John “Jack” Joseph Whelan, Jr., was born in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 1930. Due to his father’s work managing the construction of naval training sites for the United States during WWII, the family frequently moved and eventually relocated to Portland, Oregon. After graduating from high school in 1948, he began to pursue a post-secondary degree at Princeton University. Because of the benefits from the GI Bill and being in need of a change, he chose to leave the university and enlist in the United States Army. Shortly after arriving in the Haean Basin, nicknamed the Punchbowl, he was offered a position as a war correspondent for the American government. He shares multiple stories of his experiences as a correspondent during the war and later his experiences making maps in Koje-do. He is very proud of his fifteen-month-tour and of Korea’s transformation.
His Decision to Go
Jack Whelan discusses his inability to adjust to Princeton University and his decision during his junior year to test himself by joining the United States Army. He expresses that the resources provided by the GI Bill were a contributing factor in his decision to take a break from Princeton. Growing up during World War II, he shares that soldiers were his heroes, and he was not fearful of losing his life in Korea.
Share from this page:
Boosting Morale on the Trip
Jack Whelan describes the rough ride to Korea. As a way to avoid cleaning detail, he admits he volunteered to read the news to the troops. He explains how the chaplain on board felt that sharing the news report provided a connection to home for the troops and was important for morale. Since they were traveling around Christmas, he recalls the chaplain focusing on providing more morale boosting activities and asked him to help put on a stage show. After some review and editing of his jokes by the chaplain, he comments on how he successfully performed his comedy routine for the stage show.
Share from this page:
Write About the People
Jack Whelan notes the first day of advanced training was an exercise of being terrified but luckily he was asked during this training to be a correspondent. He explains how the American government wanted family members to feel connected and know what was going on in Korea. Because of this, he recounts how his focus was on the people and not the ugly parts of war. He elaborates on the inspiring stories of Father Waldie he wrote.
Share from this page:
To Protect the United States
Jack Whelan states he was well aware of the principle of containment and why the United States became involved in Korea. He discusses how the United States placed itself around the world to protect the U.S. He explains that an American fighting in Korea was fighting as much for Korea as he was for his own country. Because of the connections he made with the Korean people, he shares that the people became more of the focus.
Share from this page:
Life at Koje-do POW Camp
Jack Whelan provides insight into the POW camp at Koje-do. He describes the layout and organization of the camp while he was stationed on the island. He emphasizes there was an ugliness within the North Korean compound that justified the ugliness of the frontlines. he explains how he, while in Koje-do, transitioned from being a correspondent to mapmaker.
Share from this page:
Worthy of Applause
Jack Whelan admires the transformation of South Korea. He marvels at the human capacity of Korea to make lemonade out of lemons. He suspects that modern Korea has taken on some of the negative attributes of the American experience but the average life in Korea is now so much better. He emphasizes that this success is worthy of applause.
Share from this page:
00:00:00 [Beginning of recorded material]
Jack Whelan: My name is John Joseph Whelan Jr., called Jack and my last name is spelt W H E L A N.
Jongwoo Han: You corrected my pronunciation of your last name before we got into it, so how do you pronounce it again one more time?
Jack Whelan: Whelan.
Jongwoo Han: Whelan. Right, and what is your birthday?
Whelan: September 11 1930.
Han: Where were you born?
Whelan: I was born in Washington DC.
Han: And tell me about your family when you were
Whelan: My father was an architect, and my mother was from Virginia. They moved to Washington, where my father became quite well known and did many important buildings there.
And I grew up mostly on a street called Waterside Drive, which was on Rock Creek Park and
near the Kalorama area, which is where the great old houses were built. Some designed by my father. We moved. . .
Han: What was your father’s name?
Whelan: He was John Joseph Whelan. I’m a junior.
Han: So you are a junior. You didn’t tell me. And could you introduce some of the products—I mean the houses and the buildings by your father?
Whelan: The one that’s most well-known now is Barack Obama’s present home, but he did embassies and legations.
Han: What embassies?
Whelan: The Norwegian Embassy comes to mind.
And I think he did a restoration for a house that the Russians occupied for a while. It was that sort of thing.
Han: That’s a very impressive.
Whelan: We moved around a lot during the Second World War because he tried to get into the service, but his eyes were bad and he was too old, and so the Navy employed him to manage the construction of
naval training stations around the country, and we went to those places. At the end of the war an invention that my father had, which was essentially the building of the center of a house—you might say—the kitchen, the utility room, and a bathroom on an assembly line and it would be trucked to a site,
and you would build any kind of house around it. It was a way of reducing the cost and making housing happen faster, which was an issue at the end of the war. And we moved to Portland, Oregon where a company bought the patent, and my father directed the development of it. And so I grew up really in Portland rather than Washington
Han: You wanted to be like him? You wanted to be an architect?
Whelan: No. [laughter] I really wanted to be a writer, and when I went to college the English department disabused me of that bad idea.
Han: Could you elaborate? What do you mean by disabused?
Whelan: Disabused—talked me out of it. And I chose architecture.
I sort of backed into it. Well, I knew something about that, and that’s how I got into it.
Han: On the way to Sarasota from Orlando I happen to read the writings of yours. I could tell that it could be used as a movie script. One of the series in Netflix like A Band of Brothers.
Whelan: It’s an interesting comment I’m trying to figure out is whether you’re gonna do
a comic movie or a horror movie. [laughter]
Han: But I’m thinking about love stories. A series of love stories in the war. Tell me about your mom.
Whelan: My mother grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was the third daughter of four girls that were the children of a very famous engineer in his day,
a structural engineer. And he was responsible for the designing of the railroad systems for the B&O Railroad. He happened to be in Korea at the moment when the stock market crashed in 1929, and he essentially lost everything
that he had saved. He wasn’t able to get back to the country in time to protect himself. So my mother went from the silver spoon to something considerably less, but she married a man who was doing very well in Washington. She had all the manners of the southern belle. She was a very beautiful woman, and I think
in 1930 I came as an unpleasant surprise.
Han: So, tell me about your siblings: brothers and sisters?
Whelan: I have a brother and a sister my brother is five years older, my sister is eight years old. I’m sorry I’ve got it the wrong way. Yeah, I’m five years older than my brother, and eight years older than my sister.
Han: You want to change that age, right?
Han: So, what about the school you went through?
Han: What about the schools that you went through?
Whelan I started out…I went…my first school was a French school. It was on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC, and it was a school for the children of the diplomats that had come from different countries. In those days of course French was a lingua
Franca, and so I started school speaking French. I can’t say I was speaking French. As a matter of fact, I did so badly they had to tutor me through the first grade. And you don’t know many people that have been tutored through the first grade, but in any case, I eventually went to a school not too far from where we lived. I could walk to it
through Rock Creek Park, which was had great influence on me. And then the war came. We started moving around, and I went to different schools: a junior high school in New Jersey in Trenton and finally went to high school in a public high school in Portland, Oregon.
Han: So, you moving around. And when were you in Korea—when did you arrive in Korea? Do you remember the exact date?
Whelan: No. I couldn’t begin to recreate those dates, but it was in… it would have been in the fall or late summer of 1951 or 2.
Whelan: Okay, thank you.
Han: Oh, you were in the boot camp in the spring of 1951, so should be 1951 late summer or fall of 1951. Right?
Whelan: I would think so. I’m trying to think. I was halfway through my junior year, which would have been 1951.
And I think therefore 1951. Sometime in the late summer or fall I entered basic training and went overseas around Christmastime.
Han: We’ll go back to that, okay?
Han: And when did you graduate your high school, what year? 1950?
Whelan: 48 maybe.
Han: 48? And what did you do after that? You went to college, right?
Whelan: I went to Princeton. I was surprised they accepted me. I did not have a very impressive academic record, and I can remember—
it’s a story I like to tell—of the Dean of Admissions coming to Portland and asking me why I wanted to go to Princeton. And I told him that my father had said I could go anywhere I wanted to, but if I wanted him to pay for it, it was going to have to be Princeton. So, he thought that was funny, and I got accepted.
Han: You think that’s why they accepted you?
Whelan: Yes, I think was, yes.
Han: You were very blunt about it. [laughter] So what did you want to study there? Still you’re interested in writing, right?
Whelan: I was interested in English. I was interested in writing. I had a very good friend who is now very famous writer: Gary Snyder. And I was interested in that, but as I say the English department talked me out of it.
Han: Hmm, very interesting.
But here goes a very important question. During your education…you look like you have a very good family background with a lot of potential in your education. You learned French in the elementary school—it is very rare. Did you know anything about Korea: the location or the history or any culture? Anything? Be honest please.
Whelan: Almost nothing. And that was characteristic of the
country in general, as I don’t need to tell you. However, there were two lamps on side tables next to the fireplace that were carved figures of Koreans, and…
Han: What fireplace are you talking about?
Whelan: Pardon me?
Han: What fireplace are you talking about?
Whelan: My home. And it made me curious. They had been given to my mother by her father, who had brought them back when he returned in 1929. And she honored them—had them on these
two tables. So, what little I knew of Korea came from questions I asked about why they dressthis way and so forth, but that was it.
Han: That was it. Nobody taught you during your school? You are one of the most top elite students getting into Princeton University, and you didn’t know anything about Korea?
Whelan: I don’t need to tell you that the United States from almost all
of its history, and I would include today, was very insular
Han: Yeah, very U.S.-centered perspective.
Whelan: We didn’t see Asia as important to us. Any part of it. The thing that was important to us was what academics saw is the important background that was affecting our culture and that was European.
The best food was French. The best manners were English, etc., etc. But Asia was something beyond our reach.
Han: But except China and Japan. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Whelan: We didn’t know much about Japan. All of a sudden this country has attacked us.
We started to learn about Japan, but I can tell you that it was for a youngster at that age it was out of reach.
Han: When did you leave Korea as a Korean War veteran? You were there in late 1951, and then you left 1952?
Whelan: Yeah, ’51, ‘52.
I left with 60 points. Roughly 15 months.
Han: 15 months, right.
Whelan: Roughly, and you know it’s hard for me to reconstruct it.
Han: All in 1953, maybe?
Han: Okay, so have you been back to Korea after that?
Han: You never?
Han: Do you know what’s going on in the Republic of Korea—the South Korea in terms of economy?
Whelan: I have two sources of information that keep me vaguely up-to-date. Obviously there’s been a good deal of publications about what’s been happening, and I have Patrick who has been very, very good about telling me about his relationship with you and with others and also about Korea itself. And you might say, well why didn’t you go back?
I did not, not go back for any reason. I just have had no reason to go back. I am not sentimental, but I must say that I am hugely admiring of the Korean people, and so there would be nothing to keep me away.
Han: Do you know that Korean economy now? We don’t have natural resources. We don’t have drop of water.
We don’t have any real resources that matters to the economy. Almost all of it in North Korea and do you know where the Korean economy ranks now?
Whelan: One of the kinds of work that I did before retiring was planning and often national planning. That is growth control and growth encouragement.
Now one of the things that took me to Puerto Rico was the understanding that Puerto Rico at the moment that I graduated from graduate school was the model for developing countries, and like Korea there were no natural resources.
Hence they made a good comparison, and it was interesting to see the difference. And we could explore that but I don’t think that’s on your schedule of questions.
Han: Korea with the size of little bit bigger than the state of Indiana—you know
you’ve been there—now it’s the 11th largest economy in the world.
Whelan: I know, and that speaks of the Korean people themselves. And also one of the most extraordinary things was the adoption of democracy and capitalism, but to suit Korea, not copying the United States, but learning. It was a lesson for every developing country in the world.
Han: Very good. That’s why we are working with your son: to get more facts out of it from your legacy on Korea for our future generation.
Han: I really think of this relationship perfect. You fought for us. Your son working for us to get your legacy out there. So this is a perfect reunion, and the Korean democracy is so
Han: We know the Koreans know—I’m US citizen—Koreans know how to impeach the president and put in prison. So we have to learn from them whenever we need it, right? I don’t want to make…
Whelan: Well you might think about the way I think of it: it’s a stress test. [laughter]
Han: So when you left Korea, had you ever imagined that Korea
would become like this today? When you left Korea in 1953 as a Korean War veteran soldier, had you imagined that Korea would become like this today: 11th largest economy in the world, most vibrant democracy in East Asian region?
Whelan: If you had interviewed me at that time I would have said no.
Han: Why? Why?
Whelan: Well I was a young man,
and so I had had a little experience. But what I observed was the influence of a deep and abiding culture that resulted in very strongly held ideas about morality, about manners, about empathy,
about many things. Those were built in to the point
that it would be difficult for a young man to imagine that that could ever change to something more dynamic as Korea became. It wouldn’t have occurred to me. There was something primitive about Korea in my day, and you have a tendency to think that will last forever.
Han: Tell me your first honest
impression of Korea when you landed in Seoul for the first time. Be honest. Be brutally honest about it. What was your impression of Korean people, landscape, whatever?
Whelan: I try to be honest so you don’t have to encourage me, but the point is a difficult one for me to answer. First of all, I have to say I’m highly visual.
I stood on deck as the crafts that had picked us up in Japan was carrying us, I think to Seoul as I
Han: Was that an airplane?
Whelan: No, no that was a boat, a ship.
Han: From Yokohama?
Whelan: From Yokohama, yes.
Han: To where? Not directly Seoul, no. You’ve got to be either in Incheon or Busan.
Whelan: Well I don’t know.
Han: How long was your truck to Seoul from the point where…?
Whelan: I’m not sure it was overnight.
Han: Right, then must be in Incheon.
Whelan: Okay. And so I was essentially transfixed with the topography.
I could be wrong about this, but I remember karst geology. Is that correct?
Han: What is it?
Whelan: Karst. K A R S T in English. We call it a haystack hill. They’re like small mountains. You have them on that coast, huh?
Whelan: That caught me. I had never seen it before. And so my first impression was visual. Very strongly visual. Landing we were immediately taken up in the activities of the army to get the replacements up to their positions, and so trucks picked us up wherever we landed and we ended up
in tents, and so there was nothing to be seen. We were occupied with army things. I had no contact with Korean people at that point and so was not in any way involved with the country as a country. I was only involved for the fact that I was about to go to war.
Han: But you were able to visit Seoul before you left Korea, so when you saw Seoul how was it?
Whelan: Seoul was a city that I might have expected to find in rural America. No tall buildings that I remember. The business section was primitive in my
American viewpoint, but I found people accommodating and welcoming, and it was pleasant tourist type trip.
Han: You know that Seoul city, the capital city of Korea, is now one of the ten biggest metropolitan cities in the world.
Whelan: I do know that.
Han: Much bigger than Manhattan obviously.
Whelan: I do. I do know that,
and I find it astonishing. It’s breathtaking. But the most breathtaking thing relative to that that I have heard is something that Patrick told me when I asked him why you had any interest in this subject, and he said that there was a desire on the part of your government to have the soldiers
that had participated in the Korean activity see the fruit of their sacrifice. That stun me, and it still does. I don’t know, and I’m not a historian, but I don’t know of another thing that I have ever heard of a country saying that way, and that defines much of what I
think of as the Korean point of view.
Han: This was such transfiguration. It’s almost like a miracle. They say it’s a miracle on the Han River. If you’re looking at the Korea in 1952, right now it’s just unbelievable transformation.
Whelan: Completely different.
Han: Right. It was one thing that has never changed is that there’s not much about Korean topics in our history curriculum. You told me
that you never learned anything about Korea in your high school days.
Han: Not in in Princeton obviously. And Patrick knows—your son knows—that in the current curriculum in AP World History there was no topic whatsoever about Korea until two years ago.
Whelan: That’s right.
Han: Can you believe that?
Whelan It is extraordinary don’t you that
Han: Why? Can you explain to me?
Whelan: I can’t explain it
other than my original remark with regard to the sense of isolation that Americans have always had. It’s part of our history—part of our makeup—that we see the world as something out there but we’re here. And don’t worry about that. That’s Asia.
Han: For me originally from South
Korea, it almost like makes me angry about it because 37,000 approximately American soldiers killed in action, missing, still in missing in action. A lot of them also wounded. Two million people civilian and military killed, Korean people. And there’s such a transformation, and we
don’t teach about it.
To me it is almost like a mystery.
Whelan: I agree. I couldn’t agree with you more.
Han: So that’s why we are doing this, and can you show that to camera? Yes, and what does it say? Can you read it?
Whelan: Korean’s Place in Teaching World History. It’s a wonderful title because it begs a question.
Han: And one of the writers of that book, which was published by the NCSS and my foundation, was your son. Can you go to the first two pages to see if you can find his name and read it for me?
Whelan: I love it. I don’t know where to look. Here it says
the publication, but I don’t see the credits.
Han: Anyway, your son’s name is there, okay?
Whelan: It’s got a forward. It’s got a foreword. Are the credits after the forward? I see your name. You’re all over the place.
Han: Anyway I am so honored, and this is kind of my dream come true that we were able to
write on two topics been added to the AP World History curriculum by the College Board and with your son. I am so thankful about it.
Whelan: I admire the fact that this was an issue to you.
Han: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Whelan: That’s what changes the world.
Han: And that’s why we are working with the social studies teachers. We just finished the workshop in Orlando with the AP Human Geography.
And the book that I gave you, my book, is about those so we are going to produce another book like that for AP Human Geography. And we’ll go beyond that and working on US government,
US history. Any subject that Korean topic can be a part of it, we will work on it. Your son will continue to work with us, and your son has been to Korea more than many times that you’ve been, and he is going to be with us for our program
where the history teachers will see what is it to see what’s happened after the war that you fought for.
Whelan: Thank you for being nice to our son.
Han: Absolutely. It’s my pleasure. Let’s go back to your military career. So why did you quit Princeton University and so you decide…
Whelan: Why did I quit Princeton?
Han: How did you decide to go to war where that
you might kill yourself?
Whelan: Okay, first of all let me say that there are two kinds of answers to that question.
One is practical. The other one is more subjective. There’s a very practical, straight-forward, principled reason was the GI Bill. I wanted to get out of Princeton, and the GI Bill would pay for my education.
Han: You were kind of a silver spooner, right?
Han: Silver spoon or spooner. You you had a very powerful father. He was able to pay your tuition right?
Han: Why not?
Whelan: He was alcoholic and broke.
Han: Really by the time?
Whelan: Yes, and I was an incredible burden, particularly on my
Mother. And that was part of my inability to adjust to Princeton was my discomfort of being such a drain on a half-empty glass. And when it came to my junior year it sort of all came home.
I wasn’t doing well. I didn’t feel comfortable there, but I was sore in my heart over what I was doing to them. Not that I could go to them and say that because they were not the kind who would pay much attention to anything I would say like that. So, I decided that yeah the
army would pay for my education.
Now I probably wouldn’t be able to get back into Princeton, but I felt at least I could finish my
education with that money. Now to go to the subjective side of that, I wasn’t fearful of it because remember I was a boy during the Second World War. Soldiers were my heroes, and so it wasn’t
something that I ran from.
Han: You were not afraid.
Whelan: I was not afraid. And another subjective aspect of it, which I have mentioned, is that—and it’s a typical I think of people at that age—I wanted to test myself.
I wasn’t making it at Princeton. I wanted to test myself. And so it was a very, very good decision
for me to have made.
Han: And you went to boot camp in Seattle right?
Whelan: No, no. I was inducted in Seattle. I believe it’s a matter of their geography, but I took a train from there to the middle of California
where a major army training camp.
Han: Was it Camp Roberts?
Whelan: Yes, and that was called a pipeline. In other words, the people that were being trained there were just going straight to Korea. You really had to know
the President of the United States to get out of that, and so that didn’t particularly bother me.
Han: Oh, before I forget there is a Korean War veteran, I mean he passed away, his name
is Glenn Paige G L E N N and last name P A I G E.
Whelan: You told me about him.
Han: Yes, Princeton student. He volunteered for
the Korean War. He was in the early phase, so he went to Pyongyang when MacArthur’s Incheon landing successful and went up to the Pyongyang, and later he became very famous political scientist. He wrote the book called Korean Decision, how I mean analyzing how President Truman actually reached a conclusion to send up, you know, the US soldiers to Korea and I had an interview with him from Hawaii.
And the institute he created the Center for Non-Killing based on his killing during the war, and that’s the question that my daughter asked him. You created this, founded the Center for Non-Killing after you kill a lot there in Korea. How does that make up to you? And he was almost like fond of my daughter. So I want you to look at that interview
in our digital archive, which is www.KWVDM.org.
Whelan: I will.
Han: And see if you can identify him as a sort of acquaintance or not. That’s one thing that I wanted to talk. So, tell me about bootcamp days. How did you like? How did you like? What was your favorite? What was the thing that you hated most? How was it?
Whelan Well, it’s a complicated
question, of course, because it’s a very different world, and one finds oneself adjusting to it. As a result of the friendship that I had in Portland, a man who was drafted at the same time I was. It was on the train that came from Seattle.
Whelan: Yes, Turk, Turk Adams. Turk was a rebel with a capital R. He would not shy from anything that was either dishonest or illegal, and he found me on the train, and we immediately sort of cleaved together
as to the only two people that knew anybody else. And we went together into the same platoon we spent the next few months using our imagination in any way that we could to avoid doing anything, and we were quite successful at it. We went AWOL every weekend, and we
disobeyed when it was useful and obeyed
when it was useful and generally dismissed the whole affair. Except he fell in love with machine guns. I had no particular interest in any of it. And so it was a time that went fairly rapidly. I was not uncomfortable with it at any point. Much of my boyhood had been spent
in the mountains. I was not unused to being outdoors. I was not weak, and so it was it was really quite an exciting time because of Turk and another friend we made who had been in the Dutch merchant marine.
And he was a hard-bitten veteran of getting away with things
Han: Was his name Nick?
Whelan: Nick Hoogendam. And Nick, Turk, and I just did whatever we thought we would get away with. But at the last minute we did… Turk and I decided to sign up for
leaders’ course. Why they let us in I don’t know. They kicked him out right away and almost kicked me out. But that finished the time, and when that was done, I got a couple of weeks to go home, and then it was boarding a ship to sail across the ocean.
Han: It’s very interesting.
Almost every veteran tell me about marching and you know the food there and how they dislike the period, but you all talking about two men here Turk and Nick.
Han: It’s very interesting.
Whelan: Well you know, if you’re a mountaineer, you used to bad food. I mean gee whiz, you don’t make a big issue out it. That’s just part of the adventure. You’re used to fools that’s part of the adventure.
You don’t make an issue out of that. Go find something to do.
Han: Tell me about troopship that you were in. How was it?
Whelan: Terrible. One of the worst experiences of my life.
Han: Give me the details please, including throw up, seasickness.
Whelan: As you may know the troops are held
below deck in an area that is divided in two bunks that are, I think, six high and not very far apart. That’s something on the order of 18 inches. And it was December. The water was not calm, and men were getting seasick everywhere: in their bunks,
walking up the ladders to the deck, everywhere. Just vomit everywhere. So, you can imagine what it was like. But I had become so trained in—what would you say—disobedience that the moment a chaplain asked for if there was anybody aboard
that had radio experience, I was in his office in a wink—essentially inventing stories. And he asked me to read the news, and I got out of all of the details. I didn’t have to clean up any vomit or work in the kitchen or do anything else.
Han: You’ve always been lucky.
Whelan: And all I had to do was read the news to the troops
Han: In the ship, you mean?
Han: In the ship? In the ship? In the troopship?
Whelan: Yes. In the troopship.
Han: You read the news?
Whelan: We had a teletype, and it just rolled out a sheet of news. I’d tear it off and read it over the mic, and so everybody was kept abreast. The chaplain felt…
Han: What’s his name, Waldie?
Whelan: No, no. that was another chaplain.
But this chaplain felt that it was important to the morale of the troops to be connected to their homes, and news was one way to do it.
Han: So, you were in the broadcasting company in the ship.
Whelan: One of the most curious things happened. Because it was Christmastime, he wanted to put on a Christmas show.
And so he turned to another fellow and I that he had asked to do this kind of thing and said, “You’re professionals. You put on a show.” Well, I had never had anything to do with being on the stage or shows or anything like that. But we cobbled something together. I decided to do a stand-up comedy routine, and they had a whole bunch of dirty jokes that I knew the troops would adore.
Han: Can you repeat that?
Han: Can you repeat that? Some portion…
Whelan: Those dirty jokes? Yeah, I’m not gonna repeat them. [laughter] But the problem was that he expurgated all of them. He made me, you know, do a review of what I was going to say. so I had to take jokes from his joke book, which was bad.
But we were well-received by the Navy, and by some wives that were being taken over to Japan. But the troops on Christmas Eve were having none of it, and there was just a big…
Han: So tell me about that. I read your script and it said there were 20, about 20 wives of theofficers who were riding to Japan?
Whelan: Yes, and there were staterooms on this
ship as well as the one that I came back on, and that’s where they were. And they had their own mess and comfortable ride for them I think. It’s interesting that the army was taking care of soldiers that were detailed to Japan in a regular army sense, not just draftees going
Han: As an architect, Japan is a very good case study isn’t it. I’ve been to Japan many times, and I love that the old architecture. You know the real natural color of the wood with copper with the blue, you know. I just love it. What do you think?
Whelan: I of course had some
sense of Japanese architecture because I had studied it in history classes at Princeton, and I was a great admirer. And so when it came time to go to Japan, which in those days called R&R: rest and recuperation. If you had been in combat long enough they’d let you go back and
sort of relieve some of the stress. And we had a choice to go to Tokyo or to Osaka and I decided to go to Tokyo because I was more interested in fun than I was architecture, but I was
interested in architecture
Han: What was your unit?
Whelan: The fifth regimental combat team was a part of the 24th division.
The regimental combat team is not quite the same as a regiment, an infantry regiment
because it is specifically structured to be independent if it were to get surrounded, for instance. And thus becomes a workhorse. It becomes the unit that the division will throw into a situation if its
Chancy. The 24th division was stationed in Hawaii at the time of the opening of the Korean Conflict, and the fifth was that regiment, and I was assigned to it. However, on the very
first day that I was in that tent
getting what was called advanced training, which was really an exercise in being terrified, I was asked if I might like to be a correspondent, and I did. And so I had a job that made me independent of any officer. I was answerable to none, although really answerable to all.
But my job was simply to make up my mind what to write about this unit because the American army wanted the people, the mothers, the fathers, sisters, and the brothers to hear about what was going on. But my point was never to write about the ugly things, but was to write about the people: what they were liked and what they did.
And so that’s what I did. But I found it boring, and so I got the idea to write about Father Waldie, who was our chaplain, and I spent a great deal of time putting together an article about him because he was revered by our troops simply because he was always there when the bullets were flying.
Han: Could you give his first name?
Whelan: Father Waldie is the only thing I know. I’d probably at some time knew his first name. I must have. Couldn’t have written about it without it, but I don’t remember now. Father Waldie dedicated himself to giving what Catholics referred to as extreme unction. That’s the last moment of life in which you confess, and you ask for forgiveness.
And he would rush to a fallen soldier ignoring the rounds that were flying around, and he was heroic and greatly revered, and so he made a good story. But eventually we were transferred to—catch me if I pronounced it correctly—
Geoji-do. And Geoji-do was an island off the southern coast.
Han: Before we get too far, because that’s also a very important part of your service, as long as I understand it. What was your original specialty? Rather than becoming a writer—where that your dream actually realized—but what was your original specialty?
Whelan: What the army assigned me to do?
Nothing. I was a rifleman.
Han: Rifleman, yes. And where were you? Where was that headquarters located? In the frontline or in the West Side?
Whelan: Well, the Fifth was online when I joined them. Wait a minute, let me let me correct that. No, the Fifth was not online when I joined them. They were in reserve in the Punchbowl. Does that ring a bell with you?
Whelan And, we were down in the punchbowl sort of licking our wounds, and that’s where I started out as a correspondent. And we moved from there up to the line
in a position that I should remember the name of the city or something but I don’t. If you know where the Turks were, that’s where we were. Next door to them when we went up online.
Han: Yes, tell me about your experience with the Turks.
Whelan: With the Turks?
Han: Not your friend.
Whelan: No, I never think of him as a Turk. The the Turks
were extraordinary. They were so much
different as an army. First of all they never wore any insignia. That was wise, in a sense. It doesn’t give the enemy an opportunity to shoot the captain. But the also the discipline was odd. They didn’t call somebody down for doing something. They just slapped him, and that was quite
foreign to an American soldier. They drove jeeps and trucks, but not many of them knew how to drive, so they would get people to put it in second and it never went out of second. They couldn’t back up. They couldn’t do anything else except drive it in second. And so, they’d come in to the CP, [makes engine noise] with their motor, you know, going to pot. And come into the CP and talked about coordinating.
And they were probably, in my view, the most ferocious our side of the line. The North Koreans were the most ferocious of their side of the line.
And the I believe the Turks were facing the North Koreans. That’s my vague memory. But it was a very steep valley at that point. There was a ridge and a rather steep valley. And the ridge on the other side came close to our ridge. And so, they were all in bunkers with just little slits that they looked out over and shot through. And they
just at some moment got sick of it, and the whole bunch of them grabbed their weapons, and come up out of their bunkers, and down the hill, and up together, would shoot everybody up, and run back. It was just—you just shook your head and couldn’t believe anybody would do that. I mean it was facing death in an instant. At least that’s the way I remember. And
so, it teaches you something about human beings, and it’s a quality that is beyond comprehension for an American.
Han: Going back to your correspondence job, did you like it?
Whelan: Oh yes. I was so privileged. I had my own tent,
can you imagine, when we were in reserves. I had a houseboy. He did nothing else but bring me my breakfast, and roll up my sleeping bag, and sweep up the tent. That was his entire responsibility. There’s a wonderful guy. I really liked him. He had…
Han: He was old.
Han: He was very old.
Well, I think he was in his 40s. He could have been older. He might have been 50s, you know.
Han: But he was not house boy.
Whelan: Yeah, no. He was no house boy. He was one of those guys that got conscripted to carry ammunition. He figured out a way to do this, and they probably let him do it because it was hard work. That ammunition business was really tough.
Han: Do you remember any writing of yours? Anything?
Whelan: No. I don’t…you know…you have to understand me. I’m really an existentialist as it goes in the wastepaper basket the next day.
Han: Well, but what do you mean by being a correspondent? Were you writing for newspaper, or what were you doing actually?
Whelan: I was writing information…yeah, I understand your question.
There was a channel. You wrote it, and you put it in the channel, and the channel was the Public Information Office of the United States Army. PIO as it is called.
Han: And so, you belonged to the Public Information Office?
Whelan: Right. So, I didn’t place the articles. They placed in articles.
Han: So have you then did serve as a frontline
Soldier, foot soldier, fighting and shooting against this enemy ever in your service?
Whelan: Well, yes and no. We spoke of Geoji-do. When we came back from Geoji-do, I was no longer in the PIO because there had been a news blanket on
anything coming out of Geoji-do. It was secret. It wasn’t secret from the our enemies—only really secret from the rest of the Americans.
Whelan: Why? Because the North Koreans and Chinese had really very good intelligence. It wasn’t something that was difficult
because who would easily know whether someone was South Korean or North Korean if he was an American. So we had our spies that went over the line, and they had their spies who went over the line, and we both knew what the others were doing. So they knew when we went to Geoji-do because they’d had a week to make a
big banner that said, “Welcome butchers of” wherever it was we came from. And likewise we had a banner like that on the line when we went back on the line. So there was a lot of intelligence that was getting transferred. There were no secrets that the enemy… furthermore they had a guy
who flew a small Cessna plane. He was called Bedcheck Charlie because Bedcheck Charlie would go over at about five o’clock in the evening, and he was radioing back, “Well there’re five tanks there and they got,” you know. So it was kind of open in a way that many wartime situations wouldn’t be quite that open. I imagine it was even worse in Vietnam
where the intermixing of people. And so I was no longer writing. I now went into using my skill with maps. As a mountaineer I was very good with maps. And so that was useful, and so they put me in the headquarters company, and I just kind of went up
the line with different jobs but no longer writing.
Han: Was it in the Punchbowl again?
Whelan: Say that?
Han: Was that Punchbowl again—when you returned from Geoji Island?
Whelan: I’m trying… no it wasn’t.
Han: Do you remember where? Any name? East, west orientation?
Whelan: It was further east. It was still in the center part. We weren’t on the coast. I’m not sure whether that was a position where the Turks were on our left, and the Puerto Ricans were on our right. It could have been. Would you know?
Han: Yeah, we’ll be able to tell?
Whelan: Yeah, does that sound like it? Further east than the center? Well that would probably be it.
Further east than the punchbowl, yeah.
Han: What was your rank at the time?
Whelan: At what time? It was constantly changing?
Han: When you were in the Punchbowl as a correspondant.
Whelan: Oh I arrived in the punchbowl as a PFC, and I think I was immediately given the rank of Corporal because I was a correspondent.
Han: What a private first class with
with his own office?
Whelan: It was marvelous, and, you know, my house boy would bring me a meal and put it on a… it was wonderful.
Han: Do you think we can retrieve some of your writings from old newspaper or anything?
Whelan: No, it’s gone.
Han: It’s gone. That’s too bad I think that should…
Whelan: You know, it may be a blessing. It may be a blessing.
Han: So that Patrick
doesn’t read it, right?
Whelan: No, he will never read it, thank God. [laughter]
Han: Any dangerous moment during your service in Punchbowl as a correspondent? Not really right?
Whelan: Well everybody… well not as a correspondent, no. I did a couple of things that other people would have described as dangerous but in fact were not. One of the things that I got in mind was going on a patrol. I was asked to carry the radio,
and I was so loud and using it that I ruined the patrol, and I never got to do that again.
Han: That’s the best way to get away from it, right?
Whelan: Yeah, you know in those days you wore the radio on your back. A thing like that. And I’m sitting there saying, “Buncher, butcher there’s a baker,” and the Corporal is saying, “they can hear that over the next mountain,” and so that was the end of that.
But it might have been dangerous, you know, if we had gotten into a scuffle. And I went out to a forward observer post, which had a company.
Han: That’s very dangerous.
Whelan: Put that company out there. It’s like a mile and a half, maybe two miles. No, more like a mile maybe. But anyway, out there.
And I went because it was Chinese New Year’s, and the big deal in the year before. I thought there might be something worth writing about. And nothing happened, so my dangers never materialized.
Han: Did you know what were you doing there?
Whelan: Did I know what?
Han: Did you know what you were doing there?
Whelan Oh yeah.
Han: In Korea. What were you doing? What did you think that you were doing at the time?
Whelan: What did I think I was doing?
Han: Yeah, you were doing there in Korea.
Whelan: What did I think… oh I see. You mean in a political sense or in a military sense. I was well aware of the principle of containment that controlled the American point of view and that there was a serious containment leak.
Han: That’s a very funny way to describe it. It really gets to the point.
Whelan: So, it seemed to me a reasonable thing to do. I thought that containment was a bright idea. I still do. The United States has placed itself all around the world in order to protect the United States.
So that may be the center of your question. An American fighting in Korea wasn’t fighting for South Korea as much as he was fighting for its own country. He wasn’t there as a generous soul to help a country that needed it. He was there because his country needed it. Now I don’t think that makes us as good as you might like to think of us, but that is a fact.
should I say a generous soul to help a country that needed it he was there because his country needed it.
Now I don’t think that makes us, you know, as good as you might like to think of us but that is a fact.
Han: That’s a great point, but did that change when you were there actually fighting? That idea, that thinking, did that change when you were there actually fighting there for 15 months? Did that change, you know, do you understand where I’m…
Whelan: Well yes, you make a point. It’s one that I haven’t given much thought to, but I think the answer is yes. And I think the reason the answer is yes is by the time I left I had Korean contacts. I had lived with a Korean girl when we were stationed in Geoji-do, and I had house boys that became
friends really. I was constantly in contact with Koreans because later on I became used to interrogate and that sort of thing. And so Korea as a place might not have been as important to me as Korea as a people.
And what I took home was that. It was incidents that have stayed with me all my life. I will recount one of them to give you an idea about why somebody might feel that way. When we were in Korea, I mean in Geoji-do, I asked a house boy if I
could rent a house. And he said yes. I know about a house. I was so good at going AWOL by this time—highly trained in my boot training—that I just simply went into the village without anybody knowing it. And my house boy arrived and he took me to a house. And you have in those days these wonderful houses that have had a courtyard,
very similar to the Japanese form, with two sides that faced on to that little courtyard and walls. And a man dressed in traditional Korean white vestments if that’s the right word.
Han: Traditional garment.
Whelan: He came in
and bowed to me as if I were a king. And we sat, and the houseboy kind of acted as an interpreter. And he brought a box, and he handed it to me. And the houseboy says, “he wants to know if you can figure out how to open it.”
Now I’m an architect. That’s the kind of thing I really get into. So, I fiddled with it, and I figured it out, and I opened it, and handed it back to him open. And he made gestures of admiration, and we went on with our conversation of how much it was gonna cost to rent his home.
Han: That’s very interesting. Why do you think that
he offered you, asked you, to open this box?
Whelan: Beats me. It was just a gesture of friendship—like a way of making a connection.
Han: Out of that, it just ignited the relation, right?
Whelan: Right, yeah. You know, it was it was the kind of thing that impresses you. You could ask yourself that question, why did he do that? And the only explanation was that he was making a simple gesture to say, “Look this is fun. We could share this.” It is a way of sharing something hard to do
with somebody who can’t speak his language and so forth. Now I went away with that, and I went back, and I thought about it for days whipping myself for not keeping it secret that I knew his secret. That had I been Korean I probably would
have handed it back to him unopened and say, “that’s too difficult for me.” That would have been the Korean way to respond to it. But not me. I got to open it up and make something of myself. And so you can see what I’m getting at. I was learning something. I would learning about me I was learning about Korean. I was expanding my understanding of people.
Han: And so that introduction… what that introduction led to
Whelan: What did that introduction lead to? I rented his house.
Whelan: Well there was a girl. I had asked the house boy if there were any girls that would like to live with me for a couple of three weeks. And he said “yeah,” and her name was Okja.
Han: O K J A.
Whelan: Am I pronouncing it correct?
Han: Yes, correct.
Whelan: And Okja was young—same age as me, maybe a year or two older. I don’t know. She couldn’t speak English. I couldn’t speak Korean, but somehow we were able to communicate. And we ended up liking each other a lot. And so I would at nighttime
sneak out and go over there. I didn’t eat there. I tried to bring food for her and her friends, but I would spend the night there, and I’d get up in the morning. Well it got to be so that the MPs would welcome me, and I could walk right through the gate.
Han: Any wall, right?
Whelan: Yeah, I was a sergeant by that time.
“Good morning, Sergeant.” But it turned out that there were two other sergeants were doing the same thing. We didn’t know it until after a while.
Han: But going back to my original question, how did that relationship with Okja actually change your view about why you were there and what you were doing there?
Whelan: I’m skirting the question perhaps because I don’t know that there’s an answer to that. It changed my understanding but of people and the Korean culture, but it did not change my understanding of the political reason for being there.
I was there not because I chose to be there. I was there because I chose to get the VA money for education. And I don’t think I ever made the leap that you’re asking, where I changed how I felt about why I
was there because of something that people revealed to me. That didn’t occur to me.
Han: In that you told me that you never been back to Korea after you left Korea as a Korean War veteran, but your story tells me something very different. I never heard of this kind of story from the veteran. What is Korea to you, even though you never been back to Korea, but from that looking at all those years you never know
anything about Korea. What is Korea to you now personally?
Whelan: You want adjectives or nouns?
Han: Both. And verbs too.
Whelan: Well, I’ll start with adjectives heroic, embattled,
empathetic in a way that is surprising. I would, shifting to nouns, say
that what has happened to South Korea is exemplary of the human capacity to make lemonade out of lemons. Now, as a historian
your interest in such a subject, in Korea or any other place, is a little different than my non-historian preoccupations. And so I don’t I don’t create an image for Korea. I just admire it.
And the modern Korea probably in my suspicion has taken on many of the negatives of the American experience: over building, focus on wealth, or I could go on. But that doesn’t concern me. That isn’t the point.
The point is that the average life in Korea is now so much better than it was when I got there. That’s worthy of applause for no other reason.
Han: Excellent point. Tell me about Geoji-do. I know Geoji-do, but for the audience thinking that many young students will listen to this interview, where is Geoji-do and what were you doing there? What are you talking about?
Whelan: Okay Geoji-do is an island, and it is off the southern tip of Korea. It was occupied by the Americans to use as a prison. The prison was divided in compounds where prisoners that were North Koreans enlisted men in one compound, officers in another, Korean I mean Chinese in another, Chinese officers in another,
and so forth. The compounds were essentially tents contained within a fence and guarded by soldiers. The soldiers never entered the compounds. They were run by the occupants by themselves.
Han: North Koreans and Chinese?
And the compound that was nearest where the Fifth RCT was billeted was the North Koreans, and it was the most rambunctious, in fact brutal, compound. They were actually executing their fellow prisoners for minor crimes.
And they sang the Internationale every night, every evening, I guess it was in the morning. It was really quite something to hear. It’s a marvelous piece of music. But there was an ugliness that seemed somehow to justify all the ugliness that we were seeing on the line.
After I left, a foolish, I think it was a general officer, went into the compound, the North Korean compound I think it was, and they encircled him and brought him in, and they had to negotiate his removal. So
it was a tough place. But around this was farming land, much of it rice paddies, and little villages. And it was one such village where I rented the house. And we were simply there standing guard. There’s nothing easier. And then we all went back up in a landing craft
to the line when our time was up.
Han: What did you do there? Did you write?
Whelan: I couldn’t write anymore, so it’s no longer a correspondent. And as I said they took me into the mapmaking section of the… I should explain something you probably know, but the four
divisions of the army involve two of them. One of them is the command, and one of them is intelligence. They often are together in the same bunker or a tent or whatever. And so I was in intelligence, but I was making maps for the… you need them to place a weapon and know where it is. And then we went
back up online. And by this time I was, say, I think that I was a staff sergeant or maybe a buck sergeant. There was a man who was the operation sergeant of one of the battalions. I mean battalion, yeah. And he needed a replacement, and they asked me to do it.
So what I was doing when I was in Geoji-do was making maps.
Han: Wow, making maps.
Whelan: Well, not really drawing them from the beginning. But I would take a map, and I would have to copy it, I’d have to arrange it, and have to figure it out. And it was it was surprising to me is that how many Americans are illiterate in maps. They just look at lines, and they couldn’t tell where they were.
And topographical maps read three dimensionally to me.
Han: So you were able to read those things instantly?
Han: That’s great. What was the most difficult thing, if I ask you to pinpoint among many others, throughout your whole duration in Korea?
Whelan: Most difficult thing?
Han: Yeah, or thing that you hated or anything…
Whelan: Well, you know, guys in the army could give you a bushel bag sort of
those. But one of them had to do with interviewing a woman who was a prostitute. She was on the other side of a river when we got to… before we went up to that last ridge. And she was sitting in front of an American flag that had been displayed in a tent, and I was
asking her why she was there, and where she had come from, and who else was there, and so forth. The soldiers were getting across the river. And an officer had just come up from… what is it? The university where officers were trained? I will think of it in a minute.
Han: West Point?
Whelan: West Point. Thank you. He had just come up
from West Point, and he was a strong Patriot, and he had an anger fit. It horrified me. I was feeling so sorry for this old woman. I mean she was really old. And another incident that was ugly like that was a general
responding to a call on the radio from a forward observer that an artillery shell had wiped out at a patrol that he had called in, sighted. And the general jumping up and down. And when the forward observer screamed into the radio, “murder.” That twisted me.
That was ugly. And I sound like somebody sensitive to this kind of thing, and I quite frankly am.
Han: You were like a [unintelligible]?
Whelan: Yeah. And another incident was a gangster who was trying to get me off the line.
Whelan: Well, you know that there are a lot of guys that get into the military just to get out
of the court system. And he was what is called a first sergeant. First sergeant… remember my mention of the four parts of the military. One of them is personnel. The guy in charge of the personnel, the noncommissioned, highest-ranking noncommissioned guy, would be the first sergeant. And he’s the first among all. So he outranked me. Not by very
much. And we got into a kind of a tussle over whether my men would stand inspections and stuff like that. And I told him absolutely not. And so he decided to just rotate me back to the United States because I had spent more time… you only have to have 40 points, and I had 60.
Han: You had 60 points?
Whelan: I think I had 60. And my whole point was I didn’t want to do barracks work. I wanted to get out. And so he tried to get rid of me, and I had a one of those ugly personal battles. But I didn’t really face the kind of horror that a frontline
soldier faces in combat. It could have happened. It didn’t happen. It’s just as simple as that.
Han: Here we go. Would you please introduce yourself? What is your name?
Sidney Whelan: I’m Sidney Whelan
Han: Sidney. S Y D…
Sidney Whelan: S I D
Han: S I D N E Y. Sidney. And you are?
Sidney Whelan: The wife of
Han: Jack. And in the middle?
Patrick Whelan: Sure. I’m Patrick Whelan. I’m the youngest son of Jack Whelan and Sidney Whelan.
Han: And what do you do?
Patrick Whelan: I’m a teacher, and so I teach at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School in Bradenton, Florida. And I teach world history.
Han: World history. No wonder why you are working with me, right. [laughter] But, I have a question to ask you, to Sidney. When did you know of him? For the first time, yes.
Sidney Whelan: I met him just before
he went to Korea.
Han: Just before? Tell me how?
Sidney Whelan: And it was a blind date. You know what a blind date is? You don’t know who you’re going to meet?
Han: Exactly. Who arranged that?
Sidney Whelan: Yeah, we just really hit it off. And I think I was second year in college. Maybe first year in college. I was about 18.
Han: Where were you?
Sidney Whelan: 18 years old.
Han: I mean where were you?
Sidney Whelan: In Boston.
Han: Boston. So what college were you in?
Sidney Whelan: I was at Pine Manor
Junior College. And then I graduated from the University of Michigan because I’m from Michigan and…
Han: Very good school.
Sidney Whelan: Yes, and in education and a schoolteacher and…
Han: I wonder where you are coming from.
Sidney Whelan: I taught kindergarten and nursery school in Boston and Puerto Rico and in Detroit.
Han: Tell me about Jack. First Jack that you had in your memory. Were you attracted to him?
Sidney Whelan: Yeah, I really was. I really liked him at first.
Sidney Whelan: Because he was really interesting. He was very different than other people. He was two and a half years older than I was, and he talked about skiing and all these things that I thought that was kind of neat, you know, he was a mountain climber, and a skier,
and mountain patrol, ski patrol, all that kind of thing out West. And so I only knew him for three dates before he went to Korea.
Han: Oh boy.
Sidney Whelan: But he never wrote because he thought that maybe he wouldn’t be coming back. And he wanted me to grow up and live my life, and if he came back then he would look me up, and he did look me up.
Han: But even though it wasn’t marriage or any engagement or anything. Just three days of blind date
but must be kind of hard to you, was it?
Sidney Whelan: It was hard for him to go away because I really liked him.
Han: No, for you not to see him.
Sidney Whelan: How hard was it for me not to see him? Very hard, but then I started dating other people because he was gone.
Han: Good for you. [laughter]
Sidney Whelan: And he wanted me to do that.
Han: So let me ask you, Jack, why didn’t you write the letter to her? Did you like her at the time?
Jack Whelan: I think more than I’ve ever liked anyone.
Han: And I’m getting more curious that you didn’t write to her.
Jack Whelan: Well she just gave the reason. I thought it was wise to break it off, and the only way you break it off well is to break it off. The reason I thought it was wise is what was the percentage that I would survive?
I don’t know how high it was or how low it was. But I wasn’t going to take the chance that she would have to come down to the airport and welcome my box, so that was the reason. Now it didn’t mean that I loved her less. I was very lonely thinking of her, but I couldn’t do that to her. It wasn’t fair.
Han: Were you thinking of her while you were in Korea?
Jack Whelan: Oh, sure. All the time. But the point is that it’s not fair. You don’t have three days
Han: You seem like a judge.
Jack Whelan: Pardon?
Han: You seem like a judge. [laughter] You should have been yourself. Writing letters and crying for her and then finally…
Jack Whelan: No. No. I figured well if she’s still around when I get
back I’ll look her up.
Han: And so, what happened? When you came back, did you…
Jack Whelan: I did. Didn’t work.
Han: What did you do?
Jack Whelan: I went up to see her in Boston. She kicked me out.
Sidney: No, he grew up like seven years and was really tough. I grew up like three minutes in that time. And he was just like scary. [laughter] And so I discouraged it.
Han: And then?
Sidney Whelan: And then I didn’t see him at all. And then I graduated from the University of Michigan, and I remember thinking I wonder what ever happened to Jack Whelan. And so I looked him up at Princeton.
Sidney Whelan: And it clicked right away. So I knew him seven years, and we’ve been married 63.
Han: When did you marry?
Sidney Whelan: When did we get married, ’56.
Han: ’56. Here’s question did he share any war experience with you?
Han: No? See, that’s why the war become forgotten. Because he don’t talk. You are responsible for that nickname.
Sidney Whelan: No, we never talked about it.
Jack Whelan: You know there’s no point making a mess out of…
Han: Do you know anything about Korea, the country
that he fought?
Sidney Whelan: Not really.
Han: Not really.
Sidney Whelan: Not really.
Han: Do you know anything about Korea now?
Sidney Whelan: No.
Han: Not really. That’s why we need to do more. So, Patrick, tell me did he ever talk to you about the war ever?
Patrick Whelan: I’ll tell you that when my father was growing up he knew very little about Korea. His grandparents
had been to Korea working on the railroad during the 1920s. And so he didn’t know very much as a child as most Americans didn’t. I knew about Korea through my father, and it wasn’t specifics about the war, but rather lessons that he had to say about issues of honor and issues of respect and issues of perseverance.
Han: You don’t have to beautify anything.
Patrick Whelan: But the stories that my father would say about those values that oftentimes he would have an example from his experience in Korea about the people that he worked with and so forth who represented those values. And so, my notion of Korea was as a place where my father had been and a place that had those values. And so
He, as parents will do, they will tell morality stories. And so some, not all, but some of those morality stories involved his time working with the Korean people.
Han: As a history teacher, especially A.P. World History teacher, why do you think that the Korean War has been forgotten?
Patrick Whelan: That’s a good question, and I think that it’s a misunderstanding that especially in the wake of World War II that the Korean War was not seen as a complete victory.
I think that in many ways it was a victory for the people who now live in the south. And I think that just as the Vietnam War that that followed, that there was some ambiguity with the end of the war. There was not a peace treaty. There still has not been a peace treaty. There was an armistice. And so as a result of that unfinished aspect, the story was not told because stories need to have an ending. And the Korean War has not had an ending
Han: Excellent point. Do you teach about Korea in your class?
Patrick Whelan: Yes.
Han: Tell me please, what do you teach?
Patrick Whelan: As a teacher I get to choose the examples that I want to choose and Korea has become part of that. Not just Korea in the Korean War or the story of the Korean economic miracle but some of Korean history before to add context to East Asia. In the United States if we teach about Asia and world
history it’s focus is mostly on China and to some extent on Japan. But I tried to include some stories about Korean culture especially King Sejong and the Korean alphabetb, Korean metallurgy, the idea of Korean palace culture, and some of those aspects of Confucianism, Buddhism, and some of the belief systems that have been transmitted through Korean culture to other places.
Han: Are you going to Korea?
Patrick Whelan: Yes.
Han: Have you been to Korea?
Patrick Whelan: I’ve been to Korea once. I’ll be returning again this July to take part in a teaching fellowship that’s sponsored by the World History Digital Education group, and so I’ll be joining 30 other people, educators from all across the country. And we’ll be in mostly in Seoul, South Korea, also visiting the Demilitarized Zone and doing
some work in schools and also doing some investigation of religious culture in Korea and temples and so forth.
Han: It is the realities, not just you know the people that I know, but most of the Americans didn’t have to pay attention to a small country so-called Korea until the war broke out. But even after the war broke out, we still don’t teach about it even though there are
such to me a very important region in the world affairs right now. Our president Trump Kim Jong un talking about denuclearization and, you know, building Trump Tower in Pyongyang. All these things. I think it captures the importance of the unfinished business of the Korean War. I want to ask you one more time, you are watching your father’s witness.
Patrick Whelan: Yes.
Han: And for a teacher who knows about Korea in 1950 and the Korea right now, the contemporary Korea, is all of it. But from your perspective when you hear from what your father is saying, what were you thinking? Anything that you want to share with us together?
Patrick Whelan: Well first of all it’s wonderful that he was so generous to share his time and his experience. He’s a very open person, and you can tell in this story that his personality is
really coming through. Everything that he said today is very much in keeping with the way in which Jack Whelan has lived his life.
Jack Whelan: Well that’s nice of you to say.
Patrick Whelan: In thinking about his comments about Korea in particular about the issue of its transformation, this is something that’s actually in that book that he showed because it’s a question that we asked students.
Who is most responsible for this transformation? And in the exercise, we divide students into one group representing the government, another group representing the corporations, and the third group representing the Korean citizens themselves and present them with documents and evidence. And they’re to make that decision. And so I think that it’s the, if you will, that historical question that is not for me to answer but rather for my students
to answer. And I’m going to give them the materials in which to make those judgments.
Han: That’s why I love your son. He is answering the way that I want him to.
Jack Whelan: I have an addition if I may. You asked Sidney if I had told her war stories.
Jack Whelan: And I have a point of view, and I’d like sort of pass it on. I believe that in a democracy that when
a soldier is conscripted to protect the nation whatever the reason, he does his job and he is returned to citizenship. He takes off his uniform, and he doesn’t look back. He doesn’t carry the horror of war into his home or the community or anything else.
That it’s done. And he’s not asking for approbation. He’s not asking for any kind of recognition. He’s simply a citizen had done his job.
Han: So from your perspective, Vietnam War is almost most of the kind of exceptional, right? Being treated, how being treated
here in our education and curricular resources. Do you agree that?
Patrick Whelan: I think a great deal of attention was on the Vietnam War because of the generation that was that was involved. The Korean War occurred so soon after World War II.
Jack Whelan: And I had a lot to do with the fact that we knew what war was.
Patrick Whelan: That’s right. And that there were television cameras in Vietnam and widespread media coverage as it was happening. And so in the Korean War, as my
father said, there were news blackouts. The material that my father wrote as a correspondent was heavily censored in a way that it was not in the Vietnam War.
Han: Are you proud to be a Korean War veteran?
Jack Whelan: Oh yes, of course. Oh yes. I am a pacifist as all
veterans of combat probably are. Few aren’t. But I am proud that our country stood up to protect South Korea, and therefore I can’t help but be proud that I was part of it.
Han: What do you think is the important legacy of the Korean War in general, independent of your personal service?
Jack Whelan: Well the legacy is the strength
of South Korea. That’s the legacy. We may also say that we did protect against the onrush of communism from the North. That’s certainly part of the legacy. But in terms of what impresses one, its South Korea.
Han: Any other episode that you remember and wanting to share?
Jack Whelan: None that I would think of offhand. You stir the pot all sorts of beans come rolling around, but I don’t think about it a lot. It’s not something that pervades my life view. It’s just something like we all experience and took away.
Han: Any other comments that you want to leave in the interview? Patrick?
Patrick Whelan: I think that wartime always causes damage, and it always has casualties that are both the physical casualties to death and the injuries, but also it leaves other damages as well. And one of the things that my father told me growing up is that we should not rush into war, and that and that war is something always to be sad about. Sometimes necessary, oftentimes
not, but always something to be done with great seriousness. And that to treat the idea of the damage of war much more broadly than just the dead and the injured but also to deal with those human issues that involve the civilians and those unrecognizable injuries that are not visible with the people who returned.
Han: Thank you again. It’s a wonderful time that I had.
Jack Whelan: Thank you.
Han: I think there are many, many points that our young generations learning from you.
Jack Whelan: It’s been very exciting to talk to you, and I was impressed that you would even want to. But you’ve carried me back. You’ve made me feel that maybe I do have something to be proud of, and you may be a good example of that.
Han: Wow, thank you very much. Thank you
for your service for the country that you didn’t really know much about it for now it demonstrates how valuable your service was.
Jack Whelan: Thank you.
Han: Thank you.
Jack Whelan: Okay.
[End of recorded material]