The other night I am sitting in my room watching the top story on 60 Minutes about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina which to my surprise included an interview with Lt. Gen. Russel Honore the top military leader on the ground in New Orleans in charge of recovery efforts.
I first met Honore in 2001 when I interviewed him for a series of articles which I had been writing for The Korea Times on United States Forces Korea (USFK). Back then, Honore was the commander of the U.S. Second Infantry Division (2ID) in Korea.
In another media report about his arrival in New Orleans—when he pretty much hit the ground barking orders at his subordinates—the mayor of New Orleans was quoted as saying that “Honore was a John Wayne kind of a dude.” Funny, that is exactly how I would have described him when I first met him.
It was a cool, rainy June morning when I traveled to Uijongbu—about an hour north of Seoul by train—for my interview with the General. Before we had our interview, Honore was practicing throwing a tomahawk for an upcoming sports event, aptly called “The Warrior Olympics.” Honore was proud of his tomahawk throwing technique and even had me throwing a tomahawk before I left.
During our interview Honore puffed away on a cigar and was very spirited and colorful (with his noticeable Cajun accent) when it came to talking about his command and the important role that the 2ID has played in Korea since the end of the Korean War.
Ever since I started writing feature articles for The Korea Times, I have interviewed a few prominent people here like Honore that later were in the news. One of them was Gen. Geoffrey Miller who I interviewed in 2002 for a story about USFK’s security support during the 2002 World Cup. After leaving Korea, Miller would later command Gitmo before being transferred to Iraq. He was later in the news during the investigation of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Another officer, Lt. Gen. Lance Smith was the commander of the 7th Air Force when I interviewed him for an article in 2002. I had my own little “scoop” with that interview when I asked him a question about South Korea’s bid to choose their next generation fighter. I just wanted to know what he felt as a pilot about the aircraft. It was an innocuous question, but it created a bit of a stir in the local media here. After leaving Korea he too went to Iraq and was often seen on TV giving press briefings to reporters.
Aside from these military figures there have also been a few celebrities like Johnny Grant who came to Korea as part of a USO tour in 2001. Grant, who is the “honorary mayor of Hollywood,’’ is always in entertainment news posing with celebrities when they get their “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Other celebrities that I got to meet who came to Korea with the USO included “Mr. Jeopardy” himself Alex Trebek, Drew Carey, and “Mr. Las Vegas”, Wayne Newton.
Interestingly, all of these interviews were the direct result of all those articles I wrote between 2000-2001 about the Korean War. I would have never been able to meet any of these people if I hadn’t been for all that groundwork that was laid when I was writing about the Korean War commemorative events. I regret that I wasn’t able to write more and follow up with some of the articles that I did write. Still, I was able to meet someone as colorful like Honore and have links to other historical events—both past and present.