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Letters to hal-abeojis

Steve’s family immigrated to the US when he was 18 years old. He joined the US Army as a Cavalry Scout and spent three years as a Paratrooper at Fort Bragg. Growing up in Korea, numerous movies, books, and especially stories told from his grandparents and other seniors about the Korean War inspired his appreciation for both the United States’ and United Nations’ soldiers and motivated him to join the Army. He is now a student at Cape Fear Community College.

1991 3/5

Hal-abeojike (Dear my grandfathers)
As you know, my father works for a beer company, Doosan, and it owns my favorite baseball team, OB Bears. Every Sunday, I put on my OB bears uniform as soon as I wake up and wait until my father takes me to the ballpark. In case you want to know where I sit, I am always sitting on the first base side between first and fifth row. We are usually a pack of four: My father, myself, my father’s co-worker, and his son, Chulmin. Chulmin and I have been friends since we were in our mothers’ bellies. Chulmin’s uncle is the cleanup hitter (4th batter) for OB bears and plays for the Korean National Team as well. We probably have gone to watch the game close to a hundred times, but we have not even come close to catching a foul ball. Chulmin and I are still waiting for a foul ball, so we never take our baseball gloves off our left hands. We watch the game as if we are one of the outfielders for the entire game.

Hal-abeoji, gamsahabnida (Grandfather, I greatly appreciate you.) Thank you for your act of valor and sacrifice that you showed in an impoverished unknown country far from your home. I get to go to my favorite ballpark with my father and my best friend every Sunday because of you.

2004 2/12

Hal-abeojike (Dear my grandfathers)
My family immigrated to the United States a year ago. We are settled in a city called Los Alamitos in Orange County, CA. I am currently working at a Subway near my apartment. Although I love literature, I think I am going to go to a culinary art school in a few years after saving up some for tuition. My English is awfully beneath college level English courses anyways. Also, I really need to get a degree that leads to immediate employment at the moment. Although my father was a regional manager for one of the biggest corporations in Korea, like other first-generation immigrants, he is delivering papers in the morning and driving a yellow cab during the day. I just want to work diligently and buy a decent house in a safer neighborhood one day. We had multiple burglary incidents in our apartment complex over one year period, including at our place once.

It is a struggle at the moment financially, and cultural differences and the language barrier makes me feel disconnected to the world I am living in. However, very fortunately, our place is very close to Seal Beach and Huntington Beach. I surf with my new friends almost every morning before going to work. It might sound weird, but more than actually catching the waves and surfing, I like sitting on my board in the ocean waiting for the right wave. In the early morning, the ocean is so tranquil and peaceful. My eyes, ears, and mind are truly inactive and relaxing at that moment.

Hal-abeoji, gamsahabnida. (Grandfather,I greatly appreciate you.)
Thank you for the opportunity to live in such an awesome country. I won’t see my current situation as adversity. Compared to what you have gone through for my freedom, what I have in front of me is a trifling situation. I am sure my family and I will enjoy living in the US more as we settle here stably over time.

2016 3/30

Hal-abeojike (Dear my grandfathers)
I might have watched a Korean War movie trailer the night before. The YouTube thumbnail that popped up on my screen through an algorithm was a documentary film about the Korean War. The film gave me a feeling of overwhelming gratitude toward hal-abeojis. I went to the Holly wood recruiting station the very next day and joined the Army. It was on one warm, pleasantly sunny, typical Californian day in 2012.

The condition of the war shown was formidable. It showed the desolate landscape of an indigent country. Shabby old thatched houses were sparsely scattered alongside dark yellow dirt roads. Also shown were ruthless bombings in a country that is roughly a size of Oregon. Ironically, the state of Oregon has a population of three million, which is equivalent to the total casualties during three years of prolonged Korean War. The winters were brutally cold without proper clothing and equipment for the soldiers. 8,000 suffered frostbite, and everyone suffered a cold injury to some degree in negative 20°-30° Fahrenheit average in the winter. The temperatures in the shady side of mountains were down to horrifying -40° Fahrenheit where most of the battles were fought since Korean terrain consists of 70% hills and mountains. Summers of over 100° Fahrenheit caused dehydration and heat strokes on top of fighting against the frantic, indoctrinated madness.

At the end of the documentary film, it showed interviews of Korean War veterans with hair silvered with age. The interviewer asked what made them volunteer to fight in an underdeveloped country that they had never even heard of. Every one of the hal-abeojis answered that they wanted to pitch in support in defending freedom for a newly born democratic country, especially when they were just coming out of an agonizing and lamentful 30 years of colonization under Japanese occupation. Then the interviewer showed pictures of the fully developed and prosperous Korea of today. Some shed tears and others were just gazing at the pictures for a while as if they were preoccupied with memories. Perhaps they were missing their fallen battle buddies’ presence or longing for their friends from their platoon that live in another state. They all asked if the pictures were really the sceneries of current Korea, astonished at splendid skyscrapers and complexed overpasses, knowing that it was only little over 50 years ago when the country was desolate and barren from three consecutive years of getting exploded. I am sure my grandfather’s and my father’s generations worked arduously to rebuild and beyond to establish a safe and independent country for the next generations to come after witnessing the indomitable American and United Nations’ young soldiers sacrifice their own lives to defend their freedom.

My time in the Army was not as I anticipated because I was overly motivated to pay back what I owe to hal-abeojis in just a short threeand-a-half-year contract, which is not as nearly as possible. As a matter of fact, my work was disappointing. At times, my English wasn’t adequate enough to understand the staticky radio coms, and my small body frame was too weak to carry my much taller and heavier battle buddies during a week-long ruck march. (My platoon Sgt would say “you, you, and you are dead. Carry them, privates!” during our patrol training.) I have given it a good thought for about a decade now. I now slowly realize that I did the best I could for the time being. I also met great friends in the Army. Each year, I spend ThanksGiving and Christmas with two of my closest Army friends.

Hal-abeoji, gamsahabnida. (Grandfather, I greatly appreciate you.)
Thank you for defending the freedom of millions of people from an unknown country in a not politically supported war soon after WWII. I am among one of the millions you saved. I am honored to have served in the US Army as you had once. I now have a wife and a 4-year old daughter. I enjoy the freedom which was not free everyday because of you, hal-abeoji. Thank you.

In case you are curious how we are doing after 20 years In the US, my father became a pharmacy technician about 15 years ago and now is a manager of his department at a hospital in Los Angeles. My mother has been a nanny of the same two siblings for over 10 years in Orange County. My sister pursued her art education at CSU (Long Beach) and worked as a jewelry designer in downtown Los Angeles for a while. Now, she resides in Ohio with her generous husband. Me? I got immediate employment after my education in Le Cordon Bleu, Pasadena at The Peninsula Hotel. After working in different kitchens in central and southern California, I joined the Army. Following my separation from the Army, I cooked for 5 more years, but in my own restaurant this time. Today, after postponing for 20 years, I’m finally doing what I love doing. I am reading novels everyday, truly appreciating literature, and taking classes at CFCC, working toward a bachelors in English Literature. Also, I am married to a kind-hearted active duty Airman, and we have a beautiful 4 year old daughter, Emma. I promise I will tell her about you, and have her tell her children about you. You won’t ever be forgotten in my family. We greatly appreciate you and will always remember you, hal-abeojis.

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