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The Korean War and War on Iowa Farms

July 8, 2012

(I first sat down to write this post on June 25, 2012.  Edited on 7/11/12 to add the painting.)

Today is June 25. For most people, it is just another summer day–but not for me. It is the day the Korean War broke out, sixty-two years ago.

On that Sunday morning in 1950, I watched my brothers squeeze in one more hurried chess game before going to church. In that room, full of animated, playful voices, the door opened and my father rushed in, his breath short and face ashen. All of our eyes were on him. “The North Korean communist army invaded us!”

That morning, I faced war–something I didn’t comprehend, just as I could not fathom what was happening when we left home in North Korea in search of democracy in the south. On that cold winter morning of 1945, I didn’t have the faintest idea what democracy and communism were, but figured that if democracy was something worth leaving home for, it had to be good, and communism bad. From that time, in my mind, democracy meant America and America meant democracy.

Now in the south, where everything should be okay, war broke out, my father told us, we were “invaded” by the evil communists from the north!

As a twelve-year-old girl, I endured and witnessed something called war.  Bombs were dropped. People were killed. Fires and sounds of destruction mingled with human shrieks and wails. Parents and children were separated, and they watched each other being killed. People crawled for survival.

It was to take a long time for me to realize how complex the Korean War was. I plan to make a film about the division of Korea and the Korean War–which are related–and the involvement of American and other foreign forces.

Today, as I remember the Korean War, I think of Don’s wars on Iowa farms.  He wrote,

After hearing so much about the Korean War from Dai Sil, I began to think what kind of wars I had on Iowa farms. Certainly, not any actual wars. But the Korean War was the first international event that crept into my consciousness in any cerebral way. I had a cousin, Jerry, who served there and I wrote him several letters. I also recall President Truman’s dismissal of General MacArthur. It was outrageous, I thought; how could this boring little man fire a military hero? The war was far away, yet it marked the beginning of my political education.

For me, personally, as a boy on an Iowa farm, the threat of death did not come from man-made events like war, but from nature itself. On the afternoon of June 23, 1950, a tornado struck a farm one-and-a-half miles northwest of us. Dad, my brother, and I were standing outside, washing our hands in the basin and getting ready for supper, when Mother came running out, pointed to the sky, and said “That’s what a tornado looks like.” It was a tiny black spout, barely visible. Mother had experienced an Iowa tornado in 1913, when she was three-years old. It struck their house, lifted it a few inches off the ground, and then dropped it on a diagonal. She was handed out the window by her father. She claimed to remember it.

Iowa cornfield in autumn

I recall watching that tiny spout and dismissing my mother’s claims. But it grew and grew, and kept getting closer to the earth. We scurried to the fruit cellar and waited a few minutes, emerging just in time to see it hit a farmstead dead-on, flinging boards, pigs, whatever, into the air, as if it were a giant plow. We drove over to see the site, along with all of our neighbors, and stared in awe at the damage. Mercifully, nobody was hurt or killed. The family had retreated to the basement, and the tornado missed the house by about thirty feet. If the Korean War signified my political awakening, that twister birthed in me a healthy respect for the destructive power of the natural world.

Man made wars, nature induced wars—how do we live with all these wars?

In forthcoming memoirs, Don and I will tell stories of our experiences with these wars and more.


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  1. Hi Dai Sil,
    This was a great post, I enjoyed reading it, hearing from Don about Iowa, and hearing from you about Korea, it’s a story I can’t wait to read.

    • Thanks for your comment. Between Don and I, we have so many war stories–human made and nature caused. But we have other stories–exciting, sad, joyful, –which I want to share. Next year, I am sending out two memoirs: first by Don, Iowa Sky, the second by me, Korean Sky. Will keep you posted about them
      Dai Sil

  2. Like Don I grew up on an Iowa farm. Many times storm clouds sent us scurrying to the brick and dirt cellar making certain we took a kerosene lantern with us for light. Life has many wars.

    • Where in Iowa are you from?

      Iowa storms must have been something. Don told me about them so many times with so much excitement.

      Thanks and be well. Dai sil

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