Mmadu Onyeuwa was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and moved to Puerto Rico after working with inspirational Puerto Rican soldiers during the Korean War. After being drafted in 1967, he was trained as a medic for the US Army. In 1968, he was sent to Korea to serve as a Korean Defense soldier and he worked all over the country transporting injured/sick soldiers. His love for the Spanish and Korean languages motivated him to learn how to speak both languages fluently. Though he hopes to go back and visit Korea and meet the Puerto Rican soldiers that he worked with during his deployment, this has been a difficult task to fulfill.
Mmadu Onyeuwa explains that he would love to return to Korea to learn more about the culture and language. He goes on to explain that he has not had the opportunity yet, but he has looked into teaching where he served as a Korean War Defense Veteran. Though he is not familiar with the economic strides South Korea has made, he would like to spend upwards of five years in Korea to have a truly fulfilling experience.
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Korea making an Impression
Mmadu Onyeuwa was sent to Korea during the winter of 1968. He describes seeing very deep, waist high snow. He explains that though he spent a good deal of time with the Puerto Ricans, his instinct told him to spend more time immersing himself in the Korean culture. He describes learning the Korean language as well as customs and music.
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Puerto Rican and US Army Working at DMZ
Mmadu Onyeuwa explains that he worked with hundreds of Puerto Rican soldiers during his deployment to Korea in 1968. He describes the free spiritedness of the Puerto Rican soldiers; a sharp contrast to the people of Memphis during that racist time. The love he felt from them made him want to move to Puerto Rico once he finished his tour.
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INTERVIEWER: It’s a February 15, Lajas Puerto Rico, my name is Jongwoo Han, I’m the president of Korean War Legacy Foundation, and I am very pleased to meet you here, and to be able to listen from your service in Korea. so please introduce yourself what is your name?
ONYEUWA, MMADU: My name is Mmadu Onyeuwa.
I: Spell it.
OM: Okay. Mmadu is M M A D U
OM: Onyeuwa O N Y E U W A.
I: Could you pronounce it again?
OM: Mmadu Onyeuwa.
I: What is the ethnic background of this name?
OM: This is from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria.
OM: Igbo I G B O. Igbo.
I: How you end up in Puerto Rico?
I: Were you born?
OM: I was not born in Puerto Rico; I was born in Memphis Tennessee.
OM: But it’s because of Puerto Rico… that I am here is because of Korea, that I’m here. Let me explain that to you when I went to Korea, my first goal was to learn the Spanish language very, well, as I had already started in Texas, I went to… what we call… what is called MI… oh this is not what it is called… the second train that you get in the Army, I was in San Antonio, Texas
OM: There, I started learning Spanish because I saw a lot of Puerto Ricans, and when I went to Korea I continued to study Spanish, but then I said wait, most of the people are speaking Korean, let me learn Korean, and that’s when I started studying Korean, and then, after that well, I still wanted to come to Puerto Rico so that’s why I’m here, you know, having met the Puerto Rican soldiers that made me interested in coming here.
I: Very interesting, oh, I’m going to get into that later, okay?
I: What is your birthday?
OM: Oh, I don’t usually like to tell that, and especially if you’re going to put it all over the Internet. I’ll tell you but I don’t like to tell you that. Is it… Do you want me to tell you that? I will, I will but if you really want me to.
I: If I say so…
OM: Then I will.
OM: Okay I was born on July 4th 1947.
OM: July 4th.
I: July 4th.
I: Mhm. And why you don’t want to talk about it?
OM: Because I don’t necessarily like to talk about my birthday.
I: Mhm, okay.
OM: I just don’t like to talk about it. I mean, only a few people in Puerto Rico know my birthday, until today, today, you know, everyone will know my birthday but there it is.
I: I’ll remember whenever there is a July 4th fireworks.
OM: All right.
I: Mmadu, Mmadu.
OM: That’s right, Mmadu date.
I: Yeah, so tell me about the time that you were growing up your parents your siblings.
OM: Okay, I was born in Memphis Tennessee. July 4th, 1947, and by that time, I had four brothers and sisters, older than myself. My oldest brother was born in
OM: 19… when was it now… 59.
OM: No, 59 no. It’s not right. He was a graduated from school in 59. Anyway he was six years older than me. I can’t think of the year he was born, 1940 something…
I: Yeah, yeah.
OM: Okay, anyway we grew up in a family that was a very musical. I like to talk about my Grandmother, who played guitar and sang and played piano my uncle who played guitar…
I: Are they all from Nigeria?
OM: Oh no, no, no. We all were born in Memphis, Tennessee. Yeah but all…
I: Originally, originally.
OM: Oh yeah, Nigeria background. Yes. Okay, but then, in our family everyone played music, from my oldest brother all the way down to my baby sister,
I: What about you?
OM: There was ten of us, ten brothers and sisters, and we all played music and we all play music today.
I: What do you play?
OM: I play mostly piano, guitar, saxophone, trumpet,
OM: flute, and percussion instruments.
I: So, tell me the instrument that you cannot play.
OM: I don’t know, there are a lot of instruments I cannot play. The ones I’ve never seen. The ones I’ve never seen I can’t play. I also played some violin, so, I play many instruments.
I: Okay, I’ll bring some instruments later, okay?
OM: All right, no problem.
I: Wow, musical family.
OM: Musical family, and if you can imagine Memphis Tennessee
OM: in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.
OM: You must know something about the racism that was there, and when I first started riding the bus, I had to ride in the back, you know, not in the front or anything like that, we had to ride in the back of the bus, we were mistreated quite bad, but anyway, that’s past now, and I don’t like to talk about that too much.
I: It’s really bad.
OM: It was a bad situation.
I: And we still have structural problems.
OM: I know, I know.
I: You know, this is ridiculous.
OM: I know.
I: So. What do you want to do about it? what do you think you can do it?
OM: Well, I don’t think that I can necessarily change the hearts of people, I try to do it with my music, but it doesn’t reach the masses, you know, that’s one thing I think music can do, it can make people like each other,
OM: if not love each other, and that’s what I try to do with my music.
I: Man, your family could form a small Orchestra.
OM: We’ve done that before, yeah.
I: Tell me about it.
OM: Well, whenever we get together, you know, family reunions it’s a big musical party.
I: My goodness.
OM: Oh yes, some of them I have on video as a matter of fact.
I: Could you share that?
OM: Sure, sure.
I: I want to attach the film…
OM: Sure, sure.
I: with your interview, so that everybody can see it.
OM: I will have to just go home and get that. I don’t live in Lajas, I live in Las Marias, so it depends on how long you’re going to be around.
I: No, you can upload it into Dropbox.
OM: Okay. I can do that. Sure, I can do that.
I: Whoa, that’s very…
OM: Because we go there… my aunt whose, I think, 83 years old now, and in our last reunion she was playing the piano and singing, and… you know, it’s musical family not only the 10 of us but rather,
OM: My aunts, my uncles, and everybody played music.
I: That’s phenomenal. So, tell me about the school you went through.
I: And place, and the name, and the year that you finished.
OM: Sure, I will. Oh, all right.
I: I told you that I am going to drill you.
OM: No problem. I’m for that. I went to Klondike Elementary School. Please, don’t ask me, when do you are started? I started when I was six years old, I think…
OM: Klondike Elementary School, I was there from grades 1 until grade 8, from there I went to the famous Manassas High School, they’ve written a movie about Manasses, I don’t know if you saw that?
OM: You haven’t seen the movie?
OM: There’s a movie about Manassas High School, and I was there from 9th to the 12th grade.
I: When did you finish? what year did you…?
OM: I finished 1965,
OM: and after finishing there, majoring in mathematics…
OM: I majored in mathematics.
I: From musical family?
OM: Yeah, yeah. Well, most of us were very good in math so I majored in math.
I: Do you like calculus?
OM: Oh yeah, I was a perfect score in calculus 100, you know, an average in calculus 100.
I: I need to see the transcript.
OM: Ok, I have those too.
I: Hahaha, just kidding.
OM: I have those too.
I: Just kidding. So, what did you do after graduate?
OM: I went to what was called Memphis State University, now it’s called the University of Memphis.
OM: But it was called in Memphis State University, and I continued to major in mathematics but, fortunately, I was called to go to the army.
I: What do you mean, draft?
OM: Yeah, I was drafted to go to the army.
OM: I’m glad I was.
OM: Because I went…
OM: First of all, I met Puerto Ricans, then I met Koreans. And that’s that changed my life completely.
I: What does that make you feel that you want to go to military.
OM: No, I didn’t want to go to the military. I was forced to go to the Military.
I: So, you were drafted.
OM: I was drafted yes.
OM: And then… but it was a blessing, because I met Spanish-speaking people and I met Koreans.
I: So, where did you go to get the basic military training?
OM: First, I went to Fort Campbell Kentucky, that’s basically training.
OM: And then for… what does it call, AIT? I forget what it’s called your second training, I got in Fort Sam Houston Texas.
OM: Fort Sam Houston Texas. I became a, what we call today, paramedic, at that time we call them medics. Okay?
I: But did you like the training?
OM: No not necessarily, not very much.
I: Right, you didn’t like it, right?
OM: No, I didn’t like it.
OM: I didn’t want to be there.
OM: But it was a blessing in disguise.
I: I know that, but did you think that you will end up in Vietnam?
OM: No, no, I shouldn’t be saying this on tape or on a recording, but my mind was made up not to go to Vietnam, okay?
OM: I had nothing to do in Vietnam and if I had been told to go to Vietnam
OM: I would say no I’m not going.
OM: Just like that.
OM: I’m not going.
I: Oh yeah. So, after the Fort Sam Houston.
OM: Texas yes.
I: What did you do?
OM: I went straight to Korea.
I: From there?
OM: Yeah. Well, maybe I went to Memphis first. I think I went to Memphis for maybe one week or two weeks.
I: To meet with your family?
OM: Family, yeah.
I: What did your family say to you about your plan to be in Korea?
OM: They had nothing to say they had no idea what that was.
OM: No one else in the family, in my immediate family had gone to war, or going to Korea. I might recall to you that, when I went to Korea, there was a situation, there was the “Pueblo Crisis”, do you remember that?
OM: Remember that?
OM: That’s when I went to Korean.
I: I did interview to a veteran who was in the Pueblo, who was in North Korea…
I: …for eleven months.
OM: Well, I was in the Pueblo crisis.
OM: But I saw no war or anything like that, you know, I mean, there were skirmishes at the Demilitarized Zone, but I saw none of that, myself. I was working as a medic.
I: So, tell me about what kind of training you received as a medic?
OM: Well, they told us of course how to help people, who’ve been wounded but also they taught us how to deliver babies,
OM: and all kinds of things. Yes, we learned all kinds of things in medical school, I mean, I shouldn’t call it medical school, medic school because, basically, how to care for the injured, that’s the main thing we were taught, but besides that, as I say, we taught to deliver babies and all kinds of, other little good things that I enjoy very much.
I: It wasn’t during the war, it was during the war if you were headed to Vietnam, but if you were headed to Korea, It wasn’t
I: during the war, and what were you supposed to do mostly, you sit in the hospital and take care of them?
OM: No, no.
I: Then what were you supposed to do?
OM: Well, there are always…
OM: There are always… Sure, maybe see us sitting in the hospital but there are always accidents. I had to take one fellow who had his shoulder crushed into the bulletin board, it was practically almost cut off…
OM: I had to take care of him, and take him to a big hospital, that somewhere in Korea. I don’t know where it was, it wasn’t… I was in the 81st ordinance I don’t know where that is. I don’t remember the name of the town.
I: Was it in the front line?
OM: No, no. I never went to the front line all.
I: Do you remember this big city name around it?
OM: I’m saying that, all I can remember is that our first group was somewhere near YonSang.
OM: After that when I went to the 81st ordinance, I don’t know what the city is named, I don’t remember. I just don’t remember that. That’s where I spent most of my time, I think it’s 83rd ordinance. I would have to look on the records to find out where that is.
I: Okay. Did you meet Korea before you left for Korea?
OM: Hmm… the only thing that…
OM: I saw before I went to Korea was a little book telling us, how to speak several words in Korean, but no, I didn’t, I never met a Korean before I went to Korea.
I: Did you learn anything about Korea, while you were in high school and University of Memphis?
OM: Nothing at all, nothing at all.
I: You didn’t know my great country?
OM: I knew nothing about Korea before going there.
I: Oh, that’s too bad.
OM: I’m sorry, it was not my fault.
I: Looking back all those years, right now, had you ever thought that you’d end up in Korea and having some time there?
OM: I mean, before I went no, I had no idea about that, but now what I want to do is go back, you understand?
I: Did you know about the Korean War?
OM: No, I didn’t.
OM: I didn’t.
I: Okay. So, tell me, when you left for Korea, and how, and where you arrived?
OM: Okay. I was in Memphis as I said, I went to Fort Lewis Washington. That’s where you take the plane, the plane first stopped in Japan for a few minutes or an hour, then we went straight to Korea. It was in the month of January so goes…
OM: 1968, so there was snow all over the place in Korea, oh the snow is very high in Korea, I mean, up to your waist, it was very cold, and with a lot of snow…
OM: That’s the first impression I have from Korea.
I: Where did you arrive?
OM: I’m not that precise, I don’t know that… I all I know is that we arrived, and we went to the 65th medical group that’s somewhere in near Yonsang.
I: Okay, then you arrived in Kimpo.
OM: Okay. That name is familiar with me, but I didn’t know that at that time.
OM: I just arrived and went to the 65th medical group, and then from there they sent me to another place.
I: In addition to the cold weather and snow, overall, what was your first impression of Korea, society, city, people, scenery, economic situation?
OM: No, if you’re talking about the first impression, that’s bad, but if I go on…
I: Tell me…
OM: If I go on…
I: Yeah, you gotta be honest. What was your first impression?
OM: Oh, the first: “I want to go, I want to go home”, it was cold and snow, I don’t like cold weather first of all. The Koreans I don’t know, I was mainly with united states soldiers, so we would see what they call, the remember they word, “Katusy”
I: Yeah. KATUSA
OM: KATUSA, KATUSA.
OM: I’m sorry KATUSA. we had KATUSAs nearby, and at
OM: the beginning I didn’t have much relations with them because I was hanging out with the Puerto Ricans, trying to continue to learn Spanish but after a while my common sense said: “hey you need to be learning Korean now”, and so, then I started hanging out with the KATUSAs, and those are the Korean soldiers, just in case you don’t know that, okay? then, I began to enjoy Korea
OM: and love Korea, and love Koreans.
I: Tell me about the detail. What did you love about Korea? why did you love Korean people? and Korean thing?
OM: The first thing, I found Korean people very very friendly and very… uh what’s the word? very respectful, unlike the US soldiers for the most part.
OM: You know, the way that Koreans salute you, the bow and everything and they were very, very friendly people, and I just enjoyed them very much, I enjoyed the customs that I learned from them. One very important custom that I still practice today like take off my shoes when I go into the house you see?
OM: You know, there are other families in Puerto Rico, who do that but not for the same reason. Well, for the same reason
OM: but not because they lived in Korea. you know. They just know that it’s a good idea to take off your shoes before you go in the house. Some people in Memphis and in Puerto Rico don’t want to go along with that. I have a brother lives in Atlanta, I told him to… asked him to take off his shoes, “No, I’m not taking off my shoes”, that’s how some people are, they say: “No”, and as a matter of fact, I still salute people
OM: as Koreans do, and I learn that, and just many things that… I can talk about some things that I’ve considered to be strange, you know, these guys on these bicycles carrying big boxes and stuff, I said: “oh wow, how can they do that?”, but yeah, it became in a custom just to see that, and it was always lovely to see the beautiful ladies
OM: in their beautiful dresses I love that very much, you know, the typical dresses of Korea that is very beautiful, and it’s something that I love very much, and I also started listening to the music which I love very much too, and when I was there I would sing songs in Korean and with Korean audience and everything like that.
I: Yeah, we don’t mind listening your singing.
OM: I don’t want to sing for you right now.
OM: No, I’m really. Hahaha…
I: What is your best song that you remember.
OM: The song… no, I remember several songs, one song of course is the very famous Korean anthem like… How was it called?… Arirang, of course everybody knows that, but then, I would also sing Kasum Apuge, [가슴아프게 Korean Song] remember that song? Nam-jin.
I: Yeah, Yeah.
OM: Kasum Apuge… Kasum Apuge [가슴아프게, 가슴아프게 signing in Korean]
I: Kasum Apuge… Kasum Apuge [가슴아프게, 가슴아프게 signing in Korean]
OM: Ta ra ra…
I: Ta ra ra la… parara… la… Okay.
OM: That song I would sing all the time and other songs.
I: Do you know Nahoo-na?
OM: No, is that a song?
I: Monna Monna Chok Hanul Aaree. That song’s the name of those singer is Nahuna.
I: Nam-jin and Nahoo-na they are rivals.
OM: I love Lee Mi-ja.
I: Lee Mi-ja.
OM: I love her songs, actually I sing some of her songs too, and a lot of songs.
I: What about food? which one is your favorite?
OM: No, I don’t have a favorite Korean food.
OM: I’m very picky about food, I’m very picky and…
I: So, what did you eat there in Korea?
OM: I ate what most of the soldiers ate, you know, whatever they had the soldiers.
I: So, you say it’s a picky?
OM: I am picky.
I: Okay, but… so you ate hamburger and…
OM: At that time.
OM: At that time.
OM: But now I don’t do that anymore, I don’t eat any meat, any animals anymore.
I: Ohh. Okay.
OM: And that was always inside of me, but I hadn’t discovered it yet, because when I was a little boy, I never ate an animal that I had seen alive, you know, for example, there were chickens around, my father would kill one, and the family would eat but I would never eat the chicken that I saw alive.
OM: The same for rabbits, my father would shoot rabbits and I never would eat them. So, later on in my life I realized that I was supposed to be a vegetarian and that’s what I’ve become so far. But at the time when I was in Korea, I ate whatever they had on the menu, you know, but I never tried in the Korean food.
I: Had you travel around the peninsula? Travel.
OM: Only doing my job. I mean, No I didn’t travel around the whole Peninsula. I mainly went to the bases where I had to work and where I had to take the wounded soldiers to the to the hospital that’s all I did. I didn’t do any tourism or anything like that.
I: Any particular story that you want to share with us about your service as a medic while you were in Korea?
OM: Well, it was…
OM: mainly boring as you understand. You have to wait until… there were times that you have to give shots, you know, if the soldiers would come in for this or that reason, you have to give them a shot, you have to take blood and do blood samples, and it’s a typical medical service, it’s not nothing special about it. the worst thing that I did was, really, fix this guy’s shoulder who had this shoulder almost cut off,
OM: that was the worst thing, other things there was no bad things, everything was just very simple, giving PO, giving shots, taking blood that was practically all I did.
I: Did you know why you were there?
OM: Did I know why was in Korea? No.
I: Why there was a US soldier in Korea?
OM: No, I didn’t know why. I didn’t know why, as a matter of fact, before you there they send you to a place they ask you:
OM: “Where you want to go?” I said: “Hawaii”, I said: “Panama”, Panama for the Spanish, Hawaii because I like Hawaii, I didn’t know anything about Korea, so my orders came down they said go to Korea, I said: “Well, it’s not Vietnam”, you know, “so let’s try it out”.
I: Where did you learn Korean?
OM: In the 83rd ordinance. The army found a teacher for us
OM: And there were about from six to ten students, who wanted to learn Korean, but as I was saying, as the weeks went by most of the students dropped out, and I was left alone, and I continued as long as the teacher could continue.
I: You were the only one.
OM: I was only for a long time.
I: Do you remember the teacher?
OM: I don’t remember his name. I remember my Taekwondo teachers.
I: You learned Taekwondo too?
OM: Oh yeah, I studied Taekwondo off course.
I: What is your level?
OM: Pretty bad, pretty bad level.
OM: Hahaha, yeah don’t mess with me.
I: I am black belt…
I: Respect to me, hahaha.
I: So, show us what do you know about Korean language, speak in Korean, whatever you want.
OM: All right, you know, you first learned words like Na-nun, or Tan-shin, or Son-seng-nim,
OM: And… there are a lot of things I could say, you know, like a Anio-ja-shi-mi-ka, Na-shi-sum-mi-da, I could say many things but, you know, that’s from 1968, but I can still write Korean and read Korean.
I: What do you think about the Korean alphabet system?
OM: I learned it in one afternoon. I think it’s very easy to learn.
I: See, one afternoon.
OM: One afternoon one afternoon and I can write all the letters.
OM: Write them and read them.
I: So, this is what UNESCO found out, average of one hour or 30 minutes, One and a half will make people to be able to read the signs in the street in Korea.
OM: Oh yes.
I: Consonants, vowels.
OM: Oh yeah.
I: Put them together.
OM: Oh yes.
I: Yeah. it’s very scientific. Isn’t it?
OM: It is very easy to learn. It’s very easy to learn, and I was surprised. I said: “Okay I’m going to learn Korean alphabet today”, and in a couple of hours that I knew it.
I: Maybe because this you are very bright student.
OM: No, it could be because I was interested in languages at that time, in Spanish, in Korean, and I wanted to learn it and I sat down and learned it very quickly.
I: Do you know who created that Korean alphabet system?
OM: No, I’ve read about it but I don’t remember.
I: Yeah. King Se-jong.
I: Yep, as I told you before in our official interview the Korean War official is from June 25th, 1952, January 31, 1955. Even though we had ceased fire July 27 of 1953.
I: The federal government extended the period, so the soldiers can have more benefit, extended, since then, US soldiers been there and currently they are, what do you think about that? why US has to station there?
OM: No. You’re asking some very serious questions, Okay?
I: Yeah, I know.
OM: And you’ve asked me to be honest and out of that.
I: Please be honest.
OM: Yes, I will be honest.
I: Don’t think of there or about anything else, you know?
I: Be yourself.
OM: No, no I’m usually myself, I don’t usually put on another mask or something, I personally don’t like the US presence in in other countries, not for any reason, I think that if the US was not present
OM: in South Korea, maybe South Koreans and North Koreans could get better, to get together again. Well, I hope that that’s one of my hopes, my desires for North Korea and South Korea to reunite, they are brothers and sisters. There’s no reason, outside of the Western world for them to be separate, you see, the Western world Western world has separated peoples in almost every country on the planet
OM: In Nigeria, they separate, you know, people. and in here, they separate people, and I don’t like that, I really would like to see… I would like to be free to walk from South Korea to North Korea without any problems.
I: Yeah, the Westerners has occupied almost every continent.
OM: Yes, yes.
I: It’s imperialism…
I: At the highest stage of capitalism…
I: They needed bigger market…
I: Cheaper labor and cheaper natural resources. That’s the logic.
OM: That’s the logic.
I: And it’s still going on in different forms.
OM: I know.
I: So, I see your point.
OM: Well, I believe in. First of all, people being free, you can talk about Puerto Rico, I don’t like the situation in Puerto Rico.
OM: It’s not fine, I don’t like it. I mean the United States has total control over Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans cannot make ends meet
OM: with the present situation. I mean, I’m sorry this was not to be about Puerto Rico, but that’s the same thing I feel for Korea, and for so many other countries around the world.
I: We are trying to link the dots.
I: The dot that happened in your life and you are in Puerto Rico. So, tell me about your Puerto Rican friends in Korea, how did you meet and what is your life, and why you are still in Puerto Rico.
OM: Well, listen… what I loved about Puerto Ricans…
OM: I become…. You can pause if you want to or…
I: Keep going.
OM: Okay… You need to pause.
I: Go ahead.
OM: And the Puerto Rican showed me…
OM: There are free spirit, which I didn’t know being a black Memphian
OM: We were so controlled that… you know, I love the free spirit of the Puerto Ricans, and I wanted to be around that, that made me feel good, and then
OM: after I finished Korea, and went back to the University and finish University, the first thing I wanted to do was to come to Puerto Rico, you know? and I didn’t go to Puerto Rico. First, I went to Italy first, and then after years goes by, I said: “no, now it’s time to go to Puerto Rico”, I came and I stayed, that’s been 35 or 36 years now, I came in 1980 and I’ve been.
I: And I think you were mentioning about the friends from Puerto Rico in Korea?
OM: In Korea.
I: Tell me about him?
OM: No, many.
OM: I was mainly with Puerto Ricans.
OM: Before I started studying Korean. Many, many friends I wish I could see them, one of my sad points is that I’ve never run into those guys again.
I: So, there were many soldiers from Puerto Rico.
OM: Many Puerto Rican soldiers.
I: In Korea after the war.
OM: Yes sir. yes sir, hundreds, hundreds.
OM: Hundreds, and I knew maybe hundreds of them you know.
OM: So… and I always thought about seeing them again whenever I could, but I’ve never seen not even one, I’ve looked for them I’ve gone off all kinds of records as I’ve talked to the
OM: the offices in Mayaguez and everything, but they said: “No we can’t do that now because you know we have this “La Ley EPA” (The EPA law) you know? and we can’t do that.
I: As you mentioned Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.
I: They don’t have right to vote even though they are citizens.
OM: No, they have a right to vote but not for the president of United States. But they have the right.
OM: We vote for the mayor, the governor…
I: Yeah, I know that.
I: Basically, that’s what I meant.
I: What do you think about that?
OM: Well, you’re really getting into deep water now. What I think about it? I think that… this is very personal… I think Puerto Rico should stop worrying about voting for the president and get the country in shape, you know? we don’t need to worry about…
OM: What’s happening in the United States so much, we need to worry about what’s happening in Puerto Rico, and solve the problem for Puerto Rico.
I: What are the problems?
OM: Oh, you haven’t heard? we have what we called a “Ley de Cabotaje”, which doesn’t allow us to use ships to bring our stuff from other countries, we don’t even have the right to make deals with other country, I remember once when I think was Hernandez Colon if I remember correctly.
OM: He wanted… it may not have been Hernandez Colon, but it was one of the governors, who wanted to make deals with Japan, and they said: “you can’t do that”. Very recently, the Secretary of Agriculture of Puerto Rico wanted to make deals with Santo Domingo.
OM: “You can’t do that”
OM: She wanted to bring rice…
OM: from Santo Domingo because Santo Domingo has a very prosperous a rice plantation over there, and she was told she couldn’t do it. So many things that Puerto Ricans have tried to do, gasoline, we can easily get gasoline from different sources, Venezuela, many of the sources but you can’t do that, you can’t really
OM: fly to a different country without the US passport. I mean people do it, you know. Juan Mari Bras has done it before, he said: “No I have a Puerto Rican passport, my own country’s passport and I will travel”, but you know, really Puerto Rico doesn’t have enough ways to make money and to become prosperous.
I: How do you think we can solve the problem?
OM: It’s very easy for me to say that what has to be done. Puerto Rico has to become an independent country, and from there it has to be able to do things that we’re not able to do at this moment. it’s very simple.
I: But it’s not a simple, you cannot just declare your independence.
OM: Well, you can declare it, they don’t have to accept it, but they should accept it,
OM: If they were morally, just people, it would be very simple for the US government to allow Puerto Rican to be a free country, Puerto Rico has never been a free country, I mean, it is one of the places that you’d be surprised, it’s never been a free country.
OM: Puerto Rico did not ask the United States to come and take us away from Spain, of course Spain was just as bad as the US, but Puerto Rico did not say: “please come in and get us off this situation” it came down and took over and then we left one governing power to another. We were just switched from one to another…
OM: And this is a not right, and if the people there in the… what’s it called El Capitolio, The Capitol, if they realize that it seems to me that they’re more of moral fiber we should say: “hey, let’s give Puerto Rico a chance to be its own governor” you know?
I: Have you done anything about it?
OM: Yes, I have.
OM: I’ve gone to Washington, and I visited Senators and Representatives and I’m still working on my latest project, which is to make them understand what you just understood. It’s a moral issue now.
I: Any people working with you here?
OM: No, I work alone I’m sorry I’m like Zorro.
I: But you need to mobilize people here.
OM: Yeah, no, no, no.
I: You cannot do it alone.
OM: People let you down, people let you down.
OM: People let you down, I mean you try to… you have people behind you, and there’s always one who will corrupt the others and no, no.
OM: I go and tell, you know, when I went to Washington, I went by myself…
OM: And I talked to the representatives there.
I: Have you been back to Korea since 1968?
OM: No, I want to go, no, I want to go.
I: Tell me about the “Pueblo Incident” that you know.
OM: No nothing, nothing happened while I was there.
I: Why do you want to go back to Korea?
OM: Because I want to…
OM: Spend some valuable time in Korea, learning more about the culture, and learning more about the language, learn about the people, and you know, I’ve checked into situations where I could go back as a teacher, as an English teacher, but I would like to go back as an English teacher, as a Spanish teacher, as a music teacher and I’m sure that there’s some kind of way that I can get that. Going and the purpose is
OM: For me to be there to learn more about Korea.
I: Are you catching up with the things that happen in Korea in terms of economy, democracy?
I: Do you know recent information about Korea?
OM: Not. Not a sound information no.
I: You said that you were in Itaewon area, right?
OM: I think so.
I: You will not be able to recognize so much change.
I: Yeah. So, any other message you want to leave to this interview
I: about your service in Korea.
OM: Well, I enjoyed my service in Korea very much. It has made me a new person, and I would like to go back to continue, that’s it.
I: It’s my great pleasure to be able to meet you here, and to hear from you about your family background, what you’ve been doing, why you are still here in Puerto Rico.
OM: This is home.
I: I really, really, want to see some changes happening here, and it has to be from the hearts of the people
I: Who feel, and you cannot do it alone?
OM: Well, I’m going to do my part alone if others catch on, very good.
OM: But I’m not going to try to start a movement or anything, I simply tell people what I think, if they catch on very good.
I: Our Korean government has a revisit program, it’s inviting veterans and those defense veterans, back to Korea, and I’ll try to work with the people here and see if you have a chance to go back.
OM: Thank you.
OM: I love to go back.
OM: But I don’t want to go back as a visitor, I want to spend five years in Korea at least.
I: Yeah, you can make money there is you teach
OM: I’m not looking I’m making money.
I: No, no, you have to survive there so…
OM: Yeah but no problem. We say in Igbo “Ching Neyre”, Ching Neyre means God Gives, you know God gives, I don’t worry about… I’ve gone to South America I didn’t go because
OM: people gave me a plan, I went to South America and may made a living, I’ve been all around, Italy, all around, so I know…
I: You’re on the medal free spirit.
OM: That’s right.
I: Right. Thank you again.
OM: Thank you for having me here.
I: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
OM: Camsahabnida 감사합니다 (Thank you)
I: I love this interview.
OM: Thank you.
I: I really love and please do something about it here okay.
OM: I will.
[End of Recorded Material]