Sunday, March 22, 2009
It's Return to Korea 60 Years Later.
I must say that I am getting pretty bad and updating. I need to get reminders from you faithful readers to drop me a line and tell me to get off my but and start telling stories.
So here's one from a month ago.
I had a few days off in February and decided to take a break from Tokyo. It was a tough choice at first to decide where to go but by the title of this post I am sure you can figure out on your own where I went. I decided to go see my good friend Dawn Melarvie who teachers in Seoul. She and I worked together in Warsaw and have stayed in touch over the years. My final decision was influenced by another important person in my as well. My Uncle Gene who, to me, is what a man' man is all about. I could go off on many stories about how amazing he was and how much he taught me throughout my life. But, I think I will stick to this story today.
My Uncle Gene passed away 2 years ago. This is My Aunt Seenie and Uncle Gene. How I miss them so much. I hope to see Seenie when I am home this summer. Uncle Gene was a retired Air Force Master Sargent fought in the Korean War. Besides being in the Air Force he also served in the Army and the Navy before finding his place in the Air Force. I don't know many stories about Uncle Gene and the war. I wish I had talked to him about it but it was something I felt should be left alone. War was a hard thing for him. During the Vietnam Conflict his only son Keith was killed and it was a major blow to him. So, bringing up any type of war stories would bring on memories of Keith and I didn't want him to have to show me the pain.
The thing that made my decision for me besides Gene and Dawn was an old Air Force Parka. This parka, which I have now, belonged to my Grandfather. My Grandfather, Ira Bughman, wore it during the winter time on the farm in Kansas. To this day it still has grain from Grandpa's farm in the pockets. It really brings me back to my childhood and fishing on the farm. Well, this parka was a gift from Uncle Gene to Grandpa. Gene told him it would keep him warm on the cold winter days in January. When Grandpa died I remember saying I want to have that coat. It's something that is very important to me and I feel like I am wrapped up grips of the two strongest men I've known, Grandpa and Uncle Gene.
I decided to bring this parka along with me to Korea to makes it return 60 years later. First, took a trip to the DMZ. Yes, the Demilitarized Zone. The line that separates North and South Korea. I coming from the South headed up to the boarder with a group of people from Japan and the US. When we finally reached the DMZ, we were searched, checked by armed guards and had our pictures taken for security and personal safety reasons. This place is really the most heavily armed place I have ever scene. Bunkers on both sides with anti-aircraft guns ready to fire. Soldiers, tanks, trucks and explosives ready to detonate in case of an attack. Which is possible with the testing of the "satellite missiles" in North Korea. Which most of the world believes its for NUCLEAR Weapons testing. Either way when I was up there on the border you felt that it could happen and any minute.
We were able to go into a building with highly trained hand to hand combat soldiers. Remember...no weapons. In this room you could walk around the other side of the table and be in North Korea. One side has South Korea soldiers. The other, North Korea Soldiers. It is a very tense place. We are asked not to smile, wave, laugh, point and make any gestures or faces that may be used by the North Koreas as propaganda to show their people either how bad we Americans are or how bad we want to be in North Korea. It was a surreal experience and something I am glad I saw.
While walking around wearing Gene's coat I was stopped and asked where I got it. I told this older South Korean couple that it was my Uncle's from the War and they asked if they could touch it. It was was shocking to hear that question and I said of course. They spoke in Korean, smiled and stroked my coat for a moment. It was really a good feeling. They told others about it and they all showed happiness and a sort of thankfulness. It was a very interesting place. Something I will always remember. Whenever I think about Korea it will always bring me back to Gene. I hope I can post some more stories about Uncle Gene and Aunt Seenie. Maybe I'll go back to the summer of 1987 in Seguin, Texas to write about catfish contests and skinning snakes. Ok time to go. Miss you buddy. L