Kim H. McMillan
Kim H. McMillan left a carpenter job and his fiancée, Elizabeth, to join the New Zealand Army at age twenty. Arriving in Korea after the armistice in 1954, he vividly remembers the smell of Busan from aboard the ship and his fellow soldiers’ initial reaction. Cold winters and attempts to stay warm at night top his list of greatest challenges during his eighteen months in Korea. During his service as a carpenter in a workshop crew, he witnessed the physical destruction of the nation in 1956. Kim H. McMillan is amazed by Korea’s transformation today.
First Impressions of Korea
Kim McMillan describes his journey to Korea by boat to Busan. The terrible smell met him as he sailed into the port. Passing through Seoul to join his unit, he was dismayed at the sad and backward state of the country. The Korean people looked depressed. Initially assigned as a driver in the transportation unit of 10 Company, his superiors later assigned him to the workshop unit as a carpenter.
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Engaged, Alone, and Cold
Kim McMillan left his fiancée, Elizabeth, to enlist in the New Zealand Army, but he wrote letters home twice weekly. Memories of Korea include going to bed fully dressed in the cold winters and the state of Seoul as he left in 1956. Seoul remained damaged by the war. Very little construction was underway, although Syngman Rhee diverted funds provided by the United States for a hospital into the building of a hotel.
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Transformation and Learning About The Korean War
Kim McMillan contrasts impressions about South Korea's modern economy and the miraculous turnaround with his experiences during the war. His daughter, Deborah, joins the interview and explains that New Zealand students do not learn much about Korea. She has asked her father questions about his experiences in order to better understand his role in the Korean War.
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Tensions at the Base
Kim McMillan describes the tension at his base between North Korean civilians and South Koreans. Several North Koreans worked in the galley and the South Koreans did not like them. While in Korea, he attained the rank of Lance Corporal.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
K: My names is Kim
I: Um hm.
K: K I M
I: Um hm.
K: M C M I L L A N.
I: What is the ethnic origin of this middle name, [Higert]?
K: Hegor is Danish.
K: My mother was Danish. So, yeah.
I: What is your birthday?
K: Two, eight, thirty-three, second of August.
I: So August 2nd?
I: What year?
I: Thirty -three. So you are now 86, 6?
K: Five, I’m sorry.
I: I don’t wanna add up.
K: I don’t know why,
I: Eighty-five. You’re pretty young among Korean War veterans in New Zealand, right?
K: Yeah. I was, um, uh, 20 when I went over there. So
I: Yes. And where were you born?
K: Stratford, New Zealand.
I: Could you spell it?
K: S T R A T FO R D. It’s in Taranaki.
I: Okay. And tell me about your family background when you were growing up and when you a child, your parents and your siblings.
K: Um, let me see. I was born in Stratford, lived in Stratford, uh, for, till I was about 7 I think, yeah 7. And then we moved to
K: and, um, I had a brother, I have a brother who’s, uh, was born just on, when we came to Wellington, um. What else do I say?
I: Okay. And tell me about the school you went through.
K: I went to primary school in Stratford and then, then came to Wellington when I was in, um, went to [INAUDIBLE]
school, um, in Wellington, then to [INAUDIBLE] we shifted into [INAUDIBLE] Bay, and I went to the [INAUDIBLE] primary school and then to, excuse me, [INAUDIBLE] College which is in uh, the Eastern Suburbs of, of Wellington.
I: So college means here high school or
K: High school, yes.
I: University ?
K: High school.
I: High school.
I: Okay. And when did you
finish your high school, college?
K: Um, let me see. It would have been ’40, forty-eight , forty-nine, forty-eight, yeah.
I: Forty-eight? And this question is important. Did you learn, you gotta be honest with me. Did you learn anything from school about Korean history of Korea?
I: Not at all?
K: Not at all, no.
I: Nobody taught you about it.
K: No, no.
I: Wasn’t there in the textbook either.
K: No, no. There was, no. It was right, you didn’t really know of Korea in those days, you know, in my schooling days.
I: I’m asking this question because you went to Korea to fight for the Korean Nation. And then you been back to Korea, right, as a revisit?
K: No I haven’t unfortunately I haven’t gone.
I: You never been back to Korea?
K: I’d never, I would have loved to go.
I: Yes. You should. And you know that Korean government has a revisit program, right, invite you back to Korea. So if you apply, I think you can go with your daughter, too.
K: Oh yeah.
I: Yeah. So please, let Elaine know about it, okay, that you want to go.
I: So after you graduate high school, what did you do?
K: I took up an apprenticeship as a carpenter.
I: Good job.
I: It’s the job of Jesus, right? And when did you join the military?
K: Uh, I came out of my time after doing, serving five years apprenticeship and, uh, when was it, it was 50, had an apprenticeship in 52, 53, yeah, 53, yeah, I think
and, um, I was working as a builder, and then one of my friends, school friends, joined up to go to Korea and, uh, I went and saw him off when he went overseas and I thought I’ll go, too. So
I: You were, you were making money already, right, around that time, and you gave up and you volunteered to join?
I: Oh, boy.
You weren’t that smart. [LAUGHS]
I: [INAUDIBLE] war?
K: Uh, yeah. Although, uh, the fighting as such as over when I went there. We were still on active service, though. But, the actual fighting was
K: Ceased, yes.
I: Yeah. So you knew that Korean War broke out already, right?
K: Oh yes, yes.
I: Um hm. And so, where did you get the basic military training?
K: Well, uh, Waiouru.
I: And from there, when did you leave for Korea?
K: Uh, it would have been October ’54.
I: Kay. And where did you arrive?
K: When we arrived, uh,
I: In Korea?
Well, we flew straight through. We flew from, uh, Auckland or [Phinilapi] to, uh, we went to, from there to [Prisbun]. Then we went from [Prisbun] to [Tonsul] We spent a night there. And then from, um, we went from [Tonsul] to [Manus] Island,
[Manus] Island to Guam, and we stayed a night there. And then we went from Guam to, uh, hang on, Iwo Jima I think it was. Then we went into, uh, Kurae
K: No, into, we went into Japan first. Went to our base camp in Japan.
I: Yes. And then where did you arrive in Korea? Was it Kimpo?
K: No, Pusan.
[Wonsan and the, uh, Wonsan was a camp they built up]. Other one was called
I: So you went to Korea by ship.
I: And arrived in Pusan.
K: Pusan, yeah.
I: Tell me about the Pusan you first saw or tell me about the Korea you first saw. Be honest, okay? You can be brutally honest.
K: I was horrified. All the, um, uh, the, the smell of, uh, Pusan, you could, you know, out at sea before we even got to the place, we could smell it, you know. It was
I: Was good?
K: It was [LAUGHS] they took us once we landed in, uh, Pusan, uh, we, uh, they took some trucks to a transit camp and, uh, there were guards, they all puking on the
back of the truck. Oh, the stench, you know. [INAUDIBLE]
I: Um. So you talking to yourself, what the hell am I doing here, right?
K: Exactly. Yeah.
I: How did the Korean people look to you?
I: Be honest.
K: Depressed, yeah.
I: Depressed. What about their housing and the cities that you saw? Give me the detail, more detail.
I: You need to talk more.
K: [LAUGHS] Actually I have different memories. Um, the people looked depressed. The housing that we actually saw on our initial arrival there was, was pretty rough, you know. It was pretty rundown and Seoul, uh. We had struck a very
backward country could we put it that, put it that way, you know. Um, And, uh, yeah, it was, it was hard to sort of comprehend.
I: Um. And from Pusan, where did you go?
K: Um, we, they put us on a train, and we went up to, uh, Seoul.
K: Yeah, Seoul. And then we [INAUDIBLE] And then we were picked up and taken to our, um,
different battery units from there, from Seoul.
I: So how long did you stay in Seoul? Did you stay there long?
I: No. So you moved to
K: We didn’t stay in Seoul at all. It was just transfer.
I: Passing, passing through. And then, where did you end up staying?
K: Uh, it was
I: Do you remember the camp name, like a Kansas Line or Jamestown?
K: Uh, we went to, well, we were all sorted out what units we’d be going to.
I: What unit was yours?
K: I went to the transport for starter.
I: Transportation unit?
I: Um hm. And what was that 16th Field Regiment or what was it
K: No, it was part of, um, 10 Company
I: Ten Company?
I: Yeah. But the company level is lower level. But what was the bigger unit? Was it Regiment?
K: Well, it was, uh, no. That was, uh, I was 10 Company. That was the only,
that was the [INAUDIBLE] cause they’d disbanded the, um, artillery unit of that size. So it was only the [INAUDIBLE]
I: Got it.
K: which was 10 Company.
I: And what was your specialty actually?
K: Well, I was a drive, they started me off as a driver.
K: And, but, uh, 10, um, we only lasted there about a month. And then they disbanded the transport, and they found out I was a Captain, so they sent me to workshops.
K: And, uh, which was a unique, um, a unique [INAUDIBLE] because it was the only transport, AOC transport unit in the Commonwealth that had a workshop unit attached to it And, uh,
I: Um hm. So what kind of job did you do in the workshop?
I: So for example, what did you do? Did you build the table
K: Oh, we was just [INAUDIBLE] all maintenance truck techs and, uh, um, when the officers had a furnish, we, we had to do things up for them and that sort of thing and, uh,
I: I see.
K: Uh, much to our disgust.
I: And tell me about the situation in the frontline at the time. It’s already, the Armistice was signed, right?
K: The cease fire done.
So there were no real battle between North and South, right?
I: How was the situation? Tell me about it. Was it peaceful, or was it still dangerous? What was going on at the time?
K: Well, well, it was, I would say it was, uh, always uneasy put it that way.
I: Um hm.
K: Just seemed to be a bit of tension around, um, really, uh.
I: With a reason or without?
K: Um, I couldn’t, we couldn’t, you couldn’t really put a finger on it. It was just a
I: Still very tension?
K: Yeah, yeah. Um, but we, uh, I’m gonna be perfectly honest
K: about the situation. We were, well, our personal feelings were with South Koreans, uh, were, um,
we would, uh, well, we had a, um, helped, um, help in the galley and all that, and galley and that which were, you know, um, Koreans. And we had a couple of actually North Koreans with us.
I: How? Just a civilian, right?
K: Yeah, yeah.
I: North Korean civilians.
K: Well, well, yeah, that, that were used as um, help, you know, in the,
within the camp, uh, within our unit. And, uh, they were good guys, you know. And, uh, and yet a lot of South Koreans would, uh, try to do us in or try and flog stuff on us, and that’s [INAUDIBLE] So we
I: There was some tension between South and North Koreans.
K: Yeah, yeah. So
I: How, how did you think of Korean people that you worked together there? How did you think about them?
I: They were in a miserable situation even though the War ended, right ?
K: Yeah, yeah. It was, yeah, yeah. Absolutely, uh, that’s to say they were still seemed very depressed and oh, I’ll [INAUDIBLE] um. Yeah.
I: Um. What was your rank at the time?
K: I ended up as a Lance Corporal.
I : That’s pretty high.
K: Oh, you’re kidding.
I: Corporal is pretty high, no?
K: Oh, yeah. It’s the, the rank where you’re covered from both sides.
I: That’s right. You are sandwiched.
K: Yeah, sandwiched really.
I: Can I ask this question? How much more you paid at the time? Corporal? Your annual salary.
K: Oh, annual salary, oh gosh.
I: Monthly. About
K: We got about
I think it was, gosh, it was around about a pound.
I: Pound per week?
K: Um, yes,. something like that, yeah.
I: Yes. So with that money, what did you do?
K: Well, we a certain amount was,
we had to make a contribution to our save, we had to put that into a savings account. I bought stuff and sent stuff home and, you know, went out to, we got leave in Japan. So we, uh, yeah.
I: Did you marry at the time?
I: You were not married?
K: No, I was engaged.
I: Wow, you were brutal. You engaged and you had a job, and you left
You, so what was, what was the name of the woman that you were engaged?
I: Did you write letter back to her?
K: Yeah, yeah.
I: How often did you do it?
K: Oh heck. I suppose once, twice a week, something like that.
I: Twice a day, you are lying, right?
K: No, wait, wait. [LAUGHS] No. I wasn’t that good. Uh, maybe once
or twice a week, yeah.
I: What did you write about?
K: Rubbish. About rubbish.
K: Yeah, just, um, I actually what we were doing or what happened.
I: Do you still, still keep that letters?
K: Uh, no. I got rid of those.
I: [INAUDIBLE] Okay. Must been rated.. Alright. So
What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea, even though the war ended plus hill, what did bother you mostly? If I ask you to pinpoint only one thing, what was the most difficult thing?
K: Uh, I don’t really know. There’s
I: Was it weather or
K: Oh, weather. The winter was,
was bitter, really bitter. And, uh, we, um, uh, living in tents in that, those conditions was cold, uh. You’d go to bed and, I always go to bed and put my [INAUDIBLE] full marching order, you know, fully dressed and, you know, still would be cold. You wake up in the morning and this, you’re in a sleeping bag where you’ve been breathing there’s all ice around you and uh, yeah. I would say, you know, I would say that would be the, the biggest.
I: Um hm.
I: And when did you leave Korea?
K: It would have been, uh, no, April, it was just before Anzac Day, uh. So that would have been April, uh, ’56.
I: And are you following up with what’s been done in Korean economy and so on? What’s, you know, the modern Korea. What do you know about Korea?
K: Well, not a great deal. But I do, you know. I’m interested in
I: What do you know now?
K: Uh, well you put me on the spot.
I: Do you know about the Korean economy?
K: Uh. Well it seems to be, uh, it’s definitely perked up from, to what it was, you know, um, uh, when we were there. It’s, uh, and that’s, that’s one of the things I would like, well, I’d like to go back years to see
see what exactly has been done because I got the impression that, uh, in Seoul, that wasn’t, uh, you know. It was a big city. But it wasn’t such a
I: Have you been to Seoul during your stay there in Korea?
K: Oh yes.
I: Oh. Tell me about Seoul you saw. Tell me.
K: Uh, I wasn’t impressed with it. I thought [INAUDIBLE] for a, for being the capital city in that sort of way, it wasn’t, didn’t impress me at all. It was, when we got
There was all sorts of stories going around about Syngman Rhee, about how he, um, well, one of the stories was that the Yanks had given him, given them a, a, a hospital or something and he turn, turned that into a hotel and, uh. So, you know, we weren’t, well, the general opinion wasn’t, we weren’t overly impressed with, uh, with the situation.
I: Were there any construction going around because War ended,
or still just remained as it was during the War?
K : It remained as it was. There was no construction.
I: So you didn’t see much buildings there.
K: No, no.
I: How ‘bout people. Were there crowded with the people, right, because War ended?
K: Uh, yeah. It was crowded. It was, the, um, it was, uh, no.
I: Now Korean economy world rank is number 11.
I: And by 2030, it will be bigger than France. It’s going to be ranked number 7, right behind the Great Britain.
I: We project it to be number 7 in the world. Can you believe that?
K: I could believe it because, you know, the stuff they’re doing there with their, you know, the vehicle manufacturing and all that sort of thing that’s coming through, uh.
I: Um hm.
K: It’s, uh, it’s quite amazing to see, you know, or what, uh, for them to go from that to what it was when we were there, you know, cause they, you know, I gotta admit it was, it seemed to be a very backward, down, downtrodden count ry.
I: Yeah, at the time. There was nothing, actually vertically standing there.
K: Yeah, yeah.
I: But now we are the largest ship builder in the world,
I: and we are the largest sharer of the semi-conductor market
I: you know? Most of the com, computer chips made by us. So I think this is a great transformation. But here I wanna invite your daughter together, okay, and I wanna ask about some of the historical educations in New Zealand about Korea. So. Now we have, uh, your daughter with you. Please say your name.
D: Deborah Kay Pattington.
I: Yes. And, so she was born after you returned, right ?
K: I hope so. [LAUGHS]
I: Dumb question to ask. So, uh, Deborah, tell me about your high school days. You grown up here, and you graduate here. You went to, through school here
I: Did you learn anything about Korea,
either War or modern or ancient Korea from your high school History or Middle School History classes?
I: Not at all?
I: Yes. So you didn’t know much about the Korean War from the education, History education.
I: Not at all?
D: I just left college in my 8th year to go to [INAUDIBLE] I, and I, yeah, I don’t, [INAUDIBLE] that much.
I: Did your father talk about the War at all?
D: No. Only in the later years.
I: Late years?
I: What did he, what did he tell you about it?
D: Oh, just wanting to know more about what happened, um, to little snippets from Mum as well. And, um, yeah. It’s probably last few years, isn’t it, Dad, that, well, we’ve been asking questions.
I: You’ve been asking. What kind of questions did you ask?
D: Um, just what happened? I mean, I hear things from Mum saying, you know,
Dad was over there for 18 months [INAUDIBLE] if you don’t come home. Engagement’s off.
I: Yeah. Your wife must been very difficult.
D: He had to come home.
I: Yeah, come home, come home.
D: Um, we’ve had some nights, um, Dad’s got some slides and some flash cards of over there. Yeah.
I: Oh. Does he have some photos and slides?
D: Slides, haven’t you, Dad?
K: Yeah. Yeah. Actually I lost, um, when we came back, um, we came back on the New Australia to, to Sydney and, um, I had, at Sydney Port when we were getting on the plane to come home they, someone punched all my slides, and I lost about 200 slides.
K: And a projector and everything so, which was
uh, quite upsetting. So, but I still have just a few slides, got quite a few, um, photographs.
I: Few, like 100?
I: Few like 100 or more than that?
K: No, I wouldn’t have that many slides of
I: And it’s about Korean scenery, right?
K: Yeah, it was, yeah.
I: Could you leave it to Elaine so that we can scan this and
K: If I can find them, I’ll dig them out, y es.
I: Yes, please. Yeah. Dig them out please. Deborah, please help him find it.
D: Oh, absolutely, yes, I will.
K: What about, um, what about black and white photos?
I: Absolutely. If it is during your service
I: about Korea, we want it. Otherwise, it’s going to be buried.
I: You know, we all die, and when we die, we, everything goes with it.
D: That’s right.
I: Not many people really pay attention to it.
K: They should.
I: So that’s why we are doing this. We going to put this interview into the website so that everybody can see you
and hear from you about Korea that you served
I: You know?
D: Um hm.
I: And because you didn’t learn anything from school, we are going to make it as a curricular resources.
I: Okay, so that your children and your grandchildren will learn about your fat her.
I: How about that?
D: Yeah. Perfect. Wonderful.
I: Would you, would you support that?
I: So we have already
published a book, curricular resources lesson plan modules and primary and secondary resources for the teachers so that they can teach about Korea in the classroom. There is not many lesson plans. That’s why they didn’t teach. And I think it will be the case in New Zealand, too, right ?
I: So what do you know about Korea now?
D: Well, um, just snippets of what Dad sort of said, um.
you know, about how he said how barren it was, and it was very cold winter and very hot in summer, um. Stuff about what they made, made a washing machine which he’s got a photo of the washing machine, and he’s actually, they made. It doesn’t look like a washing machine but apparently it worked.
I: I thought you were talking about Samsung Laundry machine. But no, but that, you’re talking about the
D: They made it.
I: washing machine
D: They made it.
I: in 1954.
D: Yes. I know. It’s like not having a washing machine but yeah, it was.
K: This is the thing with being in workshops. We had the ability and machinery to make things, you know. So we, we, uh, were quite envy, the envy of a lot of the units there because the other side, we built a, a washing machine. It was made out of a drum,
a fuel drum from, what would be about 60 liter drum with paddles and that and then the, it had a, a little boost Stratton pitch from a two-stroke motor running it.
I: Do you have the picture?
K: Yeah. I have it, yeah.
I: Oh, you know Deborah? You have to make sure
D: I will.
I: that he will give that picture and others to Elaine
I: So we can scan this, and then we can put this interview into the website with your picture,
and maybe Deborah’s picture there, too, and then we can put all the pictures that you took, and they, people can find the
I: 1954 laundry machine.
I: Yeah. So you know that Korean economy is now 11th largest in the world, bigger than New Zealand. You know that, right?
I: Yeah. What do you think about this? The country your father visited with your mom
left alone in New Zealand, and now the Korea is 11th largest in the world, and it is very substantively democratic society.
I: What do you think about this whole transformation?
D: I think it’s amazing because, you know, Dad, like Dad said, you know, they had nothing. It was very, yeah. So, so to go that far was just incredible. [INAUDIBLE] people.
I: But we don’t teach about it.
I: It’s a shame, isn’t it?
D: It is, a big shame.
I: Yeah. That’s why I’m doing this. I was a little bit of upset that U.S. doesn’t talk much about the War, either.
I: Thirty-seven thousand people killed in that war from the United States.
I: But they don’t talk about it.
I: Yeah. So that’s why we are doing this. Do you know of any History or Social Studies teachers in New Zealand?
Any of your family teach in the school or in, do you know of anybody?
D: No, but I can find out.
D: Yeah. I’ve got some, being a hairdresser, I’ve got all sorts of people coming in, and I have got some teachers.
I: Very good.
D: So, yeah. Yeah.
I: So you have now a new mission, to find, uh, Social Studies teachers and let them connect with us, and Elaine here, in VA Office, ok?
I: Beautiful. Um, Kim,
you have a beautiful first name, Kim. That’s the most popular last name in Korea
I: If you hit the, I mean, if you throw the stone from the mountain, maybe 5 out of 10 will be hit on the people whose last name is Kim.
K: Kim, yeah, yeah. I got quite a bit of stick out of that when we were over t here.
I: What would you say to the
people in New Zealand about the Korea you saw 1954 and the Korea you know now? What would you say to them?
K: Uh, I would say it’s an exceptional, um, transgression really in the, it’s a pity we don’t do something like that, too. Putting a bloody,
pull your fingers out and stuff, you know.
I: Are you proud that you served in Korea?
I: Okay. So that’s why we are doing this, and great to see you together. And as Deborah said, she didn’t learn much about Korea here.
I: So that’s what we want to do.
D: Thank you. It’s a great privilege, yeah.
Any other message you want to leave to this interview?
K: I don’t think so. Just it would be nice to think there was no conflict anywhere in the world. But just people live in peace and harmony, peace and harmony.
K: That’s um, yeah, But, uh, it doesn’t seem to be. It’s the way of human nature for people to live in harmony.
I: Yeah, it’s hard. Great. Thank you so much again for coming for this special occasion. We’ll make sure we edit this, put it into the website, and then we’ll try to use this as a curricular resources. Thank you again for your service, honorable service. Thank you, Kim.
K: Thank you.
I: Thank you, Deborah.
D: Thanks, no, thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]