Just a little over a week after I was featured in a Korean War documentary on MBC television in Korea talking about my novel War Remains and the Battle of Hoengseong, I received an email the other day that War Remains was selected as a finalist in the 2012 Global E-Book Awards.
The awards ceremony will be held on August 18 in Santa Barbara, California with Marilu Henner (Taxi, Johny Dangerously) the keynote speaker for the awards.
I’ve said this before, and I will say it again, I am very proud of this book. It is a good story.
I am happy with all the recognition and visibility this book has gotten since it first came out in the fall of 2010. What I am proud about the most is that more and more people have the chance to know about this book and read about one of the battles of this so-called forgotten war as well as the ongoing remains recovery and identification efforts. A couple of my readers have experienced this firsthand and for them and all those other families whose loved ones have come home or for those still waiting for their loved ones to come home, the story about Bobby Washkowiak resonates strongly for them.
Two months ago I was approached by a Korean filmmaker who asked me if I would be interested in taking part in a documentary he was making on the Korean War. Turns out the documentary he was making was about the Battle of Hoengseong which I described in my novel War Remains and that one of his friends (who also happened to be one of my Facebook friends) had read my book and told him about it. A few messages and emails later, we met one afternoon at SolBridge in April and talked about his documentary. Two weeks later, I was on my way back to Hoengseong and Massacre Valley to be interviewed and describe the battle that was fought here in February 1951 and the battle which is at the beginning of War Remains.
Then, on my birthday, May 28, which was also Buddha’s Birthday in Korea this year, the producer/director Park Jong-woo came down to Daejeon and filmed more scenes in my office at SolBridge.
After shooting some footage in Hoengseong near the site of the Netherlands’ Battalion, for the next part of the documentary, we entered Massacre Valley and went to the location where the command post for the 3rd Battalion of the 38th Infantry Regiment was located in and around the village of Saemal.
I describe Saemal in War Remains and how Bobby and the others of Support Force 21 felt that once they reached this village where the rest of the regiment was bivouacked, their ordeal would be over. However, by then the enemy had already positioned themselves in the high ground and for Bobby and the others, their ordeal was far from being over.
Although I visited Massacre Valley in 2010, just prior toWar Remains being published, this time back was very special for me. So many people have been touched with my story of Bobby not to mention learning about the battle that was once fought here. What I have done and what Park Jongwoo is doing with his documentary is making people aware of what actually happened here in February 1951.
Why did I choose the 38th Infantry Regiment to be one of the main military units in my novel? What I wanted to do was to show how this regiment had been in some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict, from the breakout along the Pusan Perimeter to Kunu-ri and then finally Hoengseong. By choosing this regiment, it allowed me to write about three major events in the first nine months of the conflict with special attention to Hoengseong because many people might not be aware of this battle.
In the photo, Producer/Director Park Jongwoo and I talk about the battle and the location of the 38th Infantry Regiment near the village of Saemal.
Down a small grassy knoll behind the US Second Infantry Division Monument in Massacre Valley is the original road which ran from Changbong-ni to Hoengseong. Although the road was narrower and unpaved in 1951, one can still see how dangerous it would be for withdrawing troops to use this road. They men were literally sitting ducks for the CCF which controlled the high ground. Like the Gauntlet in November 1950, the men of Support Force 21 were doomed as soon as they entered the valley. Sadly, US troops would pay another dear cost for being road bound. As soon as the Chinese knocked out a tank or howitzer, a bottleneck was created and chaos, horror, and death ensued.
Today, the valley looks so peaceful and bucolic.
One can only imagine the horrors of battle here those fateful days in February 1951.
Update: January 14, 2014
My friend, Doug Mayes, who lost an uncle at Hoengseong, shared this footage of Massacre Valley taken a few weeks after the battle.
Another soldier returns home from a “forgotten war.”
The remains of Cpl. Clyde E. Anderson are being returned to his family. The Korean War veteran will be buried with full military honors on Saturday in Blanchester, the Department of Defense announced.
Anderson, 24 when he died, had been listed as missing in action since his disappearance near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, U.S. military officials said. Anderson was last seen on Nov. 28, 1950, driving a Jeep in a convoy that was ambushed by communist forces, American officials said.
He was with the 31st Regimental Combat Team that was advancing along the eastern bank of the Chosin Reservoir, according to the Defense Department. His unit came under attack and withdrew to positions near Hagaru-ri, south of the reservoir.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, these stories about a Korean War soldier or Marine finally coming home from the war always get to me. I always think about the closure that some family will finally have because their father, brother, or uncle has finally come home.
At the same time, I am very proud of my Korean War novel War Remains and the story about the search for war remains. That’s why I hope more people will read my novel and never forget those men who haven’t come home yet. The story is one that resonates strongly in the hearts of all those family members still waiting for their loved ones to come home from this so-called “forgotten war.” When you read the last couple of chapters you will understand exactly what I am talking about. Just make sure you have a box of Kleenex nearby.
The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.
There was a time, many, many years ago when I once dreamed of becoming the next Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, or Martin Scorcese before I started to study film at Southern Illinois University and “Bubbles, the Nudie Dancer” (Damaged Goods) shattered that dream.
Working on this Korean War documentary in Hoengseong this past weekend, reminded me a little of that dream, especially when it came to setting up a shot and blocking the scene and then having to run through a particular shot a few times.
It was a thrill looking through the viewfinder and watching and hearing me talk about the Battle of Hoengseong.
After Producer/Director Park Jongwoo and his crew shot some footage in Massacre Valley, our next stop was to Hill 930, north of Changbong-ni where the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 8th ROK Division was dug in on the north side of the mountain on the night of February 11, 1951.
From their vantage point on the north side of this mountain, they would have a clear view of Sammachi Pass and any enemy infiltration. Back in 1951, there were hardly any trees on this mountain (which was the case for most of the mountains throughout Korea; the Japanese had heavily forested much of the timber their the occupation period) which gave the ROK soldiers an unobstructed view.
What was most interesting about climbing up the northern side of the mountain was seeing the foxholes these ROK soldiers had dug over 61 years ago. Surprisingly, these foxholes were in very good shape having been undisturbed for all these years; even, some of the timber used to buttress them were intact.
One foxhole in particular (the one pictured here) had one wall made with stacked stones, which reminded me of some of the fortifications made by soldiers at Gettysburg.
At the beginning of War Remains, I talk about Support Force 21, the 3rd Battalion of the 38th Infantry Regiment, US Second Infantry Division, and the small village of Saemal. This past weekend, during my return to Massacre Valley, the producer/director of the Korean War documentary, Park Jong-woo, his crew and I went to the spot where the 3rd Battalion was most likely bivouacked on the morning of February 12, 1951.
After having to withdraw from Changbong-ni at around 3:00 in the morning, this is where Support Force 21 arrived later that morning as well as ROK soldiers from the 21st, 10th, and 16th Infantry Regiments. They all thought that they had made it to safety, but their ordeal was far from over.
In this photo, I am explaining to Park Jongwoo what I will talk about in this segment of the documentary. We are standing on the old road to Chipyong-ni, which would be the site of a fierce battle a few days later, next to a rice paddy where the 3rd Battalion was bivouacked.
The first filming of the day was near this bridge leading into Hoengseong. In 1951, this was the only route leading into town and for the men of the 38th Infantry Regiment, Support Force 21, and ROK forces, this was the end of Massacre Valley and the way to safety. The original bridge was destroyed during the war, but this one was built on the original site.
Yesterday, it was, “Hey, I’m going to Hoengseong to be in this documentary about the Korean War and talk about the battle and my book!”
Today, it was more like, after one of the crew had me wear a wireless mike, “Yikes, I’m going to be filmed and recorded!”
Well, it wasn’t that bad.
Throughout the day, it took no more than two or three takes for most of the shots and interviews. Sometimes, I just wanted to say something more; a few times I did get a little tongue-tied.
Being a teacher really helped. Once I got going and found my rhythm, it was like teaching a class.
This past weekend, May 4-5, I returned to Massacre Valley north of Hoengseong. It was this valley and the battle that was fought here in February 1951 which would become the basis for my Korean War novel, War Remains. And it was because of that novel and a friend on Facebook, which brought me back to Massacre Valley (I first visited here in November 2010, right before I completed my novel) to take part in a documentary about the Korean War, this battle, the search for war remains, and my novel.
After I finished teaching on Friday, I took a bus from Daejeon to Wonju. I left at 2:27 and didn’t get to Wonju until after 5:00. There I met the producer/director of the documentary, Park Jong-woo who I met through one of my Facebook friends. Actually, Mr. Park had already heard about me and my novel through another friend, an American Daniel Morris, who also heard about my book and bought it. Turns out he served with the US Army in Korea and when he got out, decided to stay here and teach. Mr. Park, who was making another documentary about the Korean War decided that he wanted to use me, to talk about the battle in the documentary.
After we met, we went to Hoengseong where he introduced me to his crew. We met in the parking lot of a Methodist Church that was there during the Korean War; during the battle, the commander of the Netherlands’ Battalion, Colonel den Ouden was mortally wounded by a grenade. His men didn’t have any means to carry his body back to an aid station, so they removed the door from this church to carry their Colonel’s body.
After dinner in a local restaurant, where we tried out some of Hoengseong’s famous beef, we turned in early. We wanted to start filming at 7:00am.
The picture you see here is the original road from Hoengseong to Changbong-ni. This is facing north toward Changbong-ni. Back in 1951, this road was narrower and unpaved. This is also the beginning of Massacre Valley.
“Bobby Washkowiak battles his way through the bitter first winter of the Korean War, longing for home. Fifty years later, his son and grandson come across the wartime letters from the father and grandfather they never knew and learn what happen to him on one of the battlefields of that “forgotten war.” In this emotional tour de force, Jeffrey Miller vividly recreates the horrors of combat and the yearning for closure experienced by millions of soldiers and their families.” - Michael Breen, author of Kim Jong-Il: North Korea's Dear Leader and The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where their Future Lies.