Korea: Publisher returns after a half century

By  John Derby
Times Publisher
June 2, 2016

Two old men stood riding a subway in Seoul Korea last week, and one said to the other, “Thank you for what you did for our country.”
Both had served in the Korean War.
The Korean worked for the United States National Security Agency, and this writer was a military news correspondent writing for the Army Times and the Stars and Stripes.

When he thanked me, he was thanking all the Americans and allied troops who had fought for South Korea helping save this small country from communist domination.
At the time I served, I did not fully understand why I was in Korea.
I had a wife in California, and a baby son whom I had never seen. I did not think that Korea was ready for democracy, and I wondered what would happen to this country when the American military left?
What we had left was a germ of freedom, and that germ grew into what has become one of the most beautiful and commercial countries in the world.
Less than half the size of California, it has very cold winters and mild summers.
Korea is like a sister country to America because so many Americans lost their lives here.
A large bronze statue commemorates the brotherhood of an American soldier assisting a Korean soldier as a focal point of the Korean War Memorial.
Korea has been invaded by different powers for 1,000 years, and lived under the yoke of both Japanese and Chinese invaders.
Only after World War II did Korea have a brief period of peace, but that did not last long as the Russian communists took hold of the north, and with the help of the Chinese, overran the south. Had it not been for the American military, there would be an entire communist nation of Korea today.
However our country had enough of all out war, and tried to limit the war to the boundary of Korea, instead of cutting off the supplies coming in from China.
Eventually the American military pushed the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel while paying a terrible price. After five years of all out war, North and South Korea signed a limited peace agreement at the DMZ Demilitarized zone.
Limited, because as late as 1972, North Korea was tunneling under the DMZ to prepare for another attack, and today North Korea threatens South Korea with their rockets, and the bomb.
Despite this, South Korea has created beautiful modern cities like Seoul, the capital, and has an excellent tourism industry. It is also on commercial and industrial par with the United States, Japan and Germany.
It’s population is made up of a large portion of young people who are energetic, style conscious, and walk around with their cell phones plugged into their ears.
The cities in Korea are young, born after the war, and designed for modern travel, which in this case means 10 lane boulevards going down the main sections of Seoul, and subways that run deep in the earth to all parts of the city and its suburbs.
It is this kind of a city that local members of the Rotary Club came to attend their International Convention.
Few other cities have a convention center as large as the one at Kintex, and the number of modern hotels to serve those Rotarians who are in attendance from all over the world.
It also has a very modern international airport, with high speed rail to and from the airport to the city.
We are staying in the middle of the city, in a Guest House or Youth Hostel full of world travelers. Many of these people are on vacations or on business trips — a wine merchant from Japan who was born in California, a teacher in Guam with his mother from the Philippines, and students from the university of Korea.
Our area is crowded with clothing boutiques and restaurants which come alive after 5 o’clock and go on until after midnight.
The men and women are slim, and very well proportioned from all the walking they do. Fashions are cheap and come straight out of Paris. They will arrive in California next year.
There are historic treasures here in Seoul like all the palaces of past overlords. These have been very well maintained by the Korean people.
As the subway train moved on, the Korean who thanked us for America’s role in the war said he would insist on getting off the train to walk us to our next destination. Even though we were somewhat lost, we thanked him, and said we will surely find our way.
We joined the other Rotarians that day, but planned a trip to the DMZ, and the place where the peace talks had taken place.
Stay tuned.

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