Good Morning! Sorry for pulling a Beth, I blame Beth for organizing such a rip-roaring Sunday Funday yesterday in honor of my upcoming birthday. I have the luxury of repeating the same story/post every year on this auspicious occasion, and to me the story will never grow old. Wish I could say the same for myself.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Heart and SeoulWhen their fourth daughter was born in 1966, my parents were pretty well settled into a place in life that they had worked hard to reach. They had purchased a house in a great neighborhood, Dad was building his surgical practice with a reliable partner and friend, and the girls were happy and healthy. It was a turbulent time for America though, in the thick of a violent mess in Vietnam. Mom and Dad were keeping an eye on things, as a physician Dad was still technically eligible for the draft until he turned 35. By the time they discovered that baby number five was on her way, he was over 34 and they thought they were home free.
Everything started falling apart in June when Joe got a notice from the draft ordering him to active duty! He tried for deferments; he was now 34 years old with four children and the fifth on the way. We wrote to everyone right up to the President, but received the same standard replies – we need him. His orders arrived shortly thereafter – the address was APO San Francisco. I said ‘well, California will be nice,’ but Joe told me that APO San Francisco was Korea – an unaccompanied tour – we were devastated!
Why Korea? Excellent question. Korea was a United Nations Command, and there were 60,000 American troops stationed there at the time, as well as diplomats and civilian dependents, all of whom needed doctors to care for them. So naturally the Army chose a 34 year old father of 5 and shipped him over there for a 13 month tour, which was considered too short a time to transport dependent family members.
Mom had undergone an emergency c-section with her last baby (Julie has always been the difficult one), and with her due date just 2 months later, my parents knew that the next baby would also take the front door out of mom’s prolific womb. The c-section was scheduled for August 21st, Dad’s orders were to report to basic training on August 22nd. But the US Army is neither heartless nor rigid; of course they extended his deployment date! They gave him three weeks.
On September 12, 1967, Joe left for M.D. basic training in San Antonio, Texas and I was on my own. We both got through that month –probably the worst in our lives – and he came home for one week on October 10th. We had a great week… We spent his last night alone, had a candlelight dinner after the kids were tucked in…He was off to Seattle, and then on to Korea. He called me from Seattle and that was it.
Mom and Dad did their best to settle in to their newly massacred lives. Mom had lots of help from family and friends, Dad had 5 doctor roommates in his “hooch.” Mom and Dad sent each other audio tapes every day. Every. Day. If mom didn’t receive her tape one day, she’d haul everyone over to the post office to see if it had arrived after the postman had left to make his deliveries.
Aside: as kids, we had the scandalous pleasure of listening to some of these tapes many years later. But honestly, all that love and emotion between our parents was just plain gross.
On two distant ends of the earth, my parents were frantically searching for ways to be together. Mom wrote letters. Dad worked the system. There was housing available for dependents, but there was a strict hierarchy about who qualified, and our favorite young doc was relatively low on that totem pole. When a house did become available, first dibs went to all of the senior officers, who promptly turned it down. For them it meant prolonging their stay to two years in order to have their dependents join them, but for a career officer, this cushy 13 month “hardship tour” in Korea was preferable to any time in Vietnam. So it was a no-brainer for them to pass on the house. It was a no-brainer for mom and dad, too. Another year apart versus any length of time, together, anywhere?
It was a golden opportunity for us – Joe volunteered to extend his tour and spend the two years of service there, and for this his entire family would be brought over! This sounds easy on paper, but it took months of letters, phone calls, anticipations, disappointments, and finally I received a telegram on a Saturday morning in February telling me that that we were on our way – start getting the inoculations! I started that very day – took everyone over to Dr. Flynn, our longtime pediatrician, where he started inoculating the girls against plague, cholera, typhus – you name it!
So, mom and the girls got ready to move to Korea! The arrangements were staggering, as was the sheer volume of crap – including a Ford Station Wagon – that would be carried or shipped overseas for the duration. But there was a plan, and as complicated and exhausting as that plan was, the end result was our family, together.
When the day finally came, it turned out that the plan was off to a rocky start. Mom and the girls were scheduled to fly from JFK to Seattle, then to Tokyo, then to Seoul. The first flight was okay, but the overseas leg had been cancelled. Instead of a 3 hour layover at Sea/Tac, they would have to be there overnight. The mob that had gathered to see them off started to strategize. It didn’t make any sense for them to go and then have to deal with taxis and motels and changes of clothes, they should spend the night at Mom’s brother’s home on Long Island and make the whole trip the next day. But Mom had hung her dreams on this departure date. She was coiffed and ready. The girls were ready. The 17 suitcases that they had begged, borrowed, and stolen were packed and ready. It was today.
She was going.
My Mom and family were weeping, Sitoo and Uffie (Joe’s mom and sister) were weeping, Dink Brown was weeping – I was grinning from ear to ear!
A motel in Seattle? No problem for mom. A phone call at 2 am instructing mom that she had to file more civilian paperwork before heading to the base for their morning flight? Whatever. They are out of milk for her newborn, infant, toddlers, and kids on this transpacific flight? Okey doke! She could handle anything. She was on her way.
Mom and the girls (ages: 6 months, 18 months, 4, 6, and 7… go ahead and imagine that) made lots of nice friends during these travels. For plane changes, anyone who was “helping” was allowed to pre-board with the civilians, so there were always at least ten soldiers at Mom’s beck and call. It wasn’t easy, but it was forward motion. And by the time they boarded a nearly empty flight from Tokyo to Seoul, they were home free. It was just the family and about 80 servicemen. There was a steward assigned just to help Mom. He made a bed for each girl in her own row of seats. They all slept. Mom had her first peaceful meal in days, and even caught a few winks. She was starting to breathe again.
Suddenly, they were descending! The five girls were in their little beds, there was stuff everywhere, it was cold out and they needed jackets and they probably all had to pee….
Meanwhile, on the ground, Dad was frantic. Communication had been shoddy, he had not received word that their flight had been delayed, so he didn’t know when they were coming. He had arranged for a car and driver and a truck and driver to transport his arriving harem and their impressive amount of gear, and he spent two days driving to Kimpo airport to meet each incoming plane from Seattle/Tokyo. Twice the caravan had to turn back disappointed. On the third attempt he asked to see the manifest and there it was: Corey, Corey, Corey, Corey, Corey, and Corey. They were here!
On the plane: The rules said that the civilians had to deplane first, so the servicemen were all standing by until Mom and the girls could get themselves out the door. “Can’t he come and help me?”
On the ground: Dad was in the hanger, pleading to be allowed onto the plane, but rules are rules…
On the plane: Ellie still needed to be buttoned into her coat, they were almost ready…
On the ground: Finally, a kind-hearted lieutenant gave Dad a nod and let him on the plane…
I looked up and there was Joe – I hadn’t seen him in four months! I left Ellie to finish buttoning her coat and ran into his arms. As we were kissing, I became aware of applause – all the servicemen on the plane were standing and cheering – what a scene!
Exactly 268 days later, mom learned how to play honeymoon bridge, and spent the whole day doing just that with her doctor at Seoul Military Hospital, while the big girls were at school and the little ones played at home in the pink stucco duplex by the golf course. Mom was Dr. Jordan’s only patient, and both were hoping that the pitocin would successfully jump start labor so this baby could be born “naturally”. When there was no progress by 7:00 that night, my parents’ sixth daughter was born via c-section (mom’s third in as many years) on November 19, 1968.
But could someone please check that math? I’m way too young to be forty.
Our two year stay in Seoul was a wonderful family time, made even more wonderful because after all those lonely months, we were all together. Jacquie was quite an attraction in Seoul with her blue eyes and blonde curls – people would literally stand and stare at her wherever we went. We had to go to the embassy in Seoul and renounce her Korean citizenship on her behalf before we left Korea.
Thanks for that, mom and dad. And for being enamored and tenacious enough to live out this story. I couldn’t have done it without you!