The Korean Peninsula is perhaps the most talked-about item in the news nowadays. At least that is the case here in the United States. And all the chatter about North Korea/South Korea has caused me to think a great deal about my late older brother.
Jack was his name and he spent about fourteen months in South Korea with the US Army. I can’t remember the exact dates of his tenure there but I do know that a part of it would have been in 1961, about eight years after the so-called end of the Korean Conflict. I think of it as one of the many “conflicts” the US should never have entered.
My uncle fought in Korea. Like many veterans of war, he wouldn’t talk about it. I remember one time when he had been drinking heavily he said, “It isn’t fun seeing your buddies’ arms and legs flying through the air.” That’s the only time I ever heard him mention it. He received a bullet wound in his wrist. I used to ask him about the scar but he would make up some joke about how it might have happened.
Back to my brother. Jack used to say that the best he could tell, he and the other GI’s were in South Korea to play war games at the border from time to time, and to sit around playing cards and drinking beer the rest of the time. He told me the North Koreans and the Chinese would line up their tanks at the border and aim them toward the troops. Then the US Army would do the same, aiming at the North. The North would retreat. Then the US troops would retreat and go back to their beer. I realize that not all American soldiers were sitting around drinking beer but that would have been important to my brother. He had the genetic predisposition to alcoholism which has been the demise of many of my relatives.
I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR as I was driving home from Chapel Hill this week. The first hour Diane and her guests discussed the scary young President of North Korea and his irresponsible threats. A guest on the show talked about the war games that are going on now at the North-South border. The description sounded almost exactly like the one given by my brother more than fifty years ago. I think my jaw dropped. Are we still doing that!? Should I take heart in the fact that there’s now a woman in charge in S. Korea? I can hope.
The black and white photo at the top of this post is my brother surrounded by children while he was in Asia. Jack is the tall one with blond hair. 😉 This is my favorite shot of him. I’m not sure where he was at the time but wherever he went the children gathered around him. Dogs liked him too. The ubiquitous but vague they say that anyone who’s loved by children and dogs can’t be all bad. Many times that thought comforted me.
My brother died at the age of sixty-one of an alcohol and drug overdose. That was almost eleven years ago. I still miss him. When I think of him I try to remember his charming smile, his sense of humor, his big heart for animals and children. My daughters loved him, as did the older grandchildren. The younger ones either didn’t meet him or were too young to remember him. It gives me pleasure to show them this snapshot of him and to tell them they would have loved him. RIP Jack T.