Tag Archives: korea

veteran’s day war story (part two)

My dad tells me that he was granted leave at one point. He had not heard from my mom since they were separated outside Pusan, when he was forcibly enlisted into the army of the Republic of Korea. So he decided that during his leave he would try to find her, and my sister, and my grandmother.

The only place he could think of to look was on an island off the coast of Korea where refugees were living, in tents. When he arrived, there were masses of people. The lives of everyone had been affected already by the war, and many had uprooted themselves, like my family, and fled. The tents were orderly, but everywhere.

All my dad could do was walk the lines of tents. He didn’t really expect to see my mom or my sister, a baby at the time, or my grandmother. The odds were too great.

And yet, as he walked toward one tent, he saw my mom emerge.

My dad ended that part of the story there. I continue in my mind’s eye, though, and imagine a happy reunion, an embrace laden with relief and joy and tears. I imagine that after a moment, my mother ushers my father into the tent. They sit, silently. What is there to say when your life has become completely unrecognizable? And then something happens to jolt them back into the world. Perhaps my sister cries, not knowing who my father is and needing my mother’s attention. Perhaps it’s a noise from outside, the sound of a nearby refugee neighbor.

Perhaps it’s nothing at all, but just the recognition that it is not possible to sit for too long in any one spot in the midst of a war.

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veteran’s day war story (part one)

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.


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korea, in the news

I read three articles in today’s paper that referenced either Korea or Korean heritage:

Navies of Two Koreas Exchange Fire – Ironic on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Korea remains divided and seemingly farther away from unification.When I think of this division between the two Koreas, I think of my mother, fleeing from her home in what is North Korea at the outbreak of the war, burying her prized possessions in the belief that she would soon return to retrieve them. I’m quite certain she could not have imagined the calcification of a one-mile-wide demilitarized zone between her home and the south.

Ward Helps Biracial Youths on Journey Towards AcceptanceHines Ward, star wide receiver of the Pittsburgh Pirates, meets in South Korea with teens who are, like him, have one parent who is Korean and one parent who is not. These children have led a difficult life in a country that is, for the most part, culturally and racially homogenous. Hines Ward is the only Korean professional football player I’m aware of.

Adopted From Korea and in Search of an Identity – A heartbreaking story of cultural denial by Korean children adopted by white families in the U.S. and their ultimate efforts at reclaiming their heritage. This story hit home most for me because, though I wasn’t adopted, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and shed much of my cultural identity in order to assimilate.

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