Jeffrey Miller

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Tag: Korea Times

All Along the DMZ — Part II

73396520knZKAv_fsThis is Part II of a four-part series on the Korean DMZ inspired in part by Barry Lancet’s The Spy Across the Table and my articles and essays about the DMZ and JSA.

Summer 2000. Somehow I had talked myself into writing feature stories about the 50th anniversary of the Korean War for the Korea Times and wouldn’t you know it, for my efforts, I was given the chance to visit the JSA again, this time as a journalist where I was given the VIP treatment which included having chow with the soldiers in the Camp Bonifas mess hall and interviewing the commander, Lt. Colonel Miller right outside one of the guardhouses with the Bridge of No Return in the background.

This time I would be riding in style, one of the Korea Times staff cars (if you were in Seoul at the time you couldn’t miss those green sedans), accompanied by a driver and the photographer for the newspaper. I was fortunate at the time, teaching at Yonsei’s Foreign Language Institute because we did not have to teach on Wednesdays. This was some arrangement that used to correspond to “chapel” which was on Wednesdays meaning that there would be no English classes that day. For some reason, it became the normal schedule for the institute. When I left in 2006, we still had Wednesdays off. The reason why this was good was that on Wednesdays was when the 8th Army/USFK Public Affairs Office had the press up to the JSA. Worked out quite nicely for me and the writing that I would do from 2000-2006.

The bridge on the left used to be the way to Camp Bonifas; the bridge on the left had been destroyed during the Korean War.

 

One of the reasons why I wanted to go back to the JSA was to find out if there had been more tour groups because of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War. It was still business as usual:

“It’s still business as usual,” remarked Lieutenant Colonel William B. Miller, JSA commander when asked if there had been any changes in readiness following the North-South Summit in June.

This reporter caught up with the JSA Commander at one of the UNC checkpoints during a recent tour of the JSA. Miller, a native of Mifflinburg, Pennsylvania, has been commander of the JSA since April.

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Lt. Colonel William Miller, JSA Commander

“There’s been no change in our readiness, and as much as we can tell, no change in the KPA’s readiness on the other side,” Miller noted.

Readiness has always been the key priority for troops serving in the JSA or along the DMZ. The ROK and U.S. troops who continue to guard this boundary remain vigilant at Freedom’s Frontier. From the Camp Bonifas base camp to the JSA, it’s a series of checkpoints down Highway 1, which runs through anti-tank barriers, minefields, and the concertina wire that stretches into the distance. Then there’s the propaganda, albeit the signboards (one on the right of a UNC checkpoint translated from Hangul reads “Self Reliance Is Our Way of Life”; another, on the left translated from Hangul reads, “Following the Path of the Leading Star”—in reference to Kim Il-sung. Although the anti-American and anti-ROK propaganda messages blaring from speakers from the North were reported to have stopped following the summit, they are back on again.

“There’s been a heavy influence on music recently,” Miller said, “about the greatness of the North and Kim Jong-Il.”

However, Miller pointed out that there seems to be less angry rhetoric these days than in the past.

“From what the ROK soldiers have told us, there is less anti-American and anti-ROK propaganda,” he added.

There’s always this eerie, almost surreal mood as one enters the JSA and walks out onto Conference Row. For anyone who has ever been to the JSA, it just might seem a little absurd to stand just a few feet away from the enemy or to walk into one of the MAC buildings and peer out at a North Korean soldier looking in at you. On this day, though, one tall, rather presumptuous North Korean guard crinkled up his nose in deference to a military camera crew filming him.

“He’s a bit of a troublemaker,” noted our security escort.

This originally appeared in the Korea Times, July 2000

There was an added highlight to this trip to the JSA: a group of North Korean schoolchildren on a tour.

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 Surreal, huh? Someone told me that the kids were either the children of party members or North Koreans living in Japan. They look pretty well-behaved in the photo.

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It’s all about intimidation in the JSA. I think the ROK soldier eyeballing the two North Korean soldiers has the advantage.

Chris Backe’s Review of Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm

There hasn’t been much press about my recent book, Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm, but Chris Backe has some good things to say about it in his review last December.

This was going to be the book that I had thought about writing in 2009 when I wanted to compile all the articles I wrote about the Korean War commemorative events in Korea.

Instead, I ended up writing War Remains.

When I hear some of the horror stories that some expats have had in Korea teaching English, I am one of the luckier ones. I probably wouldn’t have stayed here for as long as I did had I taught somewhere else besides ELS and Y0nsei.

And don’t forget those six years of writing for the Korea Times.

Like I said, Chris has some nice things to say about Waking Up

It’s a fairly rare expat in Korea who can claim twenty-plus years in Korea. Jeffrey Miller is one of those guys, of course, and his first-person perspective on Korea’s history since 1990 is a rock-solid one.

Read the rest of the review here.

Shutterbugs Caught for Taking Photos of Girls in Bikinis in Busan

Back when I first came to Korea and read the three English language dailies—The Korea Daily, Korea Times, and Korea Herald—I was always fascinated with some of the “police blotter” news snippets and other news from around the nation.

Some of these news shorts were a little weird and absurd, like the one about a Korean man beating up another Korean man because he resembled a former Korean president or a twentysomething salaryman who was arrested stealing women’s panties and then pleaded with police not to tell his wife. There was never any follow up or any real journalism reporting these stories. It was more sensationalism than real news reporting. More often than not it seemed like some of the bizarre stuff one might have read in National Lampoon or these days, The Onion.

Some of them were perhaps translated from Korean sources and sometimes the stories get a little lost in translation or one feels that something is missing, like this one that appeared in the Korea Times the other day:

“Police booked two Indonesians without physical detention Monday for taking photos of girls in bikinis at Haeundae Beach in Busan.

They are suspected of having photographed about 50 women including high school girls, in their bikinis without their consent at around 3 p.m. Sunday, according to Haeundae Police.

A police officer quoted the two, who are working at a plant in Busan, as saying that they took the photos of the girls “to have memories of Korea.” Police said they violated laws on the protection of people from sexual crimes.

I never thought taking photos of women in bikinis at a public beach would be considered a crime unless these two hapless Indonesians were making a nuisance of themselves and offending people at the beach. Why do I get the feeling there is more to this story that was not reported? Were the two men following women around and taking their photos? Were they hassling the women? Although the Korea Times’ story does not mention too many details, according to another news source, the high school student was 17 years old and that the mother had notified authorities. Still, when one reads this article, one probably wants to know more details about what these two men were actually doing and aside from taking photos of high school students, which would be not a cool thing to do—if they were really doing anything wrong at all.

Closure and a Peace of Mind for an 86-year-old Alzheimer’s Sufferer

I’m feeling pretty good about myself today. More specifically, I’m feeling pretty good about what my blog has done for an 86-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s, who, having lost her brother, Robert Golden in the Korean War in 1950, now can have some sense of closure and a peace of mind knowing what happened to him.

This good feeling that I am experiencing today all started a couple of months ago when someone commented on a post about Task Force Smith. Actually, the post was an article I had written for the Korea Times back in the summer of 2000 when I had gone to Osan to cover a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of America’s entry into the Korean War with the Battle of Osan. I updated the post on my blog because it is going to be, when I get around to putting it all together, a collection of essays on the articles I wrote on the Korean War Commemoration events from 2000-2003.

In these comments, the person explained that his 86-year-old mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s had lost a brother in the Battle of Osan and was wondering if I knew someone-a veteran who might have been in the same battle or a family member of a veteran who might of known the woman’s brother. The son just wanted to do something for his mom, to lay the rest as it were, the ghosts of that battle and the loss of her brother over 58 years ago.

In July 1950, Task Force Smith-the hastily assembled U.S. response to the North Korean invasion of South Korea one week earlier-was sent from Japan to Korea to halt the North Koreans, or at least delay the advancing army until more reinforcements from the States could arrive.

After landing at Pusan and taking a train to Daejeon (then written Taejon) Task Force Smith encountered the advancing North Korean army on a hill north of Osan on July 5, 1950. It was thought that once the North Koreans saw the presence of U.S. troops they would stop and perhaps even retreat. Nothing could have been further from the truth when the North Koreans and their Russian-made T-34 tanks literally ran over Task Force Smith. The Americans were forced to retreat and would do so all the way to Daejeon and later, further south to Pusan where by August the Pusan Perimeter would be established that prevented South Korea from being overtaken by the North Koreans.

Fifty years later, on a hot and humid day I traveled to Osan with a Korean and foreign press pool to cover this commemorative event. Just a few months earlier, before I started writing book reviews on books about the Korean War and covering a few of these commemorative events, I had never heard about The Battle of Osan or Task Force Smith. It wasn’t until I read Max Hastings’ The Korean War and other books when I learned about that fateful battle and how the poorly equipped Americans (their WWII bazookas were no match for the T-34’s; the shells literally bounced off the heavy armor) were overrun by the advancing North Korean army.

Just a few years after the United States and her allies had soundly defeated the Nazis and the Japanese to end WWII, the U.S. in what would become the first showdown of the Cold War and Communism, suffered a humiliating rout by the North Koreans. It would be a long, hot summer with fierce fighting all the way down to Taegu and the Pusan Perimeter before the North Koreans were finally stopped at the Battle of Tabu-dong (the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter) and the subsequent Incheon (then Inchon) Invasion.

It was my first straight news story for the Korea Times and I wrote most of it on the bus back to Seoul to make the early afternoon deadline. It was also the first time I got to meet Sohn Ji-ae, the CNN Seoul Bureau Chief as well as reporters for AP and Reuters.

Sadly, almost most of the articles (over 1,000) that I wrote for the Korea Times including all of the ones I wrote on the Korean War Commemorative events are no longer accessible to the public (the newspaper changed their web archiving a few years ago). Fortunately, I have hard copies of many of the articles I wrote and have been posting many, like the one about Task Force Smith on my blog.

When I read the comments, I really wanted to do something to help the nephew of Golden and his mother, but I didn’t know who they should contact. I would have thought they might have tried some veteran’s organization; maybe they had and coming across my blog was one more way of finding some connection to the past.

Then the other day, another person left comments on the same blog post after having read the post and the comments left by the nephew of Robert Golden. Turns out this woman who had left the most recent comments is the historian for the 21st RCT (Regimental Combat Team) one of the battalions that had been a part of Task Force Smith and had a photo of Company B that showed Robert Golden. Additionally, she had information about the battle and possibly when Golden had been killed.

I wrote back to her with the email address for Golden’s nephew who immediately wrote to him; and now, after all these years, Golden’s sister and family have some sense of closure on how “Bobby” might have been killed during The Battle of Osan.

I just played a small part in this drama, my blog being a medium for a family to find out how their brother and uncle died on a battlefield in Korea during the summer of 1950. Nonetheless I am feeling pretty good about myself today with what I have tried to do with my writing as well as my blog. I am feeling pretty good that I could help one family lay to rest the ghosts of the past and help provide them with some sense of closure on the death of a loved one in Korea so many years ago.

The Accidental Journalist, Part 23 — The Inchon Landing Commemorated, Sept. 15, 2000

The Story Behind the Story

 

Not even a typhoon could keep me from a story.

 

That’s almost what happened on September 15, 2000 when I went to Inchon (now spelled Incheon) to attend a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Inchon Landing/Invasion. The peninsula was being battered by a typhoon (another typhoon had literally washed out another commemorative ceremony the week before) and I was going to have to fight both the elements and an early deadline if I wanted to cover this event.

 

Even though I had covered a few events already that past summer and had even been to Panmunjom for two stories, I was still pretty much on my own when it came to getting to these commemorative events and ceremonies. In other words, I had to take either a taxi, bus, or in this case a subway from Seoul to Incheon. And once I got there, I would again be on my own because I was not part of the “press pool.” To be sure, the Marines’ Public Affairs Officer in charge of this event didn’t even know who I was—that made getting in a little more difficult. Once again, I was “crashing” an event just so I could get a story.

 

Fortunately, I was not traveling to Incheon alone. I was able to have the photographer from the Korea Times accompany me to take photos and also help me find the auditorium where the ceremony had been moved at the last minute because of the typhoon. Had he not come along, I probably would have had a more difficult finding the venue and might have missed it entirely.

 

It had been raining a lot all day and the rain and wind just were not going to let up at all. It was a good thing we did take the subway because the traffic from Seoul to Incheon would have been horrendous. As it was, it only took us around one hour from the time we left the Korea Times office in downtown Seoul until we got to Incheon (the venue was only a 15-minute walk from the subway station).

 

The rain just kept on coming down. Although the rainy reason or changma as it is called in Korea takes place in late June or early July, August and September can be just as wet, especially when the peninsula is hit with a typhoon. The week before I was supposed to fly down in a Chinook helicopter with the “press pool” to cover the Battle of Tabu-dong—a major battle that was part of the break out from the Pusan Perimeter—but a typhoon had grounded the helicopter and no other means of transportation had been arranged.

 

Battling the typhoon was one thing; an early deadline was other thing I was going to have to battle once the ceremony was over. There wouldn’t be much time to interview veterans after the ceremony as well as attend a press conference. I would have to get a couple of quotes and then hurry back to the Korea Times. It was either file a straight news story or write a longer feature story—in this case it would have to be the shorter news story.

 

What mattered most to me though was that I was going to be writing about another commemorative event. That meant a lot to me as did meeting some of the veterans who had returned to Korea. At the same time, it was a learning opportunity for me. With each article I wrote and each veteran I talked to and shook hands with I was connecting with history and remembering a forgotten war and those who fought in it.

 

 

Inchon Landing Commemorated

 
 
It would be planned and coordinated as Operation Chromite, but the events that passed into history 50 years ago would be better remembered as the Inchon Landing. Yesterday in Inchon, rain could not dampen the spirits of the throng of veterans, dignitaries, and guests who gathered to remember that heroic, “lustrous” amphibious landing of 50 years ago. It would be a ceremony filled with remembrance and hope for Korea’s future.

 

In his address to the audience, Inchon Mayor Choi Ki-sun welcomed the veterans and thanked them for their “courage at the Inchon Landing Operations 50 years ago.” He also touched on the changes that have occurred on the peninsula since last June. “The door is opening for a new era and the future of the Korean peninsula is brighter,” noted Choi.

 

Likewise, in his remarks to the audience Cho Yung-kil, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted that “in this light, the sacrifice and dedication of the veterans were most truly valuable, and it is through their sacrifice that the Republic of Korea exists today in freedom and prosperity.” Chairman Cho also reaffirmed the need to have this nation “move toward peace beyond war” and to “move toward unification beyond division.”

 

Many of the veterans in attendance were overwhelmed with the ceremony. For some it was their first trip back; for others it was their second or third time.

 

Joe Giovanni Perata was one of the first to hit the beach when he landed with the 1st Marine Division on Red Beach. “It was weird,” recalled Perata. “You never realize what you’re getting into until you’re in it.”

 

Many vets expressed how much Korea had changed. “They did an amazing job with their country,” commented Joseph Ferriter, who landed at Blue Beach. As for the landing, Ferriter noted that it was “so eerie to come up over the ladders.”

 

For most veterans, Inchon was just beginning. There would be the liberation of Seoul and the move north. Harry Burke who would end up fighting around the Chosin Reservoir, “felt great” to be back here for the ceremonies.

 

Bill Boldenweck, who has made it back to Korea five times, wouldn’t have missed the ceremony for anything in the world.

 

“I would have swum back here,” he chuckled.

 

Yesterday’s emotional ceremony in Inchon not only remembered the heroics and sacrifices of that great amphibious landing 50 years ago, but also touched on the hope for the Korean peninsula in the future.

The day I met Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono in Seoul, June 2003

I was very fortunate when I was writing for the Korea Times from 2000-2006 to have the opportunity to cover some very special events including Yoko Ono’s first visit to Korea in 2003. 

Yes, Yoko Ono 

By Jeffrey Miller, Feature Writer 

When this reporter heard Yoko Ono was going to be in Seoul to open an exhibition and hold a news conference, it was one of those rare journalistic moments one does not want to pass on.

After all, it’s not every day you have the opportunity to meet someone as important and seminal from the arts like Ono.

Last Friday, the petite 70-year-old Ono—dressed in black with her eyes hidden by her trademark sunglasses—met with local media on the eve of the opening of her exhibition  “Yes Yoko Ono” to discuss her life and art.

As Alexandra Munroe, director of the Japan Art Gallery, introduced her to the press corps with one deserved accolade after another, Ono sat calmly; breaking into a smile now and then as the cameras whirred and clicked away.

“It’s a big deal to be here,” Ono said. “I feel as if I am coming home. I know your country so well and now I am finally in Seoul.”

This was a big deal, her first show in Korea and the first stop on a major tour of Asia. During the news conference, Ono spoke about the need for peace and how art for her is more about communication than anything else.

“Through art and music we can be together and understand each other,” said Ono. “It’s a universal language.”

This was classic Ono through and through. Even if one is only vaguely familiar with her work, there is something magical about her soft-spoken style that is just as delicate as it is commanding. Here was the woman that was at the forefront of the 1960s avant-garde movement. One who broke artistic conventions and in many ways changed the way we perceive modern art.

Yoko Ono in Seoul, June 2003

As Ono described her art or fielded questions from the press corps, it was hard not to think of John Lennon while listening to her speak. After all, the title of the exhibition refers to her famous “Ceiling Painting,” which is one of the more important pieces featured at the exhibit: A white ladder bathed in light leads to a magnifying glass dangling from the ceiling surrounded by a metal frame. Visitors to the gallery were asked to climb the ladder to find the word, “Yes” written. First shown at a 1966 London exhibition, it was where Ono first met Lennon.  

“Yes is saying yes to life, to love, to peace,” Ono said. “It’s all yes.”

While Ono was an artist in her own right before Lennon climbed the ladder and read that magic word for the first time, the two have been inextricably linked for eternity—long before an assassin’s bullet took him from this world and long after with his spirit that lives on in their collaborative works.

Ono, who has always been known to break traditional forms, emphasized that art “will always find a way to communicate and that artists will keep and discovering ways to do this.”

She shared a story about a radio disc jockey during World War II in war-torn St. Petersburg who tried to uplift the spirits of the people who were facing starvation as the Nazis bombarded the city. The disc jockey cracked jokes to make the people happy and for a moment forget about the war and their hunger.

“Finally the DJ himself was getting too tired to talk, so he just put a metronome on the radio,” Ono explained. “It was just going tick tick tick and people just listened to that sound. That’s how St. Petersburg was saved, that’s how the people survived.”

Ono went on to say that she believes when the disc jockey decided to put on the metronome as a means to communicate and to keep the people alive, he was an artist.

“When you talk about this form or that form it’s irrelevant,” said Ono. “You have to keep on finding a form each time that is relevant for that particular situation we are in.”

Yoko Ono in Seoul, June 2003

The show, which runs until the end of September, is a veritable cornucopia of Ono’s work over the last 40 years. However, she feels her best work is yet to come.

“I hope that my most important works will come later in the future,” she said. “When I became 50 I said that the past 50 years was just a preface to my life. I think that my best work will come later.”

If in the beginning Ono’s art was misunderstood by the mainstream, these days her art and message—which is louder and clearer than ever before—have reached a wider audience in a world that needs such artists.

“What art means to me is that it is a healthy way of communicating and to create a better world for us because we can’t rely on politicians, educators or other institutions,” Ono said. “Artists are the only ones who are giving something to the world to love.”

At 70, Ono is still a driving force of the international avant-garde movement, but more importantly is a voice and vision of reason, hope and above all, love.

“Love is something that is not enough now in the world,” Ono added, “we need love.”  

Yes, Yoko Ono. All we need is love. 

1968: The USS Pueblo Incident

USS Pueblo

I have always been interested in history ever since I was a young boy reading books at the public library in Oglesby, Illinois.

I would go on to minor in history at Eureka College (1985-1987) and later, when I came to Korea I really got to experience history covering Korean War Commemoration events as well as writing about other events like the 25th anniversary of the 1976 Panmunjom Ax Murder Incident. 

Looking back, I would have to say that it was 1968 when I really became aware of history and what was happening around the world. There’s no doubt about, 1968 was a historical watershed year from the war in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy to the Democratic Convention in Chicago and Apollo 8’s flyby of the moon on Christmas Eve. 

And then there was the USS Pueblo Incident. 

It was forty years ago today that the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea after she had allegedly strayed into North Korean territorial waters. For the next eleven months the crew would be held captive until being released on December 23. 

I vaguely remember hearing about this on the news back in January of 1968; then again with the Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive in the early part of the year, it might have been hard for a ten-year-old to fully grasp what was happening in another Asian country halfway around the world.  

However, it would be a few more years before I knew more about the incident. Thanks to a made-for-TV movie of the incident staring Hal Holbrook as Cmdr. Lloyd Boucher many people also learned of the incident and the “Hawaiian Good Luck Sign” the crew members flashed whenever propaganda photos were taken of them in captivity. 

What I have always found interesting about the Pueblo incident was that right before she was captured, North Korean commandos attacked the Blue House in Seoul in an attempt to assassinate South Korean President Park Chung-hee. Additionally, the ship which is a tourist attraction in Pyongyang is still listed as a commissioned ship by the U.S. Navy. 

My own personal connection with the incident, albeit a journalism one, occurred in the summer of 2000 when I wrote an article about the Joint Security Area (JSA) and the Bridge of No Return where Korean War POW’s were repatriated across as well as members of the USS Pueblo (both of which were mentioned in that article and another one I would write two years later). 

And a few years later, my interest in the incident was renewed when I reviewed The Pueblo Incident: A Spy Ship and the Failure of American Foreign Policy by Mitchell Lerner for my weekly book review for the Korea Times. I thought the book was okay in that the author wanted to explore the Soviet Union connection with the Pueblo incident. 

Perhaps one day the USS Pueblo will be allowed to return home again.

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