The Korean War was one of the bloodiest in history. About a million South Korean civilians were killed and several million made homeless.
"World Book," Vol. X1, 1976, P. 299
My most memorable Christmas was exactly 50 years ago at Osan Air Force Base (K-55) Korea. Grim reminders of the war that had ended in a stalemate four years earlier still remained when I arrived there September 1957. I had left my wife and year-old son in the U.S. to begin a 14-month tour of duty as a supply officer. Frequent bloody clashes between U.N. and North Korean troops along the Demilitarized Zone made permanent peace there seem to be a doubtful prospect.
On a bitter-cold day in early December one of my Korean workers, Kim Chung Moon, a thin, middle-aged man, and I were warming our hands over a small space heater.
"Tell me about your family. Mr. Kim," I said. He then began to tell me that when the war erupted his family was living in a small straw-thatched hut on a tiny plot of rice paddy just north of the 38th parallel in North Korea.
As the fighting began to rage around them, his family, consisting of his wife and two sons ages 17 and 19, had to make a terrible decision: Should they join the hordes of refugees fleeing south, or remain and try to save their home and meager possessions? He could not persuade his family to leave, so he alone headed southward on foot, never to see them again. He learned from a later refugee that his sons had been conscripted into the Chinese Communist army that had joined with the North Korean army.
For three years this scrawny beggar from the north barely survived hunger and cold while scrounging for odd jobs in military camps. At the end of the war he got a job at Osan AFB and married a widow whose family had become a part of the "million South Korean civilians (who) were killed" in the war.
Just three days before Christmas Mr. Kim approached me shortly before it was time to close our unit for the night and indicated a need to talk to me privately. The usually stoic Mr. Kim seemed to be greatly agitated, so I asked, "What is the matter?"
He then told how two nights before, someone had left a newborn baby at their doorstep. The baby girl had been wrapped in the Korean equivalent of swaddling clothes and placed in a small wooden box lined with rice straw for protection against the cold. He struggled with his emotions and limited command of English as he described the scene. To emphasize the baby's plight he cupped his hands over his chest and exclaimed, "Mamma-san hava no.... Mamma-san hava no...." No charade player could have done it better.
Quickly I thought of the coffee break rations our squadron supplied for the base ... cases of coffee, canned condensed milk and small paper packets of sugar. I ran to the storage room to pick up two cans of milk and a handful of sugar packets and then raced back to Mr. Kim. Their new baby was going to get an unusual formula if only he could get through the main gate with this illegal gift without being one of the many Koreans randomly pulled aside each night and searched by the air police. Theft and black market activities had been rampant there, and military regulations prohibiting the sale or gift of government property were being strictly enforced.
Why had he waited until the end of the day, I wondered. There was no time to waste, however, as it was now only about 15 minutes until he would have to join the other civilians for the exit through the main gate. I could not ask approval from the Squadron Commander because he had gone to Japan on R&R for the holidays.
It then occurred to me that the baby could not tolerate straight condensed milk, so I hurriedly poked two holes in a can with a screwdriver, poured some in a cup, added some water (I had to guess how much to dilute it), and poured in a little sugar. Why the sugar?
I don't know. It just seemed like the thing to do. All the while I tried to emphasize how important it was for Mr. Kim to dilute the milk. I then had barely enough time to scribble my name, rank and unit on a piece of paper and slip it with the unopened can of milk and the sugar into the small, tattered cloth bag in which he brought his daily lunch of rice and kimchi. That way if he were searched, the air police would contact me, and I could explain that the whole thing was my idea. Besides, I reasoned, I had received permission through military channels a few day earlier to distribute wool G.I. blankets from our salvage yard to needy orphans outside the base. So why not milk for a needy baby? As Mr. Kim went out the door and headed for the main gate I felt no worry, only a keen sense of exhilaration.
The next morning I literally ran the half-mile to Supply Squadron to ask how the baby had fared. Mr. Kim's wide smile told the story. "Mamma-san say kam sa ham ni da, kam sa ham ni da!" (Thank you, thank you.)
Twice more through the Christmas holidays Mr. Kim and I completed this "milk run" successfully and then received official permission to continue the milk program when the squadron commander returned to the base.
When the baby reached 3 months of age she was actually 1 year old according to Korean custom. Time spent in the womb counts, I was informed. At that time Mr. Kim approached me and said, "Mama-san say Lieuten' give baby-san 'Merican name." After some serious discussion I became convinced Mr. And Mrs. Kim wanted me to choose the baby's name, so I flippantly rattled off several American names ... Mary ... Betty ... Ann ... Suzy....
"Shuzy! Shuzy!" he shouted. His grin made it clear that he like the name, possible because it had a good Korean sound.
The next morning his first words were "Mamma-san say baby Shuzy." So it was official. About two weeks later my Korean cousin proudly presented me with a photograph of their healthy little Suzy. As I gazed at the picture I suspected her parents really hadn't diluted the milk very much.
Today, as Christmas approaches, I can imagine a lovely, 50-year-old Korean grandmother and pray she is living peacefully and happily in the Land of the Morning Calm.