One afternoon, a few years ago, I sat with my dad at the McDonald’s in downtown Flushing. It was then that my dad told me the story of our family’s flight south at the outbreak of the Korean War.
After World War II, my family lived close to the border between North and South, in what was technically the Communist North, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The border, though the site of small armed skirmishes, was relatively porous.
The way my dad tells the story, on June 25th, 1950, North Korean troops stormed into South Korea unexpectedly, and began a five-week-long march down the peninsula, overwhelming the South Korean and U.S. armies.
Hearing of the impending attack from neighbors, my parents buried their belongings, gathered up my older sister (a three-week-old baby at that time) and started traveling south. They also had with them my grandmother – my mother’s mother – and my great grandfather.
The North Korean army pushed forward rapidly, always seemingly one step behind my family which was struggling to make it to Pusan, a safe haven at the southern tip. Along the way, my father had to leave my great grandfather behind, at a house with friends, because my great-grandfather was not physically capable of traveling so quickly and for such long distances. Meanwhile, as it pushed south, the North Korean army was purging the intelligensia. My father, a school teacher who spoke English, feared that if caught he would be killed. So my family continued its race south. My father never saw my great grandfather again.
Just outside Pusan, when my family would have been relatively safe inside what was the last line of defense put up by the American Army and known as the Pusan Perimeter, my father was conscripted. The army of the Republic of Korea swept him up and, since he spoke English, made him a liaison to a U.S. artillery unit.
My mother and grandmother and sister, left to fend for themselves, were forced to a refugee camp on an island off the mainland.
It was early August, 1950. The Korean War would stretch on for yet three more years.