Thursday, April 23, 2009

Christmas Eve, 1952, Seoul

There was nothing much special about Christmas in Seoul. No family dinner. No twinkle lights. No Hollywood starlet offering up holly-red kisses to GIs after a USO show, or pristine white snow to mask the haunted skyline of a ruined city.

The news reports said that Billy Graham was at the front, singing hymns and talking about peaceful nights and the birth of Christ; but this place was never silent and it sure as hell wasn’t holy. Every few days, the Reds ensconced at the front just 35 miles to the north dropped leaflets over the city or sent messages out over the airwaves, threatening the battered survivors of two previous sieges that they would be back on Christmas morning. In place of fat white flakes, propaganda fluttered down on the rooftops. “Mr. Moneybags is in Florida this Christmas. Where are you? In Korea! You risk your life, big business rakes in the dough,” argued one flyer with a portly, leering man brandishing his cigar at all-American bikini beauties.

Seoul City Command paid the political bombardment little mind and hummed its normal routine all day, but when the soldiers headed out for a night of decidedly secular celebration in the bars and the brothels of the city, Paul went to get the boy. He hadn’t intentionally scheduled it for Christmas — he’d planned to spend the night playing cards with his buddies — but the woman who was keeping him, Lieutenant Farber's woman, had said to come tonight.  This might be his only chance.

It was only a couple blocks to the dark little corner shop where Jimmy slept in a small room hidden behind a hodge-podge of dusty meaningless goods stacked up in the window to mask what his guardian was really offering for sale behind a ragged curtain. Paul finished his dinner and headed out, walking briskly through the enforced darkness of a city at war.

Paul knocked on the door, stepped inside, and greeted the girl. She was small and dark; not too old and not too young. She was someone’s daughter, he thought, probably raised to be a virtuous woman who would faithfully serve her husband and give him sons. Somehow, she had ended up in this dingy backstreet shop, offering herself in exchange for the only thing that mattered after years of war — the security of a few American dollars tucked away in a cupboard. To Paul, she was indistinguishable from any of the hundreds of other camp followers who walked the streets in tight American skirts and fluffy Western-style hair, looking for rescue in the arms of a soldier or sailor. She must have picked up some English, if only enough to entice her clients, but she wasn’t interested in talking to Paul.

Maybe she was never much of a mother to the kid and she was relieved to be rid of him. Maybe it broke her heart to let him go, but she couldn't afford to say no. Spend a night with Farber every now and then, and she didn’t have to worry about the authorities shutting her down. The lieutenant was a big burly MP from Kansas who made a killing off the black market when he wasn’t enforcing the regulations that banned it. Good man to have on your side, but not a man you’d chose for your friend. She didn’t care about Farber, and he didn’t care about her. But she needed him. Maybe he had paid her off, and she considered the whole mess a successful transaction. She was just a mercenary whore who had taken the kid in to use him as bait, to attract American soldiers with his round little GI baby face; but she’d kept him reasonably well-fed and given him a warm place to sleep. It was better than the street, or the corner of the train station where clutches of orphans huddled together for warmth like litters of puppies.

Had she loved him? Would she miss him? Her face betrayed no emotion ...

Copyright Misty Ann Edgecomb, April 2009

*Note: The names of some secondary characters have been changed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Raynor Visit

Over the past two weeks, my father-in-law (Jimmy in Small Fish) and his wife have been visiting us in Korea. We tried to give them a taste of the culture, as well as bits and prices of the old Seoul that remain between the high-rises and neon of the modern city. I'll write more later - I'm still processing what it means for someone to return to their birthplace after a half-century - but in the meantime, I thought you might find some of our photos interesting. This slideshow begins at Gyeongbokgung, a historic palace, then takes us to the Sinchon neighborhood and Seoul Tower, as well as a day trip to the DMZ, where we stared down communist guards and briefly stood inside North Korea. Finally, photos chronicle a fishing trip that my husband Caleb and his dad took south of the city, in the mountains near Jinju, and a short trip that we made to Jeju Isalnd off Korea's southwestern coast. -Misty

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Paul James Raynor Sr. 1928-2009

Paul's obituary is in The Oregonian today (April 1st). He'll be missed.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Your Daily News

Good morning everyone! I was just typing up some excerpts from  few of the articles published about the Raynor adoption in 1953, for a presentation I'll be making at the Fulbright Junior Researcher Conference on Jeju Island next week, and thought you might find them interesting:

The Huronite and the Daily Plainsman, Huron, South Dakota 

ST PAUL - It looks like “Jimmy,” the five-year-old Korean orphan who helplessly watched the Chinese Communists behead his mother, may soon cross the Pacific Ocean for a new life with an ex-Army Sergeant in South Dakota. 

A 25-year-old bachelor, Sgt. 1-c Paul Raynor of Huron, S.D., legally adopted Choi Kyung Hyun - now named Jimmy P. Raynor - as his son while he was  with the Seoul City Command in Korea on May 22, 1953. 

But the lanky soldier didn’t calculate that Army regulations and America’s immigration and naturalization laws might set up barriers to his plan to take Jimmy home with him ...” 

The Morning World-Herald, Omaha, Nebraska 

A 5-year-old Korean War refugee and the only daddy he has ever known met  for the first time in five months at Omaha Union Train Station Depot Sunday at  4 a.m.  Clutching a fire engine, two cowboy pistols and candy, the youngster had eyes  only for Paul Raynor, Huron, S.D., GI who adopted him while with the Army  in Korea. 

There was no hint in the reunion of the red tape that for months separated the  orphan, named Jimmy, and his father, who was granted an unprecedented  ruling by the Attorney General of South Dakota before the boy could be  brought from Seoul, Korea, to the United States. 

When Mr. Raynor and Jimmy saw each other they embraced, exchanged  greetings and the ex-GI remarked, “Boy, does he look good ...”