Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Category: History (page 1 of 21)

All Along the DMZ — Part IV

This is Part IV of a five-part series on the Korean DMZ inspired by Barry Lancet’s geopolitical thriller, The Spy Across the Table and my articles and essays about the DMZ and JSA.
This originally appeared in Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm.

Panmunjom031“How would you like to fly up to the JSA with CNN?”

It was in May 2001, when one of the public affairs officers for the 8th Army asked me if I would like to accompany CNN to Camp Casey.

“Excuse me?”

“We’ve invited a lot of media to cover the beret changing ceremony,” he continued. “You’ll be flying up there with Sohn Jie-ae, CNN’s Seoul Bureau Chief and a photographer from Reuters. Afterward, you’ll fly to the JSA.”

On June 14, 2001, U.S. soldiers serving in South Korea would be the first ones to wear the new black berets that the Army adopted. In commemoration of this event, and no less in part of the significance of the U.S. military still having a strong presence in Korea, USFK arranged for a lot of media coverage of this event for major U.S. networks and other news agencies.

Another helicopter ride, I thought. If you are going to the place President Bill Clinton called, “the scariest place in the world” flying into the JSA in a Blackhawk was a grim reminder of the tensions that have existed on the Korean peninsula since the end of the Korean War. And if you wanted to talk about traveling in style, not to mention excitement, it would be another ride of a lifetime.

Crew_Chief__Pave_Hawk_2001We were supposed to fly from Seoul to Camp Casey, home to the U.S. Second Infantry Division, where we would cover the “Beret Ceremony” before proceeding to Camp Bonifas. However, inclement weather prevented us from flying, so we had to take a van to Casey, which is located in Tongduchon, about two hours north of Seoul.

So, there we all were—Sohn Ji-ae and her crew of three, a photographer from Reuters, a public affairs official, and myself—squeezed into the van. It was still dark when we left Yongsan, the sprawling military base in Seoul, and there wasn’t too much chitchat on the way up. When the weather improved later that morning after the ceremony we were allowed to fly into Bonifas.

Upon arriving at Camp Bonifas, we were met by Lt. Colonel William Miller, the JSA Commander who took us on a private tour. Many people are not aware that the Panmunjom—at least what is open for tours—is not the Panmunjom where the armistice halting the Korean War was signed in July 1953. That area is north of the JSA in North Korea. However, the area itself including the JSA is referred to as Panmunjom.

First, there was a stop at OP (Outpost) Ouellette, which is only open to dignitaries like presidents and other VIPs. (If President Trump had not canceled his trip to the DMZ to meet South Korean President Moon, this was where they most likely would have gone). Named after Private First Class Joseph R. Ouellette, who was killed during the Korean War at the Busan Perimeter in September 1950 (and awarded the Medal of Honor), it was the northernmost U.S. military outpost on the Korean peninsula (since then, most of the outpost duties have been turned over to South Korea). It was a warm, sunny day—nice weather for Korea at this time of the year before the arrival of changma, or the rainy season. However, don’t let the weather fool you; this is the DMZ and every day is eerie and foreboding.

In the distance, distinguishable in the haze and glare was a North Korean outpost. No sooner had we arrived and toured the facilities, two NPA soldiers with binoculars appeared and kept us in their sights as we were briefed on OP Ouellette’s purpose and Ms. Sohn interviewed some soldiers.

74046421RTHAJj_fsNext, it was down to the heart of the JSA and Conference Row—more like the centerpiece of the JSA and one of the highlights of any civilian tour. Here you can actually get within spitting distance of the “enemy” as it were when you enter one of the blue MAC buildings where meetings between the two sides take place from time to time. Interesting to note, prior to the 1976 Panmunjom ax murders, US, South Korean, and North Korean soldiers could “wander” anywhere in the JSA. The concrete marker between the buildings? That’s the line you cannot cross.

Finally, we stopped at the Bridge of No Return. Enough said. There, Sohn Jie-ae conducted an interview with two soldiers.

I wasn’t going to be writing a story that day. Having jumped at the chance for a helicopter ride into the JSA, another reporter would be covering the beret changing main event, which took place on Knight Field located inside Yongsan. I was just along for the ride—and what a ride it was. After the interviews, it was back on the Blackhawk for the flight back to Seoul. I’ll never forget flying out of Bonifas and over the Imjin River. That was exciting and something that I will never forget.

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Book Review: Letters from Joseon

Letters from JoseonKorea in the late nineteenth century was a turbulent time. John Mahelm Berry Sill, the American Minister to Korea from 1894-1897, couldn’t have asked for a more difficult posting. In that time there would be the Sino-Japanese War, the Gabo Reforms, the murder of a Korean queen, and the subsequent refuge of King Gojong in the Russian legation.

In the fascinating and historically rich Letters from Joseon, 19th Century Korea through the Eyes of an American Ambassador’s Wife, Korean historian and freelance writer Robert Neff has given us a unique window on a bygone era in this very readable and enjoyable trip back in time. Relying mainly on the personal letters and correspondences between the Sills in South Korea and their family back in the United States, this period of Korean history comes alive as the letters offer insights into life at the American legation as well as what was happening outside the walls. To be sure, as Neff writes in the book’s preface, “these letters provide a candid view of life in not only the American community in Seoul, but also in the Russian legation, where King Gojong and the crown prince sought refuge following the murder of Queen Min.”

The book is divided into three parts which coincides with the three years that Sill was posted to Korea. In Part One, the Sino-Japanese War is the historical backdrop for the letters and correspondence, which signals the beginning of Japan’s grip on the Korean peninsula; in Part Two, the letters cover a wide range of events inside and outside the legation and ends with the murder of Queen Min; and finally, in Part Three, the letters offer insights into King Gojong’s refuge in the Russian legation and the subsequent period of unrest in Korea.

Neff keeps his commentary to a minimum, though he augments the letters with numerous notes and asides to provide readers with related information to the events and people he describes. Though Sill was not looked upon too favorably for his actions, or lack thereof as minister, Neff lets the letters tell the story and is only there to amplify any historical references.

Although scholars will find this book as an indispensable source of information about the late Joseon period, other readers will enjoy this window on Korea’s past, especially Korea in the late nineteenth century on the eve of the eventual Japanese colonization of the peninsula. Neff has carved out a niche for himself when it comes to the study of this period of Korean history. His knowledge and expertise in this area is commendable. He might not be the only Korean specialist writing about this period, but he certainly has become one of the most prominent.

1968: A Year to Remember

Richard_Nixon_campaign_rally_1968

It was no mistake when I started writing my novella Ice Cream Headache what year the story would be set. I have always been fascinated with the year 1968 because it was the year that I really became aware of the world around me. More importantly, the events which took place during this year would shape a generation. Indeed, if one looks at Ice Cream Headache from this perspective, one could argue that the story of these five individuals whose lives intertwine on this fateful day in late spring is in some regards, a microcosm of the year.

I believe that’s one of the reasons why this novella works; the year this story takes place is essential to the story. For one of the characters, Johnny Fitzpatrick, the year is important in regard to the Vietnam War. After the Tet Offensive earlier in the year, America’s involvement in the conflict would drastically change. For the first time since the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, there would be an increasing number of Americans who felt that we should get out the the quagmire the war had become.

Welcome Home, Corporal James Rexford Hare

2013_02_20_HarePOW-thumb-300xauto-29484It could be a page right out of the Korean War novel, War Remains.

Another soldier, Corporal James Rexford Hare, has come home from a forgotten war. And this time, it’s a soldier who was captured during the battle at Hoengseong.

Hare was in the 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was part of the American forces supporting Republic of South Korea forces near the South Korean town of Hoengsong, when Chinese forces launched a massive counter attack, according to a news release from the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office in Washington.

According to the release, “During the attacks, U.S. and Korean forces were forced to retreat south. Over the next few days units of the 2nd ID were attacked again, suffering more than 200 casualties, including more than 100 servicemen being captured by enemy forces.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Thanks to advances in DNA testing, more and more remains are being identified and quicker than in the past. Although there are still more than 7,900 missing Americans from the Korean War, with each set of remains identified and another service member coming home brings hope to those families waiting for their loved one to come home.

Until They Are Home

War Remains (Ebook)

War Remains (Paperback)

 

 

Military Demarcation Line — Panmunjom

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This year marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice on July 27, 1953 which ended the three-year conflict. For over 60 years, the two Koreas have remained technically at war with numerous incidents to remind the world of the fragile peace which has existed on the peninsula.

My first book, War Remains, A Korean War Novel was more than a novel about the war and one its battles; it was also about the aftermath of the conflict and the ongoing search for the remains of more than 7, 900 Americans still listed as missing in action. The book I am working on now is about the aftermath of the Korean War and the vestiges of the conflict which remain to this day.

Additionally, I am preparing for a new history class at SolBridge this coming spring. The class is similar to the one I have co-taught with Dr. John Endicott in the past about Asian politics, but this year we are going to spend half the class talking about the two Koreas before looking at other countries in the region.

Welcome Home Army Pfc. Glenn S. Schoenmann

chosinjpg-2349805_p9Today, there is one less service member missing from the Korean War.

The Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) announced today that the remains of a U.S. serviceman, missing in action from the Korean War, have been identified and will be returned to his family for burial with full military honors.

Army Pfc. Glenn S. Schoenmann, 20, of Tracy City, Tenn., will be buried Jan. 12, in Palmer, Tenn. In late November 1950, Schoenmann and elements of the 31st Regimental Combat Team were deployed along the eastern banks of the Chosin Reservoir, in North Korea. Schoenmann was reported missing in action on Dec. 12, 1950, after his unit and U.S. positions were encircled and attacked by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces.

In 1950, a returning American who had survived the attack reported that Schoenmann had been killed in action on Nov. 28, 1950, as a result of sniper wounds. In 1953, that conclusion was amended when an American, who was held as a prisoner of war, told U.S. officials that Schoenmann was wounded by a sniper but not mortally, held captive by the Chinese on Dec. 2, 1950, and died shortly thereafter from malnutrition and lack of medical care.

Between 1991 and 1994, North Korea gave the United States 208 boxes of remains believed to contain the remains of 200-400 U.S. service members. North Korean documents, turned over with some of the boxes, indicated that some of the human remains were recovered from the area where Schoenmann was last seen.

In the identification of the remains, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) used circumstantial evidence and forensic identification tools, such as radiograph and mitochondrial DNA–which matched Schoenmann’s sister and brother.

Using modern technology, identifications continue to be made from remains that were previously turned over by North Korean officials. Today, more than 7,900 Americans remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War on July 27, 1953. With more than 7,900 Americans still unaccounted for from the conflict, with each one that comes home, brings hope for those families still waiting for their loved ones to come home.

Every time I read about another American coming home, I get choked up when I think that someone’s father, uncle, brother, or other family member is coming home from the war.

It also makes me honored and proud that my first novel, War Remains, was about the Korean War and the ongoing search for MIAs.

War Remains, A Korean War Novel

I hope you will check it out. It’s a good story.

Welcome Home, Bobby

It took sixty years, but one more soldier is coming home.

Bobby Ray King went to war more than 60 years ago and never came back.

His parents and immediate relatives died without knowing what happened to the 19-year-old with the gap-toothed grin, and King became a footnote in family history.

But the military didn’t forget.

“You don’t leave a fallen American behind,” according to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s website. “The families deserve an answer.”

The story of Bobby Ray King coming home would resonate strongly any time of the year, but around the holidays it is all the more heartrending.

Welcome home, Bobby.

God Bless you and your family who never gave up hope that you would return home one day.

Armistice Day

That’s what my grandparents called Veteran’s Day.

Back when I was a child growing up in the 1960s, I often spent Armistice Day/Veteran’s Day at my grandparents’ house east of LaSalle. It was on one of those Armistice/Veteran’s Day when my grandmother told me about the origins of the holiday.

“The armistice was signed on the eleventh day of November at the eleventh hour,” she told me.

“What’s an armistice?”

“It’s the end of a war.”

In this case, it was the end of The Great War. The war to end all wars.

War was still something off my radar screen, but this was the 1960s and America was at war again. I heard news about guerrillas and couldn’t understand why gorillas were fighting. The only gorillas I knew was that gorilla in The Jungle Book.

This was 1966 and 1967. I would soon learn about Vietnam.

My grandmother, who was born in 1911, was two years younger than I was when she first remembered the war to end all wars. At precisely 11:00, my grandmother and I walked outside. She told me that would face the east and remember those who died. Back then, a whistle from the Alpha Cement Mill east of LaSalle sounded along with a fire siren to mark the moment the armistice was signed.

Having done our dutiful remembrance, I spent the rest of the day playing before my grandmother took me back home.

To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.

                        ~ President Woodrow Wilson’s Armistice Day speech

Over the years, I remembered veterans standing outside banks in the Illinois Valley handing out/selling paper poppies for small donations. Folks took the poppies, twisted the thin metal paper-covered strips and proudly wore them on shirts, blouses, and jackets. My grandfather or grandmother gave me a coin to drop into the can and I awaited eagerly for the veteran to hand me my poppy. I didn’t know what these poppies meant at the time. For me, it was a moment that I shared with my grandparents, like standing outside on the eleventh of November and remembering the war to end all wars.

Poppies. In the seventh grade I learned all about them and their significance.

My English teacher, Mrs. Assalley, a Syrian immigrant, had the class keep a poetry notebook. One of the poems I transcribed inside my notebook was “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae:

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Little did I know at the time, how fitting the poem was for the thousands of young men who began to come home in flag-draped coffins to their final resting places in our nation’s cemeteries.

Over the years, Armistice Day and Veteran’s Day would have other meanings for me, first as a member of the armed forces, and one special Veteran’s Day in 2000 when I met Medal of Honor recipient General Raymond Davis USMC at a special ceremony on Knight Field at the Yongsan Military Garrison which commemorated the northern campaigns of the Korean War, including Kunu-ri which I wrote about in my Korean War novel, War Remains.

Today, this very special day that I first celebrated with my grandparents over 40 years ago is just as significant then as it remains for me today.

It is a day to honor all those who served and to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. And, in the words of President Calvin Coolidge, “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”

Welcome Home Pfc James Mullins

And just in time for Veteran’s Day.

A Korean War soldier who went missing 62 years ago has been buried with full military honors in a North Carolina veterans cemetery, after his remains were finally identified.

The Fatyetteville Observer reports Saturday (http://bit.ly/Sj8D2y) that Army Pfc. James Curtis Mullins was buried in Sandhills State Veterans Cemetery in Spring Lake. It was the third burial of his remains.

His older brother, Clayton Mullins, said Friday’s service brought closure.

“It brings closure to a lot of questions I had in my mind,” he said. “Where he was at. What could possibly have happened to him. It made me happy that they finally identified him, and it made me sad in another way.”

James Mullins was 18 when he headed for South Korea at the onset of the Korean War in June 1950. He went missing a month later, when his unit was overrun and scattered near the village of Yugong-ni.

You can read the rest of the story here.

It’s been nearly two years since War Remains was published and in that time the remains of 70 service members have been identified and those men have finally made their journeys home from war. There are still 7,940 men still missing from the Korean War.

Until They Are Home.

Full-Circle

In 2001, while writing for the Korea Times as a feature writer, I had the opportunity and the the honor to meet a group of Korean War veterans who came to Korea to visit the Chipyong-ni battlefield near Wonju and Hoengseong.

One of the veterans I met was Oscar Cortez, who was captured by the Chinese at Hoengseong on February 12, 1951 and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp.

When I started to write War Remains in 2009, I remembered that meeting I had with Oscar and the article I wrote about his experiences during the war (which is an essay in Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm, 2011). Based on that article, and a few others I wrote, became the basis for the story of Bobby Washkowiak.

In 2012, while doing some research on the Korean War, Doug Mayes happened across my book and read it. It turned out that he was searching for information about the Battle of Hoengseong because his Uncle Jimmy fought in the battle and like Oscar, was also captured by the enemy. Like a number of readers who have come across my book while searching for information about the battle and the search for MIAs, Doug’s uncle was also listed as missing in action (his family was contacted for a DNA sample and hopefully his uncle will soon be coming home.

Today, Doug sent me a message telling me that he had just gotten off the phone with with a Korean War veteran who had been with his uncle on the march to the camp:

Jeff, I just got off the phone with a Korean War POW who was with my uncle when he died. The chain of events which led me to this man was started by your book and research. Thank you so much, Doug

Not the kind of closure that Doug and his family wants, but it was an honor to have helped them fill in some of the blanks.

Until They Are Home

— JPAC Motto

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