I called my dad today. He started our conversation, as he always does, by telling me we had a bad connection. When in reality, my dad needs hearing aids but refuses to get them. My dad’s auditory denial drives my brother Sam crazy. Me? I feel like when you’ve lived 80+ years, you’ve earned the right to do pretty much anything you want to do, include force your children to talk very loudly into the phone on occasion.
I call just as Game 4 of the World Series is beginning.
“Yankees Phillies,” my dad says.
He read in the paper, he tells me, that the last time the Yankees and Phillies met in the World Series, the year was 1950. My dad remembers that World Series. Not because he was a Yankees fan, or a Phillies fan, or even a baseball fan.
He remembers that series because he was working as a translator for American G.I.s during the Korean War. There was baseball news in Stars and Stripes and broadcasts of the games on shortwave radio. My dad had heard of the Yankees – and New York City, of course – but had no idea what baseball was or that there was a place called Philadelphia. He could translate words, but he didn’t know the culture.
My dad remembers that one American soldier referenced Nelson Rockefeller, the oil-family scion and soon-to-be governor of New York State. Rockefeller, the G.I. said, had enough money to buy Korea. My dad tells me he didn’t doubt that was true, given that Korea, months into a war that raged up and down the peninsula, was a bombed-out shell of its former self.
North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25th, 1950. The day before, the Phillies, affectionately known as the Whiz Kids, pulled a game behind the Brooklyn Dodgers in the race for the National League Pennant. They would eventually overtake the Dodgers and clinch on the last day of the season.
Throughout the summer, the North Korean army pushed south, all the way to Pusan, which sits at the tip of the peninsula. The U.S. then pushed back. By October 1st, 1950 – three days before the start of the World Series – the North Korean Army was forced back over the 38th parallel (which is today still the dividing line between the two countries).
On Oct. 7, the Yankees completed their four-game sweep of the Whiz Kids.
The next day China entered the war.
For the next three years, the Korean War continued – a stalemate, essentially – with massive casualties on both sides. Afterward, my family immigrated to the U.S., largely because my dad received a sponsorship to study here – the result of his work as a translator and befriending an American soldier.
He never expected to stay, always assumed he’d return to Korea once he finished school.
But here he is, following the Yankees and Phillies in another World Series. This unlikely arc makes my Dad laugh. Eventually, we say good bye. And he goes back to watching the game.