In the late summer of 2001, I was writing a series of articles about USFK (United States Forces Korea) organizations doing things in the Korean community. One of the articles I planned to write was about the Eighth Army Band that was giving a concert with some Korean bands in the middle of September.
Then 9-11 happened.
At the end of October, there was another concert, this one near the Amsa Prehistoric Settlement Site in southern Seoul and the Eighth Army Band played at it. Before the band played, the audience was entertained by traditional Korean dancers and drummers.
Oscar Cortez outside War Memorial Museum, Seoul 2001
One day last September, I was thinking about these articles I had written for the Korea Times back in 2000 and 2001 when I was covering various commemorative events for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Korean War when I first started thinking about writing this novel.
In particular, I thought about three articles I had written in May 2001 when some Second Infantry Division Korean War veterans came back to Korea to commemorate the Battle of Chipyong-ni. I accompanied the veterans to the Chipyong-ni battlefield as well as to the War Memorial Museum and a Repatriation Ceremony at Yongsan, headquarters of the Eighth Army.
Korean War veterans at Chipyong-ni, May 2001
With the 60th anniversary of the Korean War approaching, I wanted to something more than what I had done from 2000-2003 when I covered many of the commemorative events for the Times. At first, I thought about compiling all those articles I wrote on the Korean War commemoration events and put them into a book. But then I thought—“wait a minute, maybe I could take these articles and write a novel instead.”
It was that article about Chipyong-ni that became the genesis for the novel as well as my interview and subsequent article with Oscar Cortez who was captured by the Chinese at Hoengsong on February 12, 1951 and spent the rest of the war in a Chinese POW camp. I knew right from the start what I wanted to write, how the novel would begin and how it would end.
To be sure, even before I started writing I saw the story more as a movie than a novel. I think visualizing the story before I started writing helped me to see the entire book as a whole.