He was assigned to an artillery company. Since he was exposed to repeated loud noises of the artillery, he developed hearing losses later in his life. His men barely got trained on how to use mine throwers when the Korean War broke out. A war was both a challenge and an opportunity for the military personnel in the newly formed country. His company retreated to JeJu Island and trained newly drafted young men. He got promoted to captain and led his company during Incheon landing operation.
Battle of 104 Hill was one of the turning points of the Korean War. He met his lifelong partner at 104 Hill Battle. While he was surveying the area with his binoculars, he saw a woman in red sweater. She did not fit with the war-torn view of the surroundings. He could not easily erase her image.
His men were tired of eating C-rations, US military combat meals. They had been eating them for weeks. They were looking for someone to cook Korean meals with rice and Kimchi. That night, his men came to him and told him they found a family willing to cook for them. When he arrived, he was surprised to see the woman in red sweater there. She was the daughter of the family.
My father had a girlfriend prior to the war. After they recaptured Seoul, capital of Korea, he went to see her. She was living with her aunt. Her aunt told him, while the North Korean army was occupying Seoul, she burned his pictures and everything related to him. She feared they would harm her once they found out she dated a South Korean officer. She even participated in women’s communist organization. He felt betrayed. He hated the communists. That was the end of their relationship. He never saw her again.
The dinner was the beginning of the new relationship. While he was in Seoul, he brought boxes of C-rations, and other supplies to them. They treated him with delicious home cooking. It did not last long. He got a new order to move up to the north.
Now might be the good time to introduce my mother’s family. She was the oldest of two daughters. My grandfather, her father, was a merchant class who believed that they should be living within the ‘Four Gates’ of the city wall even though the house was a small shack. During the Japanese occupation, he worked for the power company and made a decent living. In old pictures, he was in a uniform holding baseball bat and glove. He was the oldest son, and he only had two daughters, no son. His brother had three daughters in a row, then had a son. So, my grandmother, my mother’s mom, did not like his wife. She thought her sister-in-law was showing off with the son.
It appears that my grandfather lost his job when Japanese got defeated. It’s not clear what he was doing at the time of the Korean War. I heard he had a fabric business. It is not clear whether he or his brother ran it. He probably felt that the young and handsome Korean officer was a good future for his daughter.
In some Korean War history book, a Korean soldier raised Korean flag in the government building after the South regained the capital. According to my father, there was no flag pole left. They were all broken due to the heavy bombing. He saw the Korean flag laid on the floor by an American soldier.
My father’s company guarded the government building while President Seung Man Lee and General McArthur were touring it. Broken windows fell from the window frames and made a loud noise. People thought a sniper was shooting at them. Everyone ran for the cover. Only General McArthur was standing. My father used to comment on his bravery.
Korean Marine Corp continued to move up north and reached near Hong Won, father’s home town. He asked his commander if he could visit the family. The answer was “No.” My father was stubborn and sometimes even reckless. Once he made up his mind, there was no return. He picked few of his best men, armed them, filled the gas tank of a truck, and left the base. He committed unlawful desertion.
He found no North Korean army in the town. They had already fled. Men of the town organized ‘self-defense.’ A leader of the group greeted my father and reported the security status of the town. Father recognized him. He was my grandfather’s cousin. Father told him, “Uncle, don’t you know me? I am Sang Ha.”