Recently, I wrote about the loss of a great person in Korea that I had known for a very long time. This Tidbit is about two others – perhaps still alive and kicking in Korea – that meant a lot to me when I was there. They are, in the order I met them, Kim Tong-seon and Pang Hyo-jeong.
Kim Tong-seon was the first Korean with whom I had any substantial interaction. It was in October 1964, not long after I had been assigned to a flying unit in Japan. As a Korean linguist, I wanted to be in Korea, so at the first opportunity, I went on leave with a buddy who had been stationed there before.
One of the first things we did when we got to Osan Air Base was to look up my buddy’s former houseboy. They were glad to see each other, and Mr. Kim quickly invited my buddy to dinner the next night, graciously including me as well. The dinner was a great introduction to Korean food.
Well, imagine my surprise when I returned for my final assignment to Osan in 1980. Mr. Kim was no longer a houseboy. He had moved up to being the supervisor of all houseboys who worked in the barracks where the airmen in my unit resided. It was during this tour that Mr. Kim achieved his twenty years working for the Air Force and just about everyone congratulated him on that.
I developed some close relationships with a few Koreans, and one of them was Pang Hyo-jeong, a houseboy I met in 1968 when my unit deployed en masse from Japan to Korea in response to the Pueblo and EC-121 crises. I didn’t always get quartered in the barracks where he worked, and as a result, I lost track of him until I returned to Osan in 1971. I found Mr. Pang working at the base hospital as an orderly, a huge step up for him.
We resumed our friendship, quickly becoming best friends – a true brother, since we were only months apart in age. We soon got on a first-name basis, and through Hyo-jeong I was introduced to aspects of Korean society that few Americans ever see.
I went on fishing trips and a guys-only vacation with him and what became a regular gang of his fellow Korean workers, He even finagled a deal for me to go pheasant hunting along with the rest of them. At one point, I was introduced to his in-laws – and he later confessed to me that, had I been single, he would have wanted me to marry one of his in-laws. I even was allowed into Hyo-jeong’s lodge, the Pine Tree Association. He also vouched for me at one of our frequent watering holes where I was afforded credit, probably the only American to ever be extended that courtesy. Although I left for Okinawa at the end of my year, we stayed in touch through letters and my occasional short trips back to Osan.
When I returned to the U.S. after six years on Okinawa, Hyo-jeong called me on the phone to inform me that he had immigrated to Anacortes, WA. I was stationed in Omaha, NE but spent most of my time on “temporary duty” in Athens, Greece, and consequently I never had the chance to visit him.
Then I was assigned back to Korea in 1980 and contact eventually faded out. I have tried several times to locate Hyo-jeong to no avail. I sadly conclude that he and his family have returned to Korea. He is gone but memories of the good times we shared in Korea live on. I find it sad that it is all too easy for good friends to drift apart, lost and never to be found again.