Monday, December 28, 2009

How to Survive a War, the Checklist

     War is a dangerous affair.  These days you can get blasted by an army sitting thousands of miles away who mistook you for a dangerous suspect due to a glitchy satellite signal, you can step on a land mine, get shot, blow yourself up on purpose, be blown up by the person blowing his/herself up on purpose . . . well, you get the point.  Fifty years ago it was a bit more simple; planes, artillery, land mines, and bullets were the gist of it.  Dodging those methods weren't any more or less terrifying, of course, but most of those you could see or hear coming.  My grandpa, Cecil Williams, would know something about this - having obtained some uninvited first-hand experience as a civilian evacuating from the Korean War.

     First off, don't run away from a dive-bombing plane!  Running away will give them more time to shoot you or drop bombs on you.  This was one of several pieces of advice given to my dear grandfather by the American Army Sergeant who also claimed to be his "mother and father from now on!"  Hmm, wonder how that worked out.

     Next, don't run at all - just sit tight, shut your eyes, and pray the bullets away (yeah right!).  That particular tid-bit was not even remembered by the elderly sage of a missionary who uttered them.  Once he saw the fighter jet strafing towards the bus he actually beat everyone else out of the vehicle and was found in the ditch right beside an amazed Cecil!  Note: when evacuating, stay near the exits or risk being trampled by crazy people.

     Wear multiple layers of clothes.  Really.  When the Postal Exchange on the Army base was opened to civilians for free (in reality, only white males were allowed in), Cecil saw one man layer on four or five suits!  All because he wanted free clothes.  Another guy covered his entire arm in Rolex watches.  A lot of good they did him when he was being shot at a few hours later!

     Bring a sledgehammer for fun.  You get to smash typewriters, computers, cameras, and car engines to bits in an effort to keep them from the enemy.  But by all means, never let the locals have anything valuable!  They might actually be able to better their situations then.  To avoid such a catastrophe, drive cars off of piers, burn the food, and don't hand out clothes to anyone who doesn't look "American" before you burn that too!  Seriously, it happened.

     Don't sleep on the 10th floor of a fancy hotel during an ongoing invasion!  You may look out one evening to find a bomber heading straight for your room.  Think of all the heart-stopping fun THAT will be as you throw yourself on the floor, making out with the carpet in an effort to become as small as possible!  Cecil didn't think it was very funny at the moment as he watched possible death just barely miss the building - close enough to make out the facial features of the pilot!

     Most importantly, be sure you book your evacuation flight on one of three cargo planes that have NOT been bombed out of the original five!  Learn - real fast - how to lock arms and lean forward to help the plane lift off the runway!  And don't forget to leave all that expensive merchandise you just looted from the Postal Exchange in a pile by the wayside along with all the other junk that won't keep you alive when you have to cram twice as many people into a plane because the others were destroyed!  Of course, being on the very last flight out of a war zone makes for great stories to tell the grandkids - but you're not really thinking of grandkids at a time like that . . .  

     What, nobody taught you this stuff in school?

     More later . . . . .


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Communists are Coming!

     Once upon a time, a long time ago, a boy named Cecil met a girl named Amanda in the midst of the Alberta prairies.  She was selling books to raise money for college.  He was a conscientious objector newly released from the Canadian Armed Forces - had spent a couple years building roads on the frontier during WWII.  She came from German-Russian farmers fleeing the pogroms.  He from homesteaders in British Columbia with roots in Richmond, Virginia, and Welsh blood in their veins.  It took a great deal of persuasion to convince Amanda's widower father that this dirt-poor preacher boy who hadn't even fought in the war had what it took to protect and care for his only daughter.  But it was done, and they were married.
     Both deeply religious, Cecil and Amanda answered a call from their denomination for overseas missionaries.  Requesting that they not be sent to Japan or China (the first was still hot from Hiroshima, the latter was embroiled in civil war), they ended up in Allied-occupied Korea instead.  In January, 1950, they carried their 14-month-old daughter down the gangplank of the freighter ship and onto solid ground.  They had arrived!  Six months later my grandparents had finally settled into a new home near the Sahmyook University campus on the outskirts of Seoul and were busy learning the language.
     Late one gorgeous Sunday afternoon the two of them were enjoying the mild summer weather on their back porch when Amanda heard a distant sound.  "Cecil, what was THAT?"  It didn't fit with anything she'd ever heard before.  "Don't worry, it's only thunder," soothed Cecil, always the pragmatic optimist.  But the booms increased in frequency, drawing closer.  Then came the "rat-tat-tat-tat!"  Amanda leaped to her feet, "That was NOT thunder!" she cried, gathering little Myla in her arms and wisely heading indoors.
     Within minutes of the disturbance a car came racing up the drive.  A fellow missionary woman flew into the house.  "The Communists are coming!"
     North Korean soldiers were pouring over the demarcation line into the South, with dangerously few minutes between them and the helpless missionaries.  The strange sounds in the distance was Seoul being bombed!  Springing into action, my grandparents turned off lights and blacked-out windows.  Filling one tiny suitcase each, they were ready to leave in a quarter hour.  Their maid, a refugee from North Korea, circled the house with a stick - swearing to protect them from the forces that had wiped out her own family.  Amanda grabbed a dress and hurriedly stitched their own stash of American money into the lining; ensuring the girl's survival throughout the difficult war ahead.  And then it was time to leave.
     A slow, cautious drive down steep, mountainous roads without headlights was sheer suspense.  Every moment they expected to be ambushed from the side or blown to smithereens from above.  But they made it safely to Seoul that night.  The next morning all Caucasian women and children were evacuated to Japan by the Allied forces.  An open-decked Swedish fertilizer ship with capacity for 12 passengers carried over 900 women and children across the treacherous waters to safety.  Civilian men followed two days later.  For those two days my pacifist grandfather was conscripted into the American Army, directing traffic while watching for air raids!

     But those are stories for another day . . . .

     More later.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Anything but Boring!

For all I know, there isn't a soul in the world reading this.
But I've got stories to tell and places I've been. It can't stay bottled up forever.

My family is from everywhere. Or nearly everywhere. My mother grew up between South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and Singapore - returning to her native Alberta, Canada only on furloughs. We kids tell our friends we were raised by a Korean. My father spent time in Alaskan wilderness, Malaysian jungles, New York slums, Hong Kong high risers, and half a dozen locations in between.
As for siblings - there are quite a few of us. My three sisters and youngest brother came straight out of the aftermath of Ceausescu's Romania. My other brother hails from Canada. I am the only one born in the United States. That makes six. All of us were adopted. There is a miracle story behind each and every one. When God brings a family together, He doesn't choose easy or blase ways to do it.
My parents have the best love story! They've been married 35 years now. I have the most amazing brothers and sisters! Like I said - we can't possibly be boring with a story like ours.
But more later . . .