It was a cold Christmas Eve on a deserted street in Pusan, Korea. I had taken a short walk from the dockage of the U.S.S. Manchester. My thoughts had turned from the roar of shore bombardment to the silent but no less urgent need to touch gently some small part of humanity.
If only it were so simple.
I saw a youth sitting alone on the curb, and I sat down beside him. He could not speak English, and I knew not a single word of Korean—not even Merry Christmas.
I dared to put my hand on his shoulder.
I rose, returned to my ship, and four years later was discharged, often wondering what might have happened to the youth who had seemed so friendless 58 years ago.
As a Christmas present this year, Lalie gave me my long-lost military ribbons, including Korean Service. My son talked about it at a recent honoring of POW/MIAs (prisoners of war/missing in action) and there was one in attendance who was deeply moved.
Joy Darnell writes: “My dad was one of those honored—Melvin W. Darnell. He was a prisoner in Korea for 27 months. My dad never received any of the replacement medals that were given to those men on their return home. Dad will be 80 in January, and it’s only been in the last few years that he’s talked about some of the experiences he had as a POW. He came home after his release, married my mother, started a family, and supported us as a farmer and a security guard. On those wages, he paid for my college education with cash, always took us on vacation every year, and I don’t remember them ever having a mortgage payment.
“Any time I face hard times in my life, I always consider what my dad went through and how he carried on and provided for us in the best way he knew how, and that puts everything into perspective for me.
“My dad’s family came to Kentucky in about 1790 and settled in Washington County. My 4th great-grandfather was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and my 2nd great-grandfather in that same family died as a prisoner of war in Richmond, fighting for the Union in the Civil War. So, I have a lot of pride in my heritage and the sacrifices they made along the way.”
Through circumstances covering decades of war and peace, Joy Darnell of Franklin County, her father, Melvin, of Anderson County, a Christmas Eve meeting on the curb of a street in Korea, and my wife on Plum Lick have at last connected. Lalie will point the way for Kentucky Living readers to retrieve lost or misplaced military medals. This information will be included in The View From Plum Lick in the January 2010 issue of Kentucky Living.
It’s our way of saying Happy New Year!