from the hotel was the thriving black entertainment district of Central Avenue. I was able to see some great entertainments while living in the area. At the time that I was in California (1951-1952), there was a huge transformation occurring and I wanted to be a witness to it. I have been a jazz music enthusiast all my life. The area of Central Avenue, the center of black entertainment, was coming to a close. All the great jazz venues such as Lincoln Theatre, Dunbar Hotel Lounge, Savoy Ballroom, Club Alabam, Downbeat Club, Congo, Plantation Club and many others were in decline. Central Avenue was a byproduct of segregation because of area confinement and was becoming extinct as a result of integration. All coins have two sides.
I enrolled in a sociology class at Los Angeles City College just for the purpose of meeting people my age. I eventually met some people and we became friends. I moved from the hotel into the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity house with one of my new friends, Pete O'Garo, and our friendship turned out to be lifelong.
After a year of fun in the sun in Los Angeles, I returned home to South Bend the first week of September 1952. My plans were to work a year at the Studebaker Automobile Factory there in South Bend, buy a Studebaker, and return to California. However, those plans had to be postponed indefinitely because the army had other plans for me. I did not return to California until 1958.
During the time I was in California, the 1948 Selective Service Act was reinstated. The 1948 Selective Service Act required all young men between the ages of 18 and 26 to register for the military draft. The men 19 to 26 who were inducted into the military service served for a period of twenty months. A physical examination was mandatory to determine the inductee's fitness to serve. I took my physical examination when I was in California.
In 1951 the 1948 law was replaced by the Universal Military Training and Service Act. This act only changed the 1948 Act by extending the length of service to twenty-four months and reducing the minimum age for induction to 18½ years. My parents informed me that two letters from the United States Selective Service Division had preceded my arrival. One letter informed me that I had passed my physical examination. The other ordered me to report in three weeks to the US Army’s Regional Induction Center. I suddenly realized that one week had already passed and I had only two weeks remaining. I was devastated. During my remaining two weeks as a civilian I met Bettye, a wonderful woman who later became my wife and the mother of my four daughters. I was inducted into the US Army on September 18, 1952. I was 21 years old at the time.
A couple weeks later I was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training. The new recruits were driven by military bus from the Michigan Induction Center to Fort Leonard Wood. Little did I know that I was one of the first black soldiers to enter the newly integrated US Army.
Upon arrival we were assigned barracks and beds within the barracks. As I recall, the barracks were large rectangular structures wide enough to house approximately twenty cot beds--ten on each side positioned lengthwise with the foot facing a wide center aisle. At the head of each cot there was shelving adjacent to the outside windows. At one end of the barrack were the wash rooms and at the other was a small bedroom for the cadre personnel.
After unpacking my duffle bag and settling in my designated area, I left the barracks to explore the facilities. I had heard that a friend of a friend of mine named Jimmy Steward was there at Fort Leonard Wood. I went over to base facilities that housed the African-American 92nd Infantry Division. I found Jimmy and we had a great visit talking about home. Jimmy was being discharged and going home to Gary, Indiana.
Fort Leonard Wood is located in the middle of the Ozark Mountain range, so the terrain is characteristically hilly. Training hikes were particularly difficult with full military gear on, including a 50-pound back pack. I had a particular problem in that the army supply didn't have any size twelve boots. I had to do all my hiking in thin-soled dress shoes. I felt every pebble along the way. I have always seemed to have a problem getting shoes. I remember as a teenager I couldn't go to regular shoe stores because they didn't have large sizes. There was a shoe store in my home of South Bend called Walkers. Walkers catered to the giant Notre Dame football players who special ordered the large sizes. Sometimes the shoes they ordered were not what they wanted, so Walkers reduced the price on the shoes and put them on sale. That’s how I was able to purchase new shoes.
Basic training was a four-month long course. Most of our classes were outside, no matter whether it was raining, sleeting, extremely hot or snowing. I was there during the extreme winter. We wore huge parkas with fur-lined hoods, gloves, long johns, parka pants and thermal boots. They had thermal boots my size, thank goodness. As I recall, there were three basic venues we endeavored in--hiking up and down the mountain trails, firing our M1 rifles on the firing range, and sitting outside on bleachers. For the first time in my life, I learned to sleep sitting up. The conditions were extremely cold sitting on the bleachers; however, with the thermal gear on we felt a sense of warm coziness, so we fell asleep. The cadre were World War II veterans and they were hard to fool. Sometimes during the session the cadre would whisper, “I am going to yell out loud ATTENTION. Those of you that are awake stay seated.” When the cadre yelled ‘attention’, the soldiers that were sleep jumped to their feet. They were reprimanded and given extra duty, such as working in the kitchen or cleaning the latrine (bathroom).
In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which changed the segregation tradition of the armed forces. The new policy guaranteed equal and fair treatment for both black and white military personnel. Was the newly integrated army a success? That totally depends on what would be considered successful. There were no race riots on the base or overt racial recrimination by hanging a noose on a rafter to simulate a lynching, but suppose a white--or black child, for that matter--is lead to believe and is reminded all of his young life that he is superior to all other human beings. When he grows up and becomes an adult, how is he supposed to feel any different? A Presidential Executive Order to integrate the armed forces didn't change any minds or attitudes. It only altered the visual environments. Change can only occur with the passage of time and reconsideration of old stereotypical motions. Education with association also may (I say may) promote the idea that we are all just one people of this world.
This change took four years to work its way to Ft. Leonard Wood. This new policy required military personnel to make an instant attitude change, which was impossible. I endured some policy backlash. The new policy meant that living quarters were integrated. Most white soldiers had never been in close proximity with black people. The white soldiers reacted by isolating and shunning black soldiers. There were always a few white people that were willing to befriend a black person, but as a consequence they were also shunned and branded (to use the less ugly term) “Negro Lovers”.
As a product of integrated schools, I had experienced resentment before. Reaction to things that one cannot control is a major distraction from those things you can control. There is an ever-present Universal Law of Cause and Effect. If a person exhibits hatred towards you, the hatred is an effect of a cause within that person. By responding to the hatred, you are only giving voice to the effect--which is useless. Changing an effect can only occur by changing the cause within that person. How are you going to do that? Don’t waste your time--ignore it.
Life for me at Fort Leonard Wood was somewhat uneventful. I was basically left alone. I pulled the usual duties like cleaning the barracks and latrine and working in the kitchen. As trainees we experienced a lot of yelling by the instructors and cadre, of which some was the basic harassment inherent with the training and the other was to emphasis a point that was essential to our surviving in a war zone. All in all I felt that all my instructors and cadre were efficient, knowledgeable, and fair, although every now and then we were rousted out of bed about 3 a.m. to go on a ten-mile hike before breakfast.
I really enjoyed the food served in basic. I was always ready to eat. I made one huge discovery while in basic about fish. At home in Indiana, I always loved the taste of fish but disliked the fact that fish had bones. In basic I discovered that a fish could be filleted of bones. The army bases served an abundance of filleted halibut.
Fort Leonard Wood was a complete facility. On our free time we could go to movies, bowl, and go to the PX (Post Exchange Store) and buy anything we wanted tax free. Church services were available. I visited some new friends I had met at the 92nd Infantry Division.
Personally I had an "I don't care" attitude. I felt that my life had been so radically altered that I couldn't possibly have a future beyond my impending tour of duty in Korea. I thought that the worst was about to happen to me, and I couldn't shake that attitude. Even though I had a negative future outlook, I performed well as a soldier and I was noticed by my commanding officer, who made the suggestion that I apply for Officer's Training School.
Halfway through our training, the Christmas holidays came up. I was given a furlough to go home for two weeks. I reunited with Bettye, the young beautiful lady I had met prior to coming to Fort Leonard Wood, and we got along well. I decided to stay an additional week beyond my authorized furlough. I became AWOL- Absent without Leave. Through the excessive insistence of Bettye and my mother, I returned to Fort Leonard Wood a week late. My training group had moved on so I had to wait for another training group. I was given a summary court marshal, which meant that I would not have to spend time in the brig. Instead, I would have seven days unauthorized absence placed in my records.
My application for officer’s training was suspended, but I had no regrets. The results of all actions are preceded by a cause. I knew it was because I went AWOL. I couldn't change that, so worrying about it was useless. I finished my basic training and was assigned to Korean duty. I had no further training after basic, but the basic training I took was useful in learning how to survive and to protect myself in a war zone.
Prior to leaving for Korea, I wasn't allowed to have the usual furlough because of my court marshal. We flew from Ft. Leonard Wood to Fort Lewis, Washington, on a military version of Douglas' DC3 propeller-driven aircraft. It took two days to get there. This was my very first airplane ride and I was petrified. The aircraft did not instill much courage. It was relatively small and carried only 21-32 passengers. Its cruising speed was only 150 miles per hour and it was a light 25,200 pounds fully loaded. With strong winds the aircraft got buffeted around very easily. The crew consisted of a pilot and co-pilot. There was no stewardess or kitchen. We ate what we brought along in our backpack. Due to a tight cabin, it was not advisable to walk up and down the aisle. We had a refueling stop, although I do not remember where it was. I remember that we deplaned and spent the night at the military refueling depot. Early the next morning we continued our journey to Fort Lewis, Washington. I am no longer petrified of flying, but I am not completely comfortable with it either. I believe that to rid ourselves of any fears we must confront them. My next flight was August 1974 on a Boeing 707 flying from Los Angeles to Copenhagen, Denmark. I flew for nine hours over the polar caps.
On to Korea
At Ft. Lewis we prepared to ship out to Korea. We obtained the correct wardrobe and equipment for Korea, got orientation on the various codes of conduct, behavior and survival. I was able to call my parents and Bettye before I shipped out.
A merchant marine ship had been modified for the journey. Life aboard ship was mundane except for the first couple of days. Many soldiers got seasick, but I didn’t. At the time, I was 6’2’’ tall, weighed about 175 pounds, and loved to eat. The first couple of days at sea the ship was filthy from seasick soldiers regurgitating all over. Merchant marine ships are known for their excellent food and our ship was no exception. I ate my fill, especially during the first two days. In the ship's dining hall we ate buffet style, except for servers at each food station. When our tray was full, we found an empty seat at a long mess table. Many times during the first two days a soldier would come and sit next to me, look down at his food, get sick, jump up, and run out to the nearest overboard railing or latrine. I would then eat his untouched food along with my own.
I learned early on how to avoid doing ship duties. The duties included working in the mess hall or kitchen or cleaning up after the seasick soldiers. I got up early and went topside to the upper deck. Early each morning Duty Officers walked through the sleeping quarters and assigned ship duties to anyone they caught sleeping. If we could busy ourselves topside with some sort of activity, the Duty Officer might leave us alone. He assigned duty to those soldiers that were just standing around. When I got topside each morning, I started a whist game or joined one in progress. It was the only game I played on the ship.
Whist is a card game that was created in England. Whist became popular among the English and American white aristocrats in the 1800’s. At the turn of the century, whist as a game evolved into bridge among the affluent populace of England and American. African–Americans under the rule of segregation had few opportunities for outside entertainment without enduring the humiliation of going to the rear of the theaters, climbing the stairs, and sitting in the balcony for blacks only. The only refuge for African-Americans that offered some degree of solace was the churches and individual homes. As the whist card game trickled down and became available to the African-American community, it was embraced as an ideal source of entertainment with family and friends. The game is played with 52 cards and a joker. There are four players consisting of two partners who sit opposite each other. Each player submits a bid in his or her strongest suit of cards and the highest bid calls the trump suit as in bridge. The first partners to accumulate seven books of cards win the game. The losing partners have to get up from the deck and allow another team to play. Rising after losing is called ‘rise and fly’.
Aboard ship, the first time I sat down to play I didn’t know my partner. As we began to play, my partner and I learned to communicate with each other solely by the cards we played. We began to read each other’s card hand by what we played. That was phenomenal, so from that day forward we were the team to beat. We played whist every morning and won for two weeks straight until we arrived in Yokohama, Japan, and disembarked. As I look back today about the feat that my partner and I performed by beating the whole ship at whist, I can’t remember anything about my partner. In my entire Korean experience, I can recall only three names. That is really strange because I met and interacted with many people. Deep down inside me, I felt that I would not survive this Korean episode. Little did I know that not only would I survive, but also my family and I would develop a relationship with a Korean family that was the most meaningful one of my life.
Except for the first couple of days, the sea was relatively calm and the two weeks it took to get to Japan were uneventful for me. We had no training aboard ship that I recall. I remember becoming friendly with one of the cooks who periodically slipped me slices of fresh baked hot bread and butter out the deckside door of the kitchen. I have never experienced that tantalizing taste of hot bread and butter again. I don't know if it was especially good because of the clandestine matter it was slipped to me or what. All I know is that it was memorable.
Seoul to Pusan
After we arrived in Yokohama, I believe we stayed there for a couple of days before boarding another ship and sailing on to Korea. My memory is vague about this time, but we arrived in Inchon near the capital of Seoul as part of a full military amphibious landing. It was in the afternoon high tide of April 1953, three months prior to the July 27, 1953 armistice. As our ship neared the coast of Korea at Inchon, we disembarked to an LCVP amphibious landing craft for our assault on the Inchon beaches. (The LCVP amphibian landing craft could land a platoon of 36 soldiers with full gear.) Even though the war was still involved, we were not fired upon. The situation in Korea at that point in time was that the Chinese and North Koreans had been pushed back above Seoul and close to the 38th parallel. When we landed on the beach, we were immediately taken by truck to the train station to board the train to Pusan. My first impression of Korea was that I was amazed at the devastation I saw in the twilight of that first evening. The war had decimated Seoul and its infrastructure.
I spent my first night in Korea on a very slow train heading to Pusan, where I was later assigned to a battalion. For safety reasons and unawareness of the train track’s condition, it took us over 24 hours to get to Pusan. Today with the high speed trains it only takes two hours from Seoul to Pusan and much less from Inchon. After leaving Seoul, we proceeded by a South Korean train south to Pusan. All the train windows had previously been shot out. We were warned to watch for snipers along the route. Most of the soldiers were apprehensive about sitting by the windows. It is amazing how dark the night can be minus the reflection of city lights. The nights in Korea were so dark that no one could see his hands before him. The darkness was imperative, as any source of light could be a target for snipers. A smoker lighting his cigarette with an old Zippo lighter was a prime target for snipers. To this day I am uncomfortable in a lighted room that has windows with blinds or shades opened to the darkness of night. In my home at night I close all blinds and shades prior to lighting a room. Some habits never end.
I stayed in Pusan for a few days waiting to be assigned. Pusan is a city located on the southeastern coast of South Korea and at the mouth of the Naktong River. The Naktong River winds its way south for 308 miles from its origin in the Taebaek Mountains and is South Korea’s longest river. The Taebaek Mountains are located along the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula adjacent to the Sea of Japan, which extends 305 miles from North Korea to Pusan at the south end of the mountain range. The United Nations forces utilized Pusan’s deep water harbor as a major port of entry for supplies and munitions. Pusan is steep in ancient history that goes back to the early Neolithic times between 4000 and 5000 BC.
Since I was not yet assigned to a unit, I was put back on a train and sent to Taegu. I was in Taegu for a couple of days and was still not assigned, so I was put back on a train and sent back to Seoul. Just before lights out at the base in Seoul, a single engine North Korean Piper Club type aircraft could be heard putt putting across the night sky. This plane was known as “Bed Check Charlie”. “Charlie” was slang for communist forces. “Bed Check Charlie” carried one huge bomb that was dropped every night. The aircraft was so small that it was able to fly under the United Nation’s radar system. If the sound of “Bed Check Charlie” was heard close by, it was time to take cover. If not, we turned over and tried to get some much-needed sleep. When we heard a big bang, we knew that “Charlie” had delivered the bomb.
During all this time I can't remember anything significant happening except waiting around to be assigned. As I traveled through the country by train and truck, I definitely knew I was in a foreign country because of the massive populations of Korean people. I was also made aware of the fact that I was in a war zone because of the almost total devastation everywhere. The massive population of Korean people I saw were going about their usual business of trying to survive. Because of their dire circumstances of shortages of food and clean water and means to make a living, some families with daughters were forced to offer them up for prostitution in order to survive as a family. The most heart-wrenching thing was to see the huge numbers of children of all age foraging for food and begging for money. The children appeared to be orphans.
On July 27, 1953 a Korean War truce was signed by the Commander–in–Chief, United Nations Command, the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, and the Commander of the Chinese People’s Volunteers. A new era had begun for the Korean people. Concurrently with the truce throughout Korea, the national flower began its July-to-October blossoming cycle. I knew the flower as a Hibiscus Syricus. The Koreans called it the Rose of Sharon (mugunghwa). The Rose of Sharon’s tenacious effort to bloom every year regardless of the circumstances symbolically reflects the longevity of the Korean culture and the determined resolve of the Korean people. Most of my traveling between the US Army bases was by train. In spite of the devastation country-wide, there was beauty to be seen from the train’s window, and that was the blossoming of the Rose of Sharon.
When I first landed at Inchon, somehow my orders got messed up and I was in limbo. As mentioned, at first they sent me to Pusan, then Taegu, and finally Seoul. It took about three months before I got to the Libby Bridge site. I was finally assigned to the 8th Army’s 84th Engineer Construction Battalion, Company C. I was put on a truck and sent to the site where the unit was working on the Libby Bridge near the town of Chang-pari. The 84th Engineers had been reactivated at Fort Riley, Kansas, on May 20, 1949. In 1950 the battalion was deployed to Korea to support the allied forces. The battalion’s primary contribution to the Korean War effort was to take on the huge challenge of building the Libby Bridge. As a result of building the Libby Bridge, the 84th Engineer Construction Battalion received recognition by Korea President Syngman Rhee and was awarded the Korean Presidential Unit Citation.
The problem with building the Libby Bridge was the Imjin River, which originated in North Korea and flowed to South Korea, joining the Han River near Seoul. From July through August the river became a raging torrent of water, flowing at a rate of 15-20 feet per second. It rose to a flood height of 48 feet and washed out any low-lying structures. At flood stage water traveled at 20 feet per second and everything in its path was washed away. When this happened, the supply line to the troops on the other side was interrupted. During the below-zero temperatures of Korean winters in this area, thick blocks of ice formed on the river and flowed downstream, damaging obstacles in its path. The military needed to span the river in order to supply the armed forces on the other side. Basically, army engineers used a wooden structure to erect bridges across rivers as needed.
The Libby Bridge was named for Sergeant George D. Libby. Sergeant Libby was born on December 4, 1919 in Bridgeton, Maine. While serving with the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, 24th Infantry Division, Sergeant Libby earned the Medal of Honor during the Korean War. Sergeant Libby distinguished himself by demonstrating exemplary courage and bravery and acting beyond the call of duty in action. On July 20, 1952, surrounded by enemy forces the truck that Sergeant Libby was in tried to break through, but came under sustained heavy fire. The truck was disabled and many passengers were wounded and killed. Sergeant Libby, who was uninjured at the time, fought the enemy and gave aid to the wounded. He hailed a passing M-5 artillery tractor and assisted the wounded to board. Under heavy enemy fire, Sergeant Libby, realizing that the M-5 driver was the only one able to drive this vehicle, shielded the driver with his body as he returned fire. The M-5 drove to safety, picking up other wounded soldiers along the way. Sergeant Libby received multiple wounds and upon reaching friendly lines, succumbed.
The section of the Imjin where the Libby Bridge was constructed was an active channel of about 1200 feet wide with about 75 feet of vertical rock cliffs on both sides. The problem facing the 84th Engineers was to build a bridge high and strong enough to withstand the seasonal assaults of the Imjin River and maintain an unbroken supply line for our troops on the other side of the river. They decided to build a state-side type of bridge consisting of 48-inch steel I-beams and reinforced concrete.
During the construction, two soldiers lost their lives. I don't know their names. The Libby Bridge construction was started before the Armistice was signed and was within artillery range of the North Korean forces. The two soldiers were killed by artillery fire at the construction site. The Libby Bridge was constructed as a permanent structure and solved the problem of flooding by the Imjin River. The North Koreans realized the mutual possible value of the Libby Bridge, so they stopped shelling the area and allowed the construction to continue without interference.
The Libby Bridge was built more than 49 feet above the mean low water level of the Imjin River and, and I already mentioned, had basically been completed when I arrived at the time of clean-up and removal of construction material. There were 4x4 boards extended on both sides of the bridge at right angles to the bridge for about two feet out. These boards were placed six feet apart along the total 1,075-foot span of the bridge. Flat board planks for walking were placed on top of these boards, so over the side of the bridge more than 49 feet above the water were platforms to walk on.
As my first duty, I was ordered to go over the side of the bridge and remove the existing planks as I walked backwards toward the end of the bridge. At the time I was afraid of heights, so I refused to comply with the order. The sergeant immediately sent me to the commanding officer for disobeying his orders. The commanding officer was an understanding and considerate human being, as was my Summary Court Martial officer. I was able to talk my way out of a jail sentence and I was reassigned to another duty.
After my initial run-in with my sergeant, I settled down and started to do the normal construction work tasks. During the day my work varied and depended upon what I was assigned to do. We constructed structures with wood, which entailed sawing, measuring, nailing parts together, and framing. Sometimes we had to prepare the ground sites as a pre-construction task, which entailed removing boulders and trees and leveling the surface of the area. Periodically at night we were called upon to pull guard duty, which entailed walking the perimeter of the compound armed with an M-1 rifle. This was a pleasant time for me, but also very dangerous. The nights in Korea were so lightless that we literally couldn't see our hands before us. I had a portable radio that my parents gave me tucked inside my parka. I listened to “Symphony Sid”, a jazz disc jockey coming from New York City. How I got the station, I don't know, but I really appreciated it.
We stayed there at the Libby Bridge site until the bridge was completed. We lived in a compound of tents defined by chain link fencing around its perimeter. We usually built these compounds every time we took on a new construction assignment. The comfort of each compound depended on how long we were to be at a site.
Within the compound were separate areas that housed the needed facilities of the command. There were motor pools where trucks and other motorized equipment were kept. We had a supply depot where needed tools and equipment could be checked out for a designated task or job. There was an area for mess hall that accommodated soldiers for eating, and there were sleeping areas. Not all the facilities were tented accommodations. Some facilities, such as motor pools, mess halls, supply depots, company offices and officers quarters, were housed in Quonset huts. Quonset huts were corrugated metal constructed facilities of various sizes, depending on the needs.
I lived in a squad tent that may or may not have had a wooden floor. (I remember that one time we had only a bare ground floor.) We slept on canvas cots in a sleeping bag during the winters. All the latrines were located outside. Inside the tent there was one, or sometimes two, oil burning stoves, depending on how many lived in the tent. In my tent there were four of us. We had a Korean houseboy we paid monthly to keep the tent clean, manage the stove in the winter, and do laundry. The latter entailed carrying our laundry to the nearest village to be washed.
A day off was treasured because we were on our own. Sometimes I stayed in the tent and wrote letters home. At other times I visited and explored a nearby village or town. Often when we walked off our base the young children besieged us. Usually we waved them off. Over a period of time, one young girl always came to me. I can’t remember her name now, but she was 12 years old and had lost her parents. She was staying with senior relatives and supported them by begging. I felt very sorry for her, so I gave her money to help out. I didn’t have much money because I wasn’t expecting to survive this Korean odyssey. I had the Army send most of my pay to my mother and father. To get extra money, I sold my rations of cigarettes to the Korean merchants. I tried to help this girl because I knew that if she couldn’t get enough money to support her family, she would be forced into prostitution, the only option for a young woman during the Korean War and immediately after the signing of the truce. I even tried to adopt her, but the Army wouldn’t allow this. The US Army discouraged any type of personal commitment with the local Korean population that might lead to marriages or adoptions. Eventually I was transferred to another base. Sadly, I lost contact with my little friend.
After the Truce
My commander knew that the thawing of the North Korean and Chinese Communist commanders was due to the death of Josef Stalin on March 5, 1953. Anticipating that the armistice would be signed soon, my unit, the 84th Engineering Battalion, Company C, moved on to another site where we were commissioned to build a tent city for repatriating prisoners of war. We were located closer to the Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjom, Korea. As I recall we always had to be trucked to the site where we were working. We weren't a great distance away from work, but we were not on the site.
When my unit traveled short distances like going from Seoul to Panmunjom, which was about an hour and one-half drive, we traveled in an open bed US Army M-35 2 ½ ton cargo truck. From my elevated advantage point, I had a clear view of the seemingly passing landscape of ever-blossoming Rose of Sharon. Historically the Korean people have been associated with this flower’s resilience. As I looked out and observed the Rose of Sharon blossoming in and around the war-damaged tanks, jeeps, trucks and even bomb craters, I knew that the Korean people would not only survive, but flourish.
We initially cleared the land site, built retaining barbed wire fencing around the perimeter, constructed wooden flooring, and erected the tents. This facility was capable of housing several hundred prisoners. After completion, we waited. As we waited, we performed various maintenance chores to keep the facilities ready. The armistice negotiations were changing. The communists were considering the Allied proposal of the exchange of sick and wounded prisoners. Soon after the communists agreed to repatriate the sick and wounded prisoners, they began to negotiate. The main contention of disagreement was the method for the repatriation of all prisoners. Prior to the armistice, our Prisoner of War (POW) camp was completely filled. After the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, we began shipping the POWs back across the Demilitarized Zone into North Korea. We then began to tear down the POW camp.
During the three months prior to the signing of the armistice, I moved around a lot. The only danger I faced was from sniper fire. There were contingencies of North Korean sniper squads operating behind our lines. The nights were particularly hazardous where any exposed light source was a sniper's target to be fired upon. Riding on trains we were prime targets for being sprayed with machine gun fire. There was the ever night presence of “Bed Check Charlie” dropping one bomb somewhere nearby. One of my encampments was located next to an artillery battery. The artillery was so huge that we could see the wake of the shell as it traveled through the air towards the North Korean line. My location presented no present danger because the North Koreans never fired back. All in all I never suffered from any of these hazards mentioned. During my stay in Korea, I only had two scars--one from my appendectomy and the other on my ear. The scar on my ear was caused when other soldiers and I were riding in the back of an open-bed army truck that rounded a curve too fast, tipped over, and threw us into a rice paddy beside the road.
The Four Sophomores
After the truce, our life was pretty mundane. We mainly wrote letters home and waited for our next day-pass to Seoul. We enjoyed getting away from our base camp, but not witnessing the Korean people of Seoul in their struggle to survive.
At our base we had to entertain ourselves, so three buddies and I formed a singing group. We called ourselves "The Four Sophomores". We patterned our singing after the much-admired "Four Freshmen", a jazz-oriented close harmony-singing group. In the early 1950’s in Dayton, Ohio, band-leader Stan Kenton was very impressed with The Four Freshmen, who were struggling at the time. Stan called Capitol Records and set up an audition, which led to this group recording such hits as, “It’s a Blue World”, "Mood Indigo”, “Day by Day”, “Graduation Day”, and many pop hits that have endured throughout the 21st century. We tried to imitate this group with some success. One thing was for sure--it helped to pass the time.
One of our new thrills was to sneak out of camp after dark and go to the nearby village looking for consenting female companionship or bottles of homemade alcohol. All soldiers were briefed as to the possibility of catching diseases and were issued protection in that regard. Unfortunately, my participation was very limited due to my personal mental inability to justify certain acts outside an existing romantic relationship. There were a few soldiers that became attached to a certain lady. They would then date that specific lady and help support her and her family so that the lady wouldn't have to sell herself in order to survive.
As to the homemade alcohol, there is little written history about the origin of Korean alcohol. However, we know that the Chinese were involved. The Chinese character for ‘ju’ means alcohol, named after the fermenting pot. The Korean character for ‘sul’ comes from the Chinese words ‘su’ meaning water and ‘bul’ meaning fire. Therefore, ‘su’ plus ‘bul’ means ‘sul’ in Korean. In the Korean historical archives, it is written that an unidentified king used sul to seduce and impregnate a lady. Her son was named Sul. Sul was not distilled liquor. Sul wasn’t distilled until around the 14th century, after which sul became know as soju. Soju today is rice liquor similar to vodka. It is high in potency, smooth in taste, and favorable.
Periodically the Military Police raided the village trying to catch us. If someone saw them coming they yelled, “MP’s” and everyone scattered and ran back toward our camp. Usually the most direct way back was through the rice paddies that were constructed in a grid pattern with raised walking paths of packed dirt about one foot high. These paths were the safest way through the rice paddies because adjacent to these paths the local farmers had open fertilizer pits. Every day a farmer who we called, “the honeyman” collected the human waste from our camp’s latrine and stored it in these pits to be used as fertilizer. A soldier running from the MPs avoided the walking path and cut across the marshy rice paddy, ultimately falling into the fertilizer pit and sinking neck high. Needless to say, it took the soldier many showers with the lye-based GI soap to remove the stench.
Day Passes to Seoul
It was very exciting when we received day passes to Seoul, even though most of the buildings were heavily damaged. On June 25, 1950, North Korea had launched a sneak attack on South Korea. Located in close proximity to the North Korea border, Seoul suffered greatly. In the first year of the war, Seoul changed hands four times. Every time an opposing army took control of Seoul, homes, buildings and infrastructure got destroyed by mortar shelling and bombing. After two years of fierce fighting, the Korean War ended in a virtual stalemate with no significant gain by either side. Enormous personal losses were had by all involved, especially the Korean people who had to rebuild their country. Miraculously, there were a few dance halls and nightclubs standing without any war damage. The entertainment was surprisingly very good. Many of the musicians and entertainers were from the Philippines and they imitated the American music style very well.
The only problem I had with going to Seoul was becoming very depressed after seeing hundreds of homeless children, some as young as four years old, foraging for food and shelter for themselves. The people of Korea had a very difficult time with their homes and livelihood destroyed. Children were seen roaming the street of their respective cities begging in order to survive. I wondered to myself if war was worth the price of this grief and suffering. I finally concluded that it was not. (Any sensitive person witnessing their suffering would ask himself if war was worth all that.) I believed that I was right when I found out that by the end of the Korean War in July 1953, there had been four million military and civilian casualties, including 33,600 Americans, 16,000 UN Allies, 415,000 South Koreans, 520,000 North Koreans and an estimated 900,000 Chinese--a huge sacrifice just to achieve a stalemate. I have come to the conclusion that governments draft young people because they can be molded into soldiers who follow orders and don’t ask questions.
I am personally against war because it never solves anything. The Korean War was only an extension of the Cold War between Russia and America. At best the Korean War was a tie. Are these facts worth a tie?
These numbers represent units of a family that suffered also. I ask again, was a tie worth it? For me, the hardest thing about being in Korea was witnessing the suffering. However, for me personally I grew exponentially and would not trade the experience for any that I have ever had.
As I said earlier, our assignment before the arrival of the POWs was to build a tent city for the exchange of war prisoners. Our chores were to perform basic maintenance throughout the camp. The camp as I remember it was huge and required returning to the original structures to perform basic maintenance such as cleaning the interiors, retightening the tent ropes and securing the tent peg that had been buffeted by the winds. While the repatriation was going on, our company more or less relaxed and read or wrote letters home. Since the truce was signed, we wandered around and explored the area that we were in. However, we had to be watchful of combatants that weren't aware that the truce had been signed and the ever-present minefield danger.
When the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, the exchange of prisoners began. In August 1953 the United Nations Command (UNC) prepared to transfer 75,823 POW’s (Prisoners of War) to North Korea through the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). The UNC prepared to receive 12,773 allied POWs, including 7,862 ROK (Republic of Korea) troops, 3,597 Americans, 229 Turks and others from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, India, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Philippines and Thailand. There were 359 allied personnel who decided not to repatriate: 335 ROK soldiers, 21 American troops, and 1 Briton. Also, 47,000 Chinese and North Korean POW’s decided not to go home. Instead, they chose to repatriate to the West. The general consensus was that the reason the 21 American refused to repatriate was that they were ‘brainwashed’. Brainwashed was a term coined by Edward Hunter in an article he wrote in the Miami Daily News and New Leader magazine in 1951.
North Korean and Chinese POWs were housed for about a month in the tent city that we completed. When the transfer was complete, we disassembled the tent city. The facility was more or less a transfer point because of our close proximity of about three miles from the Demilitarized Zone. On the day of transfer, the North Korean and Chinese POWs were loaded on the US Army’s M35 2 ½ ton cargo trucks. As the POWs neared the DMZ, they tore off the canvas cover over the trucks and ripped off their clothing. I imagine they were trying to imply that they had been mistreated.
I didn’t witness any POW cruelty in the tent city that we built. As the POWs came into the camp, they looked healthy and well dressed in khakis, t-shirts, sandals, and a utility bag. Some of the POWs were very belligerent, screaming and yelling in their native language, which we didn't understand. Others were calm and quiet. I did not see any American POWs. I imagine that they were repatriated at another location.
Early one morning I was awakened by an excruciating pain in my side. I learned later that I had an appendicitis attack. I was driven about 40 miles south to the hospital in Munsan, Korea, on a road covered with potholes caused by bombs and mortar shells. In my condition, riding in an army jeep without the luxury of wheel shocks bordered on inhumane treatment. Every hole we hit only caused me to suffer more. I remained in Munsan a couple days to recover from the surgery. Years later the operation was the subject of conversation between my wife, Bettye and me. We were comparing our respective appendectomy scars. My scar was about six inches long. The military doctors wasted no time probing for the appendix. They made a large incision, then reached in and grabbed it as quickly as possible because of the many other patients waiting. Bettye, on the other hand, had her operation January 1950 while attending Howard University in Washington D.C. (1948–1952). Her incision was no more that a half-inch in length. Bettye’s surgeon was none other than the famous black researcher, Dr. Charles Richard Drew. He established the American Red Cross Blood Bank and was its first director. On April 1, 1950 at the age of 46, Dr. Charles Drew lost his life in an automobile accident in North Carolina.
When I was in the hospital in Munsan recovering from my appendix operation, there was a POW in the bed next to me. He was guarded by a soldier. I tried to communicate with him but he would not answer. I was trying to communicate in Korean (by then I had mastered a few words). When assigned to a foreign country, soldiers were issued a State Department language book for the country that they were assigned. The book I received on the Korean language was excellent. I still have it around my home somewhere.
Daily Life in Korea
Won Kee Joon
After my operation and recovery (I was allowed two days to recover in the hospital), I was relocated to the 84th Engineering Battalion Headquarters base camp just outside of Seoul, Korea. I was assigned to the base utility shop. We did light carpentry work, painted construction signs (in both English and Korean), and did other handyman-type chores. There I met Mr. Won Kee Joon, who was already working in the shop. The Korean naming system is unique in that it consists of a family name first, a generation name second, and a given name last. The family name includes all of the blood relatives, which can go back a hundred year or more. The generation name is shared by brothers, sisters, and cousins that are members of the same generation. The given name is unique to each individual person. Traditionally a marrying Korean lady keeps her family’s name, but her children born of the union are given their father’s family name. In the Korean culture it is considered very rude to address a Korean by their given name.
Won was college-educated, a noted baseball player, and, at the time, a husband and the father of four little children--one son and three daughters. Prior to the war Won had been a businessman in Seoul and Yongdongpo. If my memory serves me right, he was a candy manufacturer. As a result of the war, Won lost everything. When he lost his livelihood, he began to work as a laborer for the US Army in order to support his family. He never complained. He just did the task assigned to him.
Won and I worked under the direction of a sergeant who rotated back to the United States after I had been there a few weeks. After that, there was only Won and me working in the shop six days a week. We did basic handyman type chores around the base and in the shop. Won and I worked closely together until I was shipped back home in June 1954. The time that Won and I were together was a learning experience for me. I was often invited to his home for dinner. I became familiar with the Korean culture from him, and learned to speak, as well as read and write, Korean. Through Won I was inspired to take a night college course to study the Korean language. I always felt that I had an aptitude for foreign languages. I had studied Latin and Spanish in high school and did well. I always felt that if you are in someone else’s country, it’s only a matter of courtesy to try and learn some of that country’s language. Later, from 1974 to 1995, I traveled to several foreign countries. Before I left home I always tried to at least learn how to greet, ask for essentials, and say thanks in the native language of each country that I was visiting. As Won and I tackled the daily chores around the shop, he helped me learn the Korean language.
I hate to admit this, but from the time that I was ordered to Korea, all I could think about was myself. As my time in Korean continued to pass, I became more open-minded. This was facilitated by all the devastation and hardship of the Korean people that I witnessed. I wanted to do something to help, but was completely at a loss as to what I could do. Through my friendship with Won, my expectations made a 360-degree turn around. I no longer felt my life would end there in Korea. Won and I had seriously considered opening a utility shop in Seoul when I was discharged from the army.
When I returned to Korea in 2007, only the oldest two daughters, Won Moon Ja and Won Yung Ja remembered the times when I came to dinner. Early on, I informed my mother and Bettye, my fiancée at the time, of my friendship with Won. My mother and Bettye collected clothing and all kinds of useful household goods which they sent to me to pass on to Won’s family. My mother was a maid for a rich family that had a lot of slightly used goods that were no longer in use. My mother boxed these goods up and sent them to me. She also collected goods from other maids that she knew and sent them to me to pass on to Won's family as well.
I will never forget how Won’s family received me on occasions when I was invited to their home. In 1953 my mother and Bettye, both of whom have since passed on, also regarded Won and his family as an extension of our family. From the time I met Won Kee Joon until the present 2008, I cherished our relationship as one of the very best and most rewarding experience of my now 77 years of life. I have very dear friends that I have known my entire life. I have learned that one can develop a very dear friendship in a very short time. The length of time together has nothing to do with it--but the quality does.
This and That
Before the truce, we were on the move and bathing was a hit or miss operation. When out in the field or traveling, our steel helmet was our head protector as well as our face bowl and bath tub. We had no shower facilities in the field. Our only luxury was a water truck from which we could draw water into our helmets to use for bathing. Whenever we were stationary for a relatively long while, before and after the truce, we had shower tents that served as a bathing facility.
When on temporary assignment we ate C-rations, which were quite palatable to me. C-rations consisted of cans of food that were opened by the ever-present P-38 can opener. The cans contained crackers and jam, fruits, meat entrees, toiletries, gum, candy and cookies. My all-time favorite was spaghetti and meat balls, which was very hard to find. I imagine that a lot of other soldiers loved it also. For extended stay on site, we had mess tents with US Army chefs that prepared hot food daily. Most of the US Army’s food and cooking was very tasty to me. The first time I ate Korean food was when Won took me to a neighborhood restaurant. Won knew that I liked scrimps, so we had scrimp and noodles. I discovered more tasty Korean food when I tried other dishes. My favorite then and now is kimchi (fermented cabbage) and bulgogi, a thinly-sliced marinated grilled beef. All my life I have been a hamburger and hot dog eater. While in Korea, they were the foods that I missed most. Occasionally the army cooks made hamburgers. I remember as a child my father worked at a country club and sometimes he was given some T-bone steaks to bring home. We had an old cast iron meat grinder that clamped to the kitchen table. When my parents were out of the house, I used the grinder to grind a steak to make hamburgers.
As I remember, in my platoon there wasn't much fraternization between soldiers. We did many things in common, like go on leaves to Seoul together, but we appeared to be very different in regards to personal interests. We all appeared to be doing whatever with whomever to kill time, hoping that our discharge date would hurry up soon so that we could get back to our respective lives.
I can't remember any soldier that was particularly comical. All the soldiers that I came in contact with at some time or other offered some funny comments. The funniest incident that I remember was when the MPs were chasing us from a village. As we crossed the rice paddy, a soldier decided to run off the path and fell into a fecal fertilizer storage pit.
I received letters from Bettye at least two to three times per week and two letters from my mom twice a month. My mom occasionally sent packages of goodies like homemade cookies, canned fruits, and any special request that I might have made. The mailing system was excellent when we were stationary for a while, otherwise when we were moving around, the mail took a little time to catch up with us. As in most overseas theaters of war, a fair amount of Dear John letters were received. These letters were painful, but mostly all the recipients that I knew of survived the hurt.
At permanent-type base camps, the opportunity for non-denominational church services was offered. I sometimes participated in the services. I can't remember specifically if I saw any American women while I was in Korea, but in the deep recess of my mind I seem to recall having seen some nurses. I don't know if it was when I had my operation or at a base’s Post Exchange Store. My memory in regards to celebrating American holidays or birthdays is foggy at best, too. I vaguely recall that attempts were made to celebrate Christmas of 1953 after the armistice. I had my 22nd birthday in June of 1953. There were several USO shows in Korea, but I didn't witness any because they were not in a close proximity of my location at the time.
During my tour of duty in Korea, I drank alcohol and smoked very moderately. Basically I couldn't afford to do either. I previously assumed that being sent to Korea was a death sentence, so, as I mentioned earlier, I sent most of my salary home to my parents. I agreed once to sit down and be taught how to play poker. I won big as a result of beginner's luck but to this day I have never sat down to a poker game again.
I never met anyone that I knew stateside in Korea; however, I heard that a hometown buddy of mine was in the Air Force located at K-10 base near Taegu, Korea. I was never able to verify this rumor. Other than Won, the only person I knew in Korea who stands out in my mind was Eddie Sanders. Eddie was a very talented jazz tenor saxophonist. Eddie came to Korea rather than joining the army band, which would have been a relatively safe duty. I often wonder what happened to him.
There were no black leaders in my unit in Korea. I estimate that the black soldiers in my battalion only represented approximately two percent of the total command. There were always incidents and reminders of racial differences. There were Korean females that associated with white soldiers but would not associate with black soldiers and vice-versa. There were white bars and black bars in Seoul. These things were and are facts of life that I have been confronted with all my life. How do I deal with it? I don't. I do not worry about things that I personally cannot control. Even if I did worry about racism, all that would mean is that I have released the control of myself to something or someone else. I refuse to do that.
From the beginning, those of us who served in Korea usually had an idea when we would be shipped home. However, there were many contingencies, such as our survival or not knowing whether the Army intended to honor the committed date. Usually we didn't think about it until the original specified date was close upon us.
When the time came for me to pack up and leave the unit, I was neither sad nor glad. I was in a state of "wait and see" with regard to whether these circumstances would materialize. I bid farewell to my companions and to my friend Won. Won and I had talked about me leaving for a couple of weeks prior to this moment. Our original plan was for me to return to Korea and we would start a business together. If for any reason I couldn't return, I was to sponsor his children if they chose to come to the United States to study. In the meantime, we planned to always stay in contact with each other.
On the day in July 1954 that I left, I was driven to Inchon for disembarkation to the United States. We boarded small boats to ferry out to the huge navy ship. It came to me that one year, four months, and ten days earlier, I had landed in the same place of Inchon, Korea. The process that we went through to leave Korea was the checking of debarkation orders and identity and bag check to make sure we weren't carrying any machine guns, machetes, or other weapons in our duffle bag. On June 29, 1954, I was promoted to Corporal.
I didn't know anyone aboard ship. The only difference between coming over to Korea and going home was that I had to do kitchen duty. When I sat down to play whist, this time I lost frequently. I also had no influence with the cooks to get hot buttered bread. Furthermore, the ship was not a merchant marine ship. Instead, it was a US navy vessel whose name I can't remember. Aboard ship the mood was relatively calm and quiet. I imagine that most of the 2,500 to 3,500 soldiers aboard were in a state of disbelief, as I was. We seemed to have the ocean all to ourselves. I saw no vessels passing us in either direction, although they might have passed while I was asleep. As I remember it, the voyage was quite pleasant. The ocean was calm and agreeable, which contributed to good sleeping within the sometimes swinging canvas hammocks.
We sailed directly to Seattle, Washington. It took all of three weeks. When we docked, there was a military band playing and that was it. Going to Korea was a little different. All the soldiers were whistling, yelling, and howling, and along with the usual military marching band there was one lady dancing with her 45-inch breasts moving about. Prior to docking, seeing the US coastline made me come to the realization that I was, indeed, on my way home. I became very emotional and shed a tear quietly.
In Seattle we were told what discharge site we were going to. The discharge sites were usually locations nearest to our home. My discharge site was Ft. Sheridan in Chicago, Illinois, which was just 90-plus miles from my home town of South Bend. I was boarded on a troop train that took approximately three days to get to Ft. Sheridan. At Ft. Sheridan, we were processed out of service and into the Reserves for a couple of years. I was given my mustering out pay and released into the free world unencumbered by military orders on August 13, 1954. From Ft. Sheridan I got a ride to the downtown Chicago Loop, where I took the South Shore Electric Train to South Bend. The train stopped briefly at the small towns along the route. After three and one-half hours, I arrived in South Bend. I called my father, who came and picked me up. I stayed home with my family for the remainder of my first 24 hours of freedom. As recognition for my service in Korea, I received the Korean Service Ribbon, United Nations Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.
I had no trouble at all returning back to civilian life. When I came home it was like a continuation from when I left and no one suggested that I had changed. I do know that I had changed within. I believe it would have been impossible for me not to have done so, based solely upon the suffering I witnessed while I was in Korea. I believe that one can't serve in the armed services without being affected one way or another. I also believe that all experiences are learning tools, whether you are a mindful person or not.
After I came home from the army I didn't work for about eleven months. I spent most of my time with my friends and family. By then Bettye was living and working in Chicago, Illinois, and I went to Chicago every weekend to see her. One year from the day that I was discharged from the army, I married Bettye J. Martin. We lived in Chicago. I got a job working with the Chicago Transit Authority driving a bus.
The split schedule of driving the bus permitted me to go to school. Using my GI Bill, I enrolled in the Aeronautical University of Chicago, where I graduated as an Aeronautical Engineer in 1958. I packed up my family and moved to Los Angeles, California. The Equal Opportunity Law was in effect and it required factories working on government contract to promote open hiring for everyone. At the time there were many black graduating engineers from historical black colleges, such as Howard University, Prairie View, and others.
North American Aviation opened up to black engineers for the first time and I was one of them. My first job was working on the XB-70, an experimental bomber. Due to the nature of the aerospace business, the work was contract-driven. No contract, no work. I took graduate courses at UCLA that helped me in my work. I usually went to school at night. Most of the students were veterans. The veterans that I observed had a quiet urgency about them, as if they were trying to catch up. They had little time for socializing.
On and off I worked in the aerospace industry from 1958 until I retired in 1995. My only job now is to sit on a loan committee once a month approving or disapproving business loans. I am not involved in any military societies or groups, and I have not searched for any Korean War companion that I had. I wouldn't know where to look.
I have four daughters and five grandchildren. Two of my daughters live in the Los Angeles area, one lives in Denver, and the other lives in Atlanta. I have only told my children about the positive experiences I had in the Korean War. I have talked about Won and his family and the role that their mother played in helping to support Won’s family.
Bettye graduated from Howard University and remained a housewife from 1954 to 1972. She started working at a school for hearing impaired children and worked there until she passed away September 5, 2005 of lung cancer. Bettye and I had an amicable divorce in 1974. We still remained close friends thereafter. I married Lillie Fennell in 1979, but that marriage also ended in an amicable divorce five years later. Lillie was a self-employed real estate manager. My wife Linda and I were married in May of 1995. Linda has two grown sons from a previous marriage. She has worked as a manager and security specialist for a major corporation for 37 years and hopes to retire soon.
Doing the interview for this memoir was both difficult and pleasant. It was difficult in the sense that it made me remember those things that I hadn't thought of in many years, but also pleasant in the sense that I was awakened in my mind and stimulated in trying to remember. I have never been interviewed before and the questions asked were surprisingly pertinent and self-revealing.
I believe that the recognition of wars is based upon the publicity they generate. World War II was a war that we won and Vietnam was a controversial war. The Korean War was neither won, nor did it create controversy. It is called the Forgotten War mainly because it has generated much less attention than World War II preceding it and the Vietnam War following it.
If students read this memoir, I would like them to consider the usefulness of war. The Korean War is considered the forgotten war even though there were well over a million human beings that lost their lives because of it. In all wars it seems that the protagonists soon after make up and resume trade with each other as if all the deaths, suffering, and destruction never happened.
The answer as to whether the United States should have sent troops to Korea or not depends on who you are. If you are a human being that is sensitive to all other human beings, the answer is no. If you are a government that is plutonic in nature and worried about the domino effect of communism and the consequence of hampering trade to the Far East, the answer is yes. The Truman Doctrine was one of containment of communism. However, the American National Security Council recommended that the United States abandon the Truman Doctrine and pursue a policy of repressing communism wherever possible. I can't in all honesty see any good coming out of the Korean War that offsets the tremendous suffering and grief that I witnessed, and I suspect this is true for all wars.
I think that MacArthur was doing what he was told to do--like all good generals do, but I think that the biggest mistake that the United States and United Nations made was to cross the 38th parallel. There were many costly miscalculations. Syngman Rhee of South Korea boasted that he was going to attack North Korea; North Korea attacked South Korea believing that the United States would not come to South Korea’s aid; and the United States and United Nations crossed the 38th parallel thinking that China would not come to North Korea’s aid.
There are still Missing in Action personnel from the Korean War. I think that the American government is doing the best it can in an almost impossible situation with regard to its efforts to locate and return them. The vastness of the country and terrain cause the task to be enormous without informed information as to where to look. As to whether the United States should still have troops in present-day Korea, if troops stationed in Korea are there for the containment of communism, I imagine that it’s all right. However, all troops stationed in a foreign country bring with them some culture and social problems upon the host nation.
Searching for Won Kee Joon
When I came home in June 1954 and after one exchange of letters, Won Kee Joon and I lost contact with each other. From September 1954 to December 2006, I periodically searched for a way of locating Won and his family in Korea. Over the years I lost my ability to speak Korean fluently. I could still read and write Korean characters, but I couldn’t translate them. I still had the letter that I received from Won in 1954, where the ink and paper had faded to a beige hue.
Early in 2006, I planned to take a 29-day cruise on the Crystal Cruise Ship Symphony. I planned to fly from Los Angeles to Beijing for a three-day tour of that city, then board the Symphony and visit the following ports: Shanghai, Nagasaki and Osaka, Japan; then Hong Kong, China, Chan May and Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam; on to Bangkok, Thailand, and finally Singapore, where I would disembark. I then planned to fly to Seoul, Korea for a couple of days as a last ditch effort to try and locate Won Kee Joon and his family. My life has been filled with more blessings that anyone could possibly have wished for. I had a good feeling about stopping over in Seoul after the end of my cruise. I felt that I was coming full circle and anything was possible, even finding Won and his family.
Early in December 2006, my friend Ja, owner of Tire World in my home city of Inglewood, California, suggested that I tell my story to the Korea Times Los Angeles. Armed with new hope, the very next day I went to the newspaper office and told them my story. They were very interested and wanted to write an article. A reporter, Mr. H. J. Bae, was called into the conference room where I was interviewed. A picture was taken of me holding the letter I received from Won and a photograph I took during the Korean War of an unknown eight year old girl with her three-year old sister strapped to her back. These little girls were all that remained of their family. They walked the streets of Seoul every day trying to find food and shelter. I always carry this picture as a reminder that no war is worth this kind of sacrifice.
The Korea Times Los Angeles published my story on December 12, 2006. Three days later, I received a call from Won Kee Joon’s only son. The article had circulated in Korea. Won Moon Ja (the eldest daughter of Won Kee Joon) and her husband, Chang Joo Seug read the article while on a flight to New Zealand. Won Moon Ja remembered me coming to the family home and called her mother in Korea from the plane. Madam Won subsequently called her son, Won Myung Nan, who called me. Won Myung Nan lives in New York with his wife and son, who attends college nearby. I was happy to have made contact with the family, but was saddened to hear that my friend Won Kee Joon had passed away about 20 years earlier. All of the family was doing well. In 1954 when I was in Korea, Won had three daughters and one son. I learned that the family had increased to seven--one son and six daughters.
Won Myung’s son Eugene, who is in college in New York, and I began to communicate by e-mail. Eugene was interested in knowing about his grandfather, Won Kee Joon. He e-mailed me a family portrait of himself, his mother and father. Eugene also sent me photographs of Won Kee Joon as a young man prior to the war. I was surprised that the family had a photograph of me in full military uniform carrying a carbine rifle. I was 22 years old at the time. I sent the one letter that I received from Won Kee Joon 53 years ago to the family for their archives. I told the family of my impending cruise trip and that I would call them while in Seoul, Korea, between May 3 and May 5, 2007.
I began the trip by flying from Los Angeles on April 6, 2007 to Beijing. I stayed in Beijing for four days, and then got on the ship and sailed to Shanghai, Nagasaki, Osaka, Hong Kong, Chan May, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Singapore. I stayed in Singapore for a couple of days, than I flew to Seoul on May 3, 2007. I arrived in Korea at Incheon for the second time in 53 years, except this time I arrived by air, not sea. Arriving at the Incheon International Airport and walking into this stunningly beautiful structure with the ultra modern design was breathtaking. The fusion of glass and steel in a geodetic array of sizes and shapes was overwhelming. The airport was a thirty-minute drive from Seoul and rated as one of the best in the world. (The airport has received a prestigious five-star ranking for excellence from Skytrax. Skytrax is a United Kingdom based flight Research Service.) Inchon has become a cosmopolitan city and is now part of the greater metropolitan area of Seoul. On February 27, 2007, Incheon proclaimed itself an “English City” and started an “Incheon Free English Zone” program. The goal was to make Incheon an English-speaking city like Hong Kong and Singapore.
My heart was filled with unbridled anticipation for the reunion with Won’s family. Fear, uncertainty, and apprehension during my previous landing in Incheon were nowhere to be found this time. In Seoul I stayed at the Grand Hilton. There, I solicited Ms. Young, an English-speaking desk clerk, to call Mrs. Won Kee Joon, who didn’t speak English. Ms. Young called Mrs. Won Kee Joon and explained that she was calling and interpreting for me. There was a hesitation for a moment, then I could feel the joy and emotion erupting through the line. I could see the tears welling in Ms. Young's eyes, and I felt tears running down my cheeks. Mrs. Won Kee Joon asked to speak with me. I took the phone and greeted her. I asked how she was and apologized for my limited Korean. By the end of the conversation, we agreed to meet that evening for dinner at the Hilton’s Chinese Restaurant, Yeohyang. I had also decided to extend my stay for three additional days.
I was early and sat facing the door of the restaurant. Near the appointed hour, the lobby door opened and my heart jumped with anticipation. The eighty–seven year old widow of my friend Won Kee Joon entered first, followed by her youngest daughter Won Myung Sook, then her oldest daughter Won Moon Ja and her husband Cheung Joo Seug. As they walked towards me, each step they took awakened all the fond memories I enjoyed 53 years ago. I wanted to jump up running and give them all a giant bear hug, but Korean etiquette prohibited that kind of behavior. Instead, I bowed to express my deepest regards. Cheung Joo Seug had visited the United States and knew a little English. With that, along with my limited Korean, we communicated surprisingly well. Our dinner was superb. We were served in a private dinning room reserved just for us. After a two-hour dinner, we parted company from this magical evening. Cheung Joo Seug was determined that I should see the sights of Seoul, so he made arrangements for the two of us to take an all-day tour the following day.
Cheung picked me up in the morning and we drove to the tour bus location in downtown Seoul. First we visited the Jogyesa Temple, the center of Zen Buddhism, which was built in 1910. Jogyesa Temple is a peaceful and serene haven in the middle of the chaos of Seoul. The Temple offers a special program that allows tourists to experience temple life. Visitors are given the opportunity to participate in a meditative style tea ceremony, where tea is extracted from leaves and drank solemnly. Visitors are given tours of the temple grounds and are allowed to practice meditation in search of their inner nature. They eat a four-bowl meal in the traditional custom of Korean monks. Finally, visitors are taught how to make lotus lanterns. The lotus lantern is offered as a symbolic representation of the Buddha’s love, kindness and compassion.
We left the Jogyesa Temple for Gyeongbokgung Palace. On the way we had a drive-by look at the official residence of the President of South Korea. The residence is called “The Blue House” because of the blue tile roof. The house presents an excellent photographic opportunity with the pyramid-shaped Mt. Bugaksan in the background. On the way to lunch we stopped at the Ginseng Center and toured the facilities. Korean ginseng grows in the northern portion of the country where the climate is much cooler. Ginseng is a perennial herb that grows to a height of 24 to 31 inches. Only the roots are harvested for use. The American ginseng, which is grown in Wisconsin and Canada, is very popular among the Chinese as is the Asian ginseng. The Chinese believe that the American ginseng’s cooling effect is good for fevers and summer heat and for people with deficient Qi, which is body energy. Asian ginseng has a warming effect and is good for people with a deficient yin, which is the energy that moistens and cools body function.
We ate in the Itaewon District, the most exotic district in Seoul. After the 1986 Asian games and the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Itaewon District became known worldwide for its shopping, entertainment, and restaurants. An estimated 1,640,000 people visit this area each year. In the Itaewon District there are an estimated 1,200 shops selling all types of goods. There are also many places where one can just hang out, such as bars, jazz clubs, and restaurants.
By the time lunch was over, I felt that Cheung and I had become family. We had a mutual admiration thing going. Cheung admired me because I kept the only letter that Won Gi Joon had written to me 53 years ago and subsequently gave it back to the family. I admired Cheung for his accomplishments and the kindness shown to me. Prior to retiring, Cheung had been a distributor of the Coca Cola Bottling Company in Korea. Cheung’s introduction to English was facilitated by his travel to Coca Cola's headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
Our next stop was the Gyeongbokgung Palace. Originally constructed in 1395 during the reign of King Taejo, the site of the palace occupies 410,000 square meters or 101.27 acres in the center of Seoul. Once I walked through the palace gates, I felt the serenity of my surroundings. Magically I become oblivious to the hustle and bustle of Seoul City right outside the gates. On the palace grounds near the east entrance is the National Folk Museum of Korea. The museum’s three main exhibit halls hold an extensive showcase of Korean history focusing on the Joseon Dynasty. I noticed some young Chinese tourists looking at me. I am an African-American, six feet two inches tall, and weighing over 200 pounds. They begged me to take pictures with them and I agreed. They took several pictures. I wonder in how many providences in China I might appear?
Our tour moved on to the Namdaemun Market, which seemed very strange to me. Since this was only my second trip to Seoul in over 53 years, the entire city appeared new to me. Fifty-three years ago, I stood in this very section of Seoul. At the time, I looked around at the devastation and all I could see standing was the railroad’s Seoul Train Station nearby and the Great South Gate near the entrance of the Market. Namdaemun Market is the oldest continually operating market in Seoul. The market occupies several city blocks spread in all directions and is free of car traffic. Namdaemun Market is the wholesale center of Seoul and is a treasure trove for goods and merchandise of all sorts at inexpensive prices. The retail merchants from the surrounding areas purchase goods at the market to be resold in their own shops. The market was our last stop on our tour. I imagine Cheung sensed that my legs were beginning to bother me from walking. We drove back to the hotel and we promised to meet in the morning and attend a Sunday church service.
The next morning the sun was bright and beautiful. Cheung and his wife, Moon Joo picked me up in their Hyundai Grandeur. It was a mystery to me then why their Hyundai Grandeur looked exactly like my Toyota Avalon. Prior to my trip I was studying the Korean language at nights. One night I had an accident that totaled my Buick Roadmaster car. As a replacement I bought a Toyota Avalon, which is made exclusively in Georgetown, Kentucky, USA. The mystery of our cars remains a puzzle to me.
We went to the Sarang Community Church, which is non-denominational, and one of the many large all-denomination churches located in Seoul’s greater metropolitan area. The main auditorium can accommodate more than 2,300 worshipers. There are twelve auxiliary rooms which can hold up to 1200 worshipers each. There are as many as 7,100 to 20,700 worshipers in attendance during the six services every Sunday. The services are very emotional, mainly because of the tremendous musical renditions. There is a 120-person gospel choir backed up by a full orchestra, which includes a sizable string section and a full compliment of horns and percussion instruments. The musical presentations were highly emotional and it didn’t matter whether I understood Korean or not--I felt it. I told a person at my hotel that I had gone to the Sarang Community Church and the first thing I was asked was, “Did you feel the emotion in their services?” “Yes, I did,” I replied. The highly charged atmosphere generated a tremendous feeling that will stay in my memory for a long time.
After church we met Cheung and Moon Ja’s son, Soon Young and his two children for lunch. We ate at a unique restaurant called Marche’, a sort of made-to-order buffet. When you order, you indicate how you want your entrée of meats, fish and eggs cooked. While it is being prepared, you pick several side dishes, which include seafood, breads, salads, vegetables and desserts. Marche’ seems to be true to their advertisement that the food is always fresh. Marche’ is located in most major cities. There is a Marche’ in Movenpick, Toronto, and Costa Mesa, California, USA, to mention a few.
After lunch we headed to Cheung Soon Young’s home in Goyang City, a suburb of Seoul. There, I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Cheung Soon Young, daughter-law of Cheung and Moon Ja. As in most large cities in Asia, there was a building boom of multi-storied high-rise apartment units. Cheung Soon Young and his family had a well-appointed and very bright apartment on the 14th floor. The unit had hardwood floors and a spacious living room with a huge picture window covering most of the side wall. The window offered a picturesque view of the surrounding neighborhood. Korean homes typically have an entryway with an area to store shoes, which everyone removes prior to entry.
After a while, Cheung Joo Seug, the two grandkids, and I decided to attend the annual Goyang Korea Flower Show in Goyang City. The flower show is held at the Goyang Flower Exhibit Center in Ilsan Lake Park. The park has the largest artificial lake in Asia, at 1,157,100 square meters or 285.80 acres. Besides hosting the Goyang Korea Flower Show every year, the Ilsan Lake Park offers many attractions such as the Plaza Botanical Garden, artificial waterfalls, picnic facilities, bicycle paths, and many other outdoor activities. Of all the flower shows that I have attended over the years, they have in common fantastically beautiful displays of roses, ferns, lilies, orchards and many other exotic floral species. They are all beautiful and continuously emit a tantalizing sweet-smelling aromatic essence. However, this flower show had two displays that really set them apart from others. The first one included the largest collection of dwarf trees that I have ever seen. Bonsai trees are made by the ancient art of growing trees in pots, and using pruning techniques to create dwarf versions of trees that would otherwise grow to full-size trees. The display of a Bonsai pomegranate tree in full bloom with attached fruits and a huge bouquet of Purple Phalaenopsis Orchards were outstanding. In the past, only kings and queens were privy to view or possess the Purple Phalaenopsis Orchard because they were so rare.
When we left the flower show, we all gathered for dinner at a very nice restaurant in Goyang City. I had acquired a taste for Korean food over fifty-three years ago, which I have never lost. I am particularly fond of kimchi, the Korean staple of seasoned fermented cabbage. I learned how to make kimchi years ago, so I have enjoyed making it over the years for family and friend brave enough to try it. At my hotel in Seoul, I ordered kimchi, eggs, sausage and toast for breakfast every morning.
After dinner we made plans to visit the Seoul Tower on the following day. The Seoul Tower is a communications tower built in 1975 and opened to the public in 1980. The tower is situated at the highest point in Seoul’s Namsan Park, rising 1,574 feet above sea level. It is 777 feet high from its base. On a clear day, visitors tot he tower can see all of Seoul from the observation deck. The Seoul Tower has four observation decks featuring souvenir gift shops and restaurants. The fourth level observation deck has a revolving restaurant that makes a complete revolution every 48 minutes.
Afterwards we had lunch on the grounds of a local hospital that featured a Swedish smorgasbord with some Korean staples, such as kimchi. The food combinations and the ambiance made for an excellent meal. After lunch we went into the smorgasbord’s bar and had coffee. At this point we were communicating very well despite our broken English and Korean, which seemed to be mending very fast. I was so well received during these few days that I sometimes felt embarrassed. When I began to have a little problem with my legs because of all the walking, Moon Ja always held onto my arm. Moon Ja, through Cheung, let me know that I was a source of a cherished joy she received as a little girl over 53 years ago. When my mother sent packages of clothing and household goods to the family, Won Moon Ja claimed a certain dress for herself. Won Moon Ja's happiness of having that dress stayed with her all of her life and I represented a part of that joy. Needless to say, I was touched beyond words. I just sat quietly and listened. I hoped that the tears welling up in my eyes would not roll down my cheeks. Then again, I thought, so what? I’m with family.
Since this was my last night in Seoul, we decided to drive to Chuncheon, where Madam Won, Won Kee Joon's wife (now 87 years old), resided with her fourth daughter, Won Ok Sun and her husband Kim Hyun Joong. Won Kee Joon’s second daughter Won Ok Sun, and her family and Won Myung Sook, the sixth daughter, born after I left Korea, and her family, also live in Chuncheon. Cheung Joo Seug’ wife Won Moon Ja and I took highway #46 out of Seoul heading in a northeasterly direction to Chuncheon, a city of three lakes that offer a haven for water sports. Chuncheon is also noted for its beautiful mountains. Our drive on Highway #46 was idyllic, as the road runs next to the Bukhan River. As we drove along the river, the picturesque landscape was gorgeous and serene. As I looked at the river, the scenery was in a constant state of change. I saw fishermen on floating platforms, para-sailors, water skiers, and many beautiful cafes that extended out on decks over the river.
The drive to Chuncheon normally takes about an hour and one-half from Seoul. We stopped on the way to get a close-up view of the beautiful scenery. We bought fresh strawberries, oranges, and grapes from one of the many roadside stands. We finally reached Chuncheon in the afternoon. The family, including Won Kee Joon’s wife Madam Won, her four daughters and their respective husbands and a couple of adult grandchildren gathered at a traditional restaurant. I had the pleasure of meeting family members that I hadn’t met before. I was very well received and I attribute that to my buddy and lifelong friend, Won Kee Joon.
The restaurant’s tables were low to the floor and everyone sat on thin cushions except for me. I required four cushions to get comfortable and to cross my legs at the end of my 6’2” frame. Amazingly, I didn’t sit higher than everyone else because my 200-plus pounds was enough to keep the cushion flat.
The grand feast began with Dubu Kook (bean curd tofu soup). Then the waitress served entrees of kimchi, my favorite. Kimchi can be traced back to the ancient time of 2600-3000 years ag0. The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documentation of 187 historical and current varieties. The earliest and simplest form of kimchi was made of a variety of Chinese cabbage called baechu. This is the type of kimchi I have made over the years. My recipe requires removing the leaves from baechu cabbage and placing them in a five-gallon glass jar. I fill the jar to the top with salted water, close the top, and store the jar in a dark closet for two days. After two days I remove the top of the jar and drain all the salty water out, leaving the baechu cabbage leaves. Next, I sprinkle cayenne pepper over the baechu leaves, seal the jar, and store it back in the dark closet for one day. After one day I have kimchi--"Harmon style". The different varieties are made when ingredients such as chili peppers, garlic, scallions, ginger, cucumbers, fruits, seafood, turnips and other ingredients are added.
The waitress also served rice, bulgogi (slices of marinated beef to be cooked at the table over an open fire), galbiqui (marinated grilled beef ribs charbroiled), bibimbap (steamed rice mixed with vegetables and herbs) and makguksu (cold buckwheat noodles), a dish that Chuncheon is famous for. The side dishes consisted of hobak namul (spicy zucchini), chee muchin (spicy cucumbers) and shegeumchi namul (seasoned spinach). Korean food is not only good to look at, but it is also good for you and tantalizing to the taste buds.
The family bought orchid corsages for Madam Won and me in honor of Parents Day, a Korean holiday that would occur the next day. We had great fun just talking and being together. The Won daughters serenaded me with their beautiful voices. Singing is very important in the Korean culture, especially group singing at the various Korean celebrations. I remember back in 1953 when I was based in Seoul. In the hills above us there were several rice farms. Sometimes we looked up and saw a bonfire going with farmers sitting around it and singing as they drank the local soju. Back then, my Korean was pretty good, so I joined them. I was accepted and known as the GI who spoke Korean. After a couple cups of soju, I joined in the singing and the one-step hop dancing. Today (2008), one of the top five reasons to visit South Korea is the many private karaoke bars. The other four are amusement parks, shopping, green tea and food. To everyone's surprise, I announced that I would serenade the whole family. Everyone laughed and clapped until I began singing. My dear friend Won Kee Joon, their father, taught me a very famous Korean ditty. I began to sing it but in the middle of the song I began to falter from memory gap of the words. Then everyone joined in to help me. There was laughter in the air, as well as tears in everyone’s eyes. I wondered if my singing was bad enough to cause both tears and laughter.
This was one of the most satisfying and joyous evenings of my life. The atmosphere was filled with so much love, kindness and mutual respect that I thought I would burst. It was one of those moments that you hope will never end and, if it must, you wish that you could roll it up into a ball and carry it with you always to be unrolled as needed throughout life. I may not be able to roll that evening up into a ball, but I will always keep the memory in my heart for as long as I live. The feast came to an end and we all said farewell until next time. Cheung and Moon Ja brought me back to the hotel to pack. Cheung Joo Seug and Won Moon Ja picked me up the next morning and drove me to Incheon International Airport. We had breakfast at the airport and bid a final heart-felt goodbye until the next time. I returned home to the USA on May 8, 2007, but just like the Rose of Sharon, I will return to Korea for as long as I am able.
Going to Korea in 1952 was my first experience traveling outside of the United States. I had no idea what other people were like outside America. I had previously accepted what anyone had to say about people in the world. I didn’t know any better. I know better now. I have traveled around the world a couple of times since that first army tour in Korea in 1952, and have come to the realization that all people throughout the world are basically the same. I found that people everywhere have basically the same aspirations for themselves and their loved ones. I discovered that the Korean people value the same things that I cherish, such as a feeling of security, personal well-being and good health, freedom of choice, and family ties. The world has good people as well as bad, as evident by the troubles and unrest existing in various trouble zones today. I believe that the majority of people are good and they represent hope in the world--so keep hope in your hearts.