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
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.