The Story Behind the Story

In the spring of 2003 I was reading the Online edition of the News Tribune, a newspaper back in LaSalle, Illinois when I came across an article about a Korean War Veteran from Peru, Illinois who had received an all-expenses paid trip to Korea to attend the 50th anniversary of the signing of the armistice.

What was most interesting and ironic about this was that I had covered the event at the War Memorial Museum in Seoul where the names of the veterans were chosen to receive the all-expenses paid trip to Korea and that the veteran, Floyd Hybki was the father of Greg Hybki a kid I had gone to LaSalle-Peru Township High School with back in 1972-1976 (I think we were even in a few of the same classes).

After I read this article I sent an email to the News Trib reporter asking him how I could get in touch with Mr. Hybki—I was already thinking about the article that I could write. The reporter was kind enough to send me Mr. Hybki’s contact information who I contacted immediately.

Mr. Hybki and I exchanged a few email prior to his arrival in Korea and hoped that we would have the chance to meet. I say hoped because usually when these groups of veterans come to Korea they have very little free time—at least that’s the way it was for all these Korean War Commemorative Events. They are bused from one event to another and being this event back in 2003 was going to be the grand finale to all the commemoration events the veterans were going to be busy with luncheons, dinners, tours, and the like.

I figured there would be no chance for us to meet prior to the event at Panmunjom, so I hoped we could meet afterwards. As it turned out we both had a tight schedule; I had to file a story and he had to attend another dinner but we planned to meet at his hotel late in the afternoon after the event was over.

However, fate and the Good Lord would step in because on the day I went to Panmunjom with the press pool, I literally bumped into Mr. Hybki and his eldest son who had accompanied him to Korea on Conference Row in the Joint Security Area. With hundreds of veterans, dignitaries, service members, guests, and media running around, the chances for us meeting there were slim to say the least, but we did. That was pretty special to meet someone from back home in Panmunjom on this historic day.

After the event that day, I went back to Seoul and had enough time to meet with Mr. Hybki. I still had to write my article for the next day’s edition and with an early deadline and I wouldn’t have much time to meet with Mr. Hybki. He was also pressed for time because of a dinner that evening but we managed to meet for an hour—more than enough time to interview him for the article I planned to write about his visit to Korea.

And that’s how I got to meet a Korean War veteran from my community at Panmunjom on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the armistice.

Sadly Mr. Hybki passed away two years ago.

Veteran Stunned by Wonderful Chance to Revisit Korea

When Floyd Hybki of Peru, Illinois found out that he was coming to Korea, 50 years after he had been here the first time, he couldn’t believe it.

Hybki was one of the 400 Korean War veterans from the United States who were offered an all-expenses-paid trip to Korea to take part in last weekend’s Korean armistice commemoration—courtesy of the Federation of Korean Industries.

“I couldn’t believe that I had been picked to come to Korea,’’ the 75-year-old Hybki said. “To tell you the truth, I thought there was some kind of a gimmick because no one gives you a free trip, hotel accommodations, and meals.’’

His trip back here for the commemoration started with an advertisement for an all-expenses-paid trip to Korea which he came across while flipping through a veteran’s magazine.

“I thought I would go ahead and send in my name and address, and see what happened,’’ he said. “I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity.’’

Hybki’s name was one of the lucky names drawn for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity during a ceremony held at the War Memorial Museum in Seoul in March. Shortly after, he received a letter from Col. Martin Glasser of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission informing him that his name had been picked and that he would be coming to Korea with other American veterans.

“It was really something when I got this letter,’’ he said, pulling out the letter. “Who would have thought that I would get this chance to come back here again?’’

When the Korean War broke out, Hybki who had joined the army in 1948 was a member of the Illinois National Guard.

“In 1951, they needed more troops in Korea so they called up the Illinois National Guard and shipped us off to California,’’ Hybki recalled. “We were supposed to wait until we got up to division strength, but they needed more men over here, so they started breaking us up and sent us over here individually to fill in spots in various units.’’

After arriving in Seoul in 1952, he was assigned to the 8th Army’s 658th Quartermaster Company in Chuncheon, Korea. Looking back on his service, some of the things that are still vivid in his mind were the cold weather and the fierce fighting characterized by the so-called defensive stalemate of the conflict during the last two years.

“We’d take a hill, and then a couple of days later we were forced off that hill by the Chinese,’’ he said. “And then we’d take that hill again.’’

Aside from the fighting, one of the things that Hybki remembers the most about being in Korea was the suffering of the people, albeit the deplorable living conditions or the lack of food, medicine, and other supplies.

“The people weren’t living a life; they were existing because there was nothing,’’ he recalled sadly.

He still vividly recalls that in the days leading up to the signing of the armistice there was a lot of fighting still going on.

“Right up until the armistice was signed both sides were firing their artillery every night,’’ Hybki said. “And kept it up right until the armistice went into effect.’’

After the armistice was signed though, he and other soldiers tried to celebrate it in the best way they could.

“We had about four companies in our compound so we scratched together whatever food we could find—hamburgers, hot dogs and lots of beer,’’ he said smiling. “We played some ballgames and listened to music. There was not a lot we could do.’’

He left Korea on Sept. 9, 1953, and returned to Peru three weeks later. He was transferred back to the Illinois National Guard and was honorably discharged in June 1955.

“I thought about coming back here, after my sons had grown up,’’ he said. “But the older I got, the thought of coming back here sort of faded.’’

Accompanying Hybki on his trip to Korea was his son Gary who had flown in from Australia to be with his father. It was a special time for the father and son to experience the commemoration together and for Hybki to share some of his recollections of the war with his son.

“We went to Seoul Tower yesterday (Saturday) and I tried to find this cathedral that I visited when I was here,’’ he said. “It took me awhile, but I found it and pointed it out to him.’’

On Christmas Eve in 1952, Hybki and a few other soldiers came into Seoul to attend midnight mass. The cathedral, located in Myong-dong had been severely damaged during the war with holes in the roof and had no electricity.

“All these Koreans came in and lit all these candles so they could have midnight mass,’’ Hybki said.

Hybki pointed out that when many of the Korean War veterans from his guard unit returned to Peru they put the war behind them and got on with their lives.

“When I got called up to go to Korea I was working at Westclox (a clock factory), so after I got back home, I went to work there again,’’ he said. “It was like I had been on vacation. You just went back home and carried on with your life.’’

For Hybki, one of the more memorable moments of this trip to Korea was locating the name of his wife’s brother listed on a panel of Illinois service members killed during the war in the Hall of Heroes at the War Memorial Museum.

“It meant a lot to me to find his name,’’ he added sadly. “He was only 19 years old when he was killed in action.’’

Hybki, who returned to the United States with the other veterans on Tuesday, was very grateful for The Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) for sponsoring this trip.

“This is more than I expected. I can’t believe what the FKI has done for us, and the hospitality shown to us by the Korean people,’’ he said.

During last Friday’s Salute to the Heroes dinner at the Grand Hyatt Hotel sponsored by the Seoul USO, veterans from all of the nations that participated during the war were awarded medals and certificates—the Korean government’s gesture to thank them for their service and sacrifices made during the war.

“You feel a little different after coming back here,’’ he said. “I can see now that everything was appreciated and worth it.’’

This first appeared in the Korea Times on July 30, 2003

If you enjoyed this blog post and the newspaper article, you can read other articles I wrote for the Korea Times in Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm.