In remembrance of Memorial Day — a true story brought to you by BEZALEL.
Alongside U.S. military men, my Korean grandfather fought for freedom against those whom many called “reddies” (the anti-democratic side.)
My grandma would tell me how she witnessed her siblings being captured and loaded into a truck at gunpoint. When my grandma told me this story, I could see 1950 war-torn Korea in her eyes.
I could see a dirt path; a run-down truck with scared people standing around; she’s barely 20; her sisters and parents; neighbors crying and scared frozen; North Korean soldiers with guns in their hands, dirt on their boots.
There’s a leader, the most foreboding of them, picking out individuals and using the language of gunpoint to steer them into the truck.
And the rumors of what they did to young Korean gals; fear must have seized that moment—the moment was still fresh and alive in my grandma’s eyes.
In a different scene, in the midst of flying bullets, my grandfather got hit in the calf and went down.
American GIs saw him, ran to put him in a helicopter and flew him away; they dropped him off the nearest medical care.
They took the bullet out of his leg and he was able to walk after recovering.
He said he would have died if he were left there.
Another time he almost died was when he went into a village to look for his sister.
It was a kind of rampaged shack. He quietly pushed opened the door and there was a rifle pointing at him.
A North Korean soldier was holding it, slouched on a chair fast asleep.
My granddad said it reeked of alcohol.
He spotted a huge barrel of soju (Korean rice-wine) next to which the soldier was passed out drunk.
The North Korean soldier didn’t hear him sneak in.
My granddad told me his blood ran cold at that moment. He was not only relieved that his life was spared, but he was leading a group of young soldiers, so they didn't die there either.
This Memorial Day, in addition to remembering all those who died while serving in the armed forces, I want to commemorate my grandparents for enduring a tumultuous time in U.S.-Korean history. (They also underwent the just-as-brutal Japanese occupation prior to the Americans' rescue.)
To help raise 6 kids, my grandma worked jobs that were difficult even for men: cattle ranch, gas station, operating a hotel, working in a dessert factory.
My grandfather was supervisor for the Educational Administration of Gwang-Myeong city, and retired thirty years ago as principal from Bucheon Technical High School in Gyeonggi, South Korea.
He won the President’s National Medal of the Republic of Korea as Outstanding Person of Education and was Executive of Education Administration for the Gyeonggi Provincial Board of Education.
He died at 87 and left his wife and children to continue the memory of our heritage and history.
Thanks to American soldiers like the ones who saved my grandfather's life, I'm alive and well to share this story today.