Korean War Legacy Project

Nam Young Park

Bio

Nam Young Park was a Korean interpreter in the Army during the war. He first worked as an anti-Communist student leader which led to his capture. He eventually became an interpreter for the U.S. Army, which led to the opportunity to study in the United States. When he visits Korea yearly, he is now able to reflect on the legacy of the war and how it has led to many changes. Nam Young Park’s life is an example of how war can change the path of someone’s life.

Video Clips

Captured by Communists

Nam Young Park describes how he was captured and imprisoned by Communists in Korea as a result of his anti-Communist activities as a student. He shares his memory of hiding in a ceiling when they came to find him and how his mother screamed. He surrendered and began a 27-day long imprisonment.

Tags: Communists

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVYtxInLaAY&start=247&end=336

Life as an Interpreter

Nam Young Park explains what it was like to be an interpreter for the Army during the Korean War. He got to serve along many important military officials. It was because of his service, that he was able to go study in the United States.

Tags: Impressions of Korea

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVYtxInLaAY&start=1043&end=1158

Changes in Korea

Nam Young Park visits Korea at least once per year. He explains what has changed, including the beautification and modernization of Korea over the past fifty years. After studying in the United States, he became a scientist and was asked to go back to work in his home country by President Park, who he is believes as a great leader.

Tags: Impressions of Korea,Pride

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVYtxInLaAY&start=1522&end=1641

Video Transcript

0:00

N: My name is Nam Park. My whole Korean

0:04

name is Nam Yong Park. I was born in

0:08

North Korea. Actually

0:11

North Korea. I: You were born in North Korea?

0:13

N: North Korea. And I was born in March 15

0:19

  1. When think I was a 6 years old,

0:25

because my father’s transfer from bank

0:28

to South Cholla Namdo, we moved to Mokpo,

0:35

southwestern corner. I attended Mokpo

0:39

high school, grammar school. Then in

0:43

nineteen fifty, April 30, I still remember,

0:47

after I was admit… accepted to attended Korea

0:52

University, I left my hometown April 31.

0:59

And within some 30 days, unfortunately,

1:05

started the Korean War, June the twenty sixth.

1:09

So my education was suspended due to the

1:14

war and I have to spend the next three

1:17

months in Seoul under the occupation of

1:22

North Korea. The reason why I did not go

1:28

to the, my hometown or I didn’t took

1:34

refugee to Pusan (Busan) was that during

1:37

my high school days I was head of

1:41

what they call, chief of the Ho Gup Tan. How

1:48

we gonna say in English,

1:50

defense… Student Defense Force. And also I

1:56

was actively involved fighting against

1:59

in the communist movement in Mokpo. So I

2:03

was afraid of the, going to the

2:06

hometown. I: Can you tell me a little bit

2:08

about that and what you had to do?

2:12

N: Actually before start war, Korean War, in

2:16

June nineteen forty nine, first part of

2:21

nineteen fifty, communist movement was

2:24

very strong in South Korea, particularly

2:29

after what we call Yosu Sun Chun,

2:33

revolt, and Jeju (Cheju) island’s revolt. So

2:40

in other words in a communist movement

2:43

was very very, very strong in my hometown

2:45

particularly Kim Dae Jung, former president of

2:51

Korea’s hometown was Mokpo was not far

2:55

from my home. I still remember his group

2:59

attacked one of the police station set

3:02

the fire. When I was involved fighting

3:08

against communist movement, the many

3:13

occasion to be killed by the

3:18

communists so actually I was a really

3:22

afraid of going back to my

3:25

hometown when communist occupied the Seoul.

3:30

But anyway at the end of the third

3:36

months I was captured by the some 50

3:42

North Korean soldiers and I stayed… I was

3:48

(im)prisoned about 27 days in Seoul. I: Where were you

3:53

captured at? You were captured in Seoul? N: In

3:55

Seoul. What they called the prison of the defense…

3:58

I think was the what they call the

4:02

defense security forces. I: How were you

4:06

captured? N: Evidently they, every night

4:10

they are looking for the young man or

4:15

whoever they thinks an anti-communist.

4:18

And evidently one of the neighbors saw,

4:22

or realized, I was living in my

4:26

cousin’s home. So I assume they reported.

4:32

Then one night, at two o’clock in the

4:35

morning, two trucks came, surrounded house.

4:40

I was hiding in the ceiling and every

4:44

night when ever getting dark, hide in

4:47

ceiling, or hide underground

4:50

daytime because weather (was) hot. When communist

4:55

start to me and poking with long

4:57

bayonet I realized there is no way

5:01

to survive. Then my mother screamed. Then

5:08

as soon as the North Korean guards

5:14

realized somebody upstairs said I, “we

5:19

gonna shoot you, just come down”. I had

5:25

surrendered then that was the beginning

5:29

of my prison life at the security

5:34

police. I: So you were a prisoner for 27

5:37

days? N: Yes, until the almost week before

5:41

United Nations landed Incheon (Inchon). I: Can you tell

5:46

me a little bit about while you were in

5:47

prison, while you were a prisoner, your

5:50

lifestyle and…? N: But because of the I was

5:52

involved in as a president of the high

5:55

school, president of the student defense

6:00

unit, and and also what they called Han Yong,

6:05

Korean Student Association.

6:07

That was a very strong one of

6:11

student… organization against communist

6:15

student. So when I was a junior,

6:18

senior year we caught a lot of communist

6:21

student. So I was one of the targeted…

6:27

Well interesting thing was the… three

6:31

days after the Communist occupy Seoul,

6:34

Korea University communist student

6:39

come to my uncle’s home to find me

6:43

but I had notified already to my uncles

6:46

whoever comes looking for me just tell

6:50

them I went to the hometown. So I…

6:56

am pretty sure before I reach hometown,

6:59

if I went South I would be

7:00

arrested. That is a part of the beginning

7:05

of a first part of the war story. I: Will you

7:08

tell me a little bit about while you were

7:09

a prisoner though, how did they treat you?

7:14

N: This is another hard, memorable… always

7:20

whenever I give talk to the

7:22

church. Feeding one meal a day, wasn’t

7:28

rice, that’s it.  The (Re)public Korea Training

7:32

Center Number One, sent over there.

7:37

During the training period, Korean… one of

7:42

the Korean Military Advisory Group

7:45

approached me, find out where did you

7:49

learn English. Said I was college student

7:53

I picked up my English at the 25th division

7:56

and also 5th US Air Force. Okay, then he

8:02

explained to me here in Jeju Island we

8:08

have a Korean Military Advisory Group. We

8:14

need interpreters.

8:18

Then also they have interpreter section,

8:22

in headquarters. So as soon as you

8:27

finished your training period we gonna

8:32

send you to the… instead of sending

8:35

front line we gonna send you the interpreter

8:38

section. Then I was attached, immediately

8:43

assigned to one of the major as interpreter.

8:47

I: Were you bit relieved that you weren’t gonna be on the

8:50

front lines? N: I heard that within five days

8:53

all my classmate was a dead in front

8:56

line. So I was so lucky to be able to

8:59

work and as the interpreter with the PFC (Private First Class).

9:05

The meaning, meantime so many famous

9:11

generals, like Ben Fritz (sp?), Lee Choi (sp), Baek

9:15

Son Yop (sp) is coming and go. And I was

9:18

translating that training center,

9:21

training section. General Park, Baek Son Yop

9:26

listen to my interpretation, said “Why you

9:32

didn’t become, applied in interpreters

9:35

officers unit?” So I didn’t know it. “Okay,

9:41

you’re going to be a interpreters officer

9:44

with your quality.” Then Korea Military Advisory

9:48

Group recommended me and went to Daegu (Taegu)

9:52

Those days they had Adjutants

9:57

School, interpreters…

10:01

interpreters school for the one month

10:04

train for officers. From PFC to become

10:09

first lieutenant. Haha. I: That’s quite a jump.

10:15

N: Quite a jump from PFC to the first lieutenant.

10:18

And so of course you know there

10:23

now are recording my

10:25

enlistment, three months, or one months the period.

10:30

Korean soldier, enlisted man’s life… Food was so

10:39

poor, not only that the amount of the

10:43

rice and soup just unthinkable. But

10:50

whenever Korean Military Advisory Group

10:53

officers inspect we can get the bowl of…

10:58

full bowl of the rice and a soup with a

11:02

bean sprout. That memory still my,

11:07

rings my head, how the Korean government

11:11

treated all our soldier like, in spite

11:16

of government issue proper amount of the

11:20

food. Now the interesting thing was the

11:25

while I was working as a PFC

11:26

interpreter, English interpreter, I met

11:30

the so many famous American generals.

11:34

They so impressed and said “We have a

11:39

lot of Korean English interpreter officers

11:42

with the rank of first lieutenant,

11:46

you are PFC.” Yes, but the lucky… General

11:53

Baek Son Yop after looks like he just

11:58

found me said, “You cannot stay here

12:00

uhh are we going to make you first

12:02

lieutenant.” Well those days, you know, just

12:05

one word from general completely change

12:09

from PFC to first lieutenant. I: Can you, can

12:13

you tell me how the pay changed from

12:15

whenever you first decided to join the

12:17

US military to you getting promoted from

12:21

PFC to lieutenant how did the pay change?

12:23

N: Pay scale? Well of course when I worked in

12:26

American unit, those days, I don’t how

12:29

much I made, but plenty of money,

12:34

plenty of money to spend with

12:37

friends at night. Of course while I was

12:40

working at unit sleeping

12:42

quarters, good meal three days, I can

12:45

drink coffee in any time just 24 hours.

12:48

Was it KATUSA (Korean Augmentee to the United States Army?). N: No, no the civilian.

12:52

Then when I joined Korean Army,

12:55

I don’t know maybe one dollars. But take

13:00

less than one dollar, couldn’t buy a

13:01

toothpaste. So those days most of the

13:05

enlisted men if have connection with

13:08

family, have money, parents visit training

13:13

center, I got money. Then when I become

13:19

officer, I had a officer quarter. Food are

13:27

completely different in compared to

13:31

which I used to eat. Officer meal was

13:35

about 1,000 times different. Meat with

13:39

in a soup, you know of course had the

13:42

kimchi then a couple of side dish at

13:46

officers mess hall. And paycheck was

13:49

about twenty dollars month. Then

13:54

clean uniform. One thing had the freedom go

13:58

out every night and come back. I: So it was

14:04

a good raise, good promotion? N: That’s a kind

14:08

of heaven and the hells. I2: Was it in

14:11

Jeju (Cheju)? N: Yeah, Jeju and then come to

14:13

Nonsan. I2: Nonsan.

14:16

N: Then I was outside Nonsan. So those days… I2: When was that, when did

14:19

you go to Jeju Do? N: 1951. I2: 51. N: Yes.

14:24

I2: What was your major mission there

14:26

in Jeju Do? N: Training center. I2: Training, so

14:30

you trained the other Korean? N: No, sent to the

14:33

for the training, basic

14:36

training, infantry training. I2: Ohh, I see. N: Then

14:40

they found me, but I have to have a

14:45

one-month (garbled) or three months of the

14:47

training period then

14:48

officially become Republic of Korea’s Army.

14:54

Then I was assigned to another

14:56

interpreter. Then later officer so my

15:01

life style was a completely just changed

15:04

so happy. I2: As an interpreter what was your

15:09

main mission, who did you actually help? What

15:12

was the main mission? N: At the beginning

15:17

in the Korean Army we had a 500 Korean

15:24

Military Advisory Group, what called KMAG,

15:28

Korean Military… All American advisors

15:32

attached to the all Korean unit. They

15:35

were the one responsible, supplying even

15:39

checking how the soldiers got the food

15:45

designated amount, so on. Interpreters

15:50

officers, men in front-line, the

15:53

coordinating when I did United Nations

15:55

Army particularly when drop the bomb, firing

16:00

the cannons, whatever. Then when

16:04

advance, during the advancement,

16:07

retreatment. All interpreter officers acted

16:12

they had a great job working. But I was

16:16

luckily assigned again to number two,

16:19

Number Two RO (Republic of) Korean Training Center,

16:26

Nonsan. Then in the army, those days,

16:34

interpreters officer, medical officer and

16:41

what they call the law…

16:46

what they called… bok kwan? I2: Judge. N: Judge, elite

16:54

group. They are picked up all, they all

16:57

from the college student or college

16:59

educated. So particularly interpreter

17:01

officers were considered one of the

17:04

elite group. Quite number of the English

17:10

interpreter officers become adjunct

17:14

general to general… for the general…

17:19

chongsok bukwan. I: Were there other,

17:21

many interpreters? N: Yes, at Nonsan we had

17:25

about 18 interpreter officers. We have

17:29

interpreter officers unit. So every day go

17:33

out with the military advisor and

17:37

checking, interpreting training sessions.

17:42

Then so many American generals, even a

17:47

French, those there with the French were

17:50

foreign officers coming to observe

17:53

training center so I was translating.

17:58

Meantime I met all famous generals like

18:04

Ben Fritz (sp?) and so on. Then, even, I was

18:12

attached to the general, general’s aide. That

18:19

what called aide-de-camp. Aide-de-camp

18:22

in the French. So I become a general’s

18:24

aide. So my life in the Army wasn’t bad

18:30

in associating with the general, making

18:35

arrangement, all were acting as a secret…

18:37

secretary or so on. Then, I…

18:41

meantime 1953-54 many of the interpreter

18:48

officers going to the US, abroad so I did

18:54

the same way. I applied in

18:59

U.S. a school. 1956 I came to the

19:04

Davison College. I had a special

19:10

order by the, by the defense minister

19:14

discharge, come to us I studied abroad. So

19:18

I was educated at the North Carolina,

19:20

majored in history. Then I did my

19:27

graduate work, history again at the

19:29

University Houston. I went to the… but

19:32

Houston was a booming town, at the oil is

19:36

nineteen sixty. I switched to the geology

19:42

and later I become what they call

19:47

micro-paleontologist specializing

19:52

fossils, most actually calcareous nannofossils,

19:56

specializing calcareous nannofossils.

19:59

So I become… Those days I was really

20:03

lucky. Electron microscopes come in

20:06

nineteen sixty. The new field of studying

20:11

nannofossils applying to find a oil, I

20:16

was the first one. Gulf Oil hired me and

20:21

sent me training, Columbia

20:23

University, Miami University. In the US,

20:29

those day, only three specialized

20:33

professors. Oil company didn’t have enough money

20:36

so Gulf research sent me to personal

20:41

train from one-to-one ratio professors.

20:45

You know how to apply (to) finding oil.

20:48

Those days very popular with the other

20:51

subject so I become kinda curious in

20:57

nannofossils, specializing. Even later I

21:00

was assigned the training of south, south,

21:03

Latin American

21:05

geologist. So I had a good time working 31

21:09

years with Gulf Research Center. So I

21:16

settled here Houston. I was the first

21:18

one come to the Houston 1960 with my

21:21

wife, those days who was the majoring in a

21:25

French. I: Did you meet your wife in Korea?

21:27

N: No, this is another interesting story, a blind

21:31

date in North Carolina my senior year. I

21:35

never met the Korean about three years.

21:39

In south in those days is very hard to find

21:42

Korean ladies. At the Davison College

21:50

they had some winter dance so

21:54

fraternity brother made (garbled), you know

21:58

you find a Korean girl, made a blind date.

22:03

Finally, two years later we married.

22:06

settled in Houston. Then I realized

22:12

enough Koreans start coming so

22:14

about five Korean get together we

22:16

organized Korean American Association,

22:20

that was the beginning. I: Y’all started

22:23

that? N: Yes, so at the beginning 1961 only

22:30

nine or eight Koreans, beside 14 Korean

22:41

GI married families settled here. They

22:45

are the one, actually, really try to help

22:49

organize… Korean Association.

22:53

Because they are lonely, uneducated ladies

22:57

so whoever comes to school they are the

23:01

one asking, and encouraging let us

23:05

organize some Korean organization and

23:09

get together. I: Can you tell the audience

23:12

some of the differences between the

23:14

North and South Korean lifestyle?

23:19

How is it different? N: Lots of women

23:22

watching seeing news, newsletters and

23:25

news, and now a days the email. I don’t know

23:28

the South Korea they can watch

23:31

the North Korean email or not but I’ve

23:33

been receiving North Korean the

23:35

lifestyle every day. Such poor, the so

23:40

many hungry people, hungry children. They…

23:45

So many our church in a Houston sending

23:48

you know missionaries and food, right

23:51

now is suspended. Whoever

23:55

visited, whoever the observed in North

23:59

Korean lifestyle we know it. Then you

24:04

look at South Korea, now left as an

24:08

economically just way up. Whenever

24:13

I visit the Korea, normally I visit

24:15

once a year, South Koreans actually

24:19

well-dressed. I think I’m (proud of that,)

24:22

better than America. They are well

24:25

dressed up and every night go to the

24:29

bars, karaoke, (ordinary) eat good

24:32

food, enjoy the life. How could the people,

24:38

you know, forgetting that the Korean War

24:41

the communist invasion? You know

24:43

they are just becoming a pro communist.

24:47

Just I couldn’t understand. So younger

24:50

people today just they don’t know what’s

24:53

going on, seems to me. The Houston is the same.

24:57

Older people who experienced the

25:00

Korean War are really against the

25:06

communist movement, pro-communist groups.

25:10

I: You said that you go back to Korea about

25:12

once every year can you tell me about

25:14

some things you witnessed and how it

25:16

grew to be as successful as it is today?

25:23

N: When I visit, even 10 years ago, the

25:28

building’s, physical, just buildings,

25:32

streets, and the beautification. Then all

25:38

hospitals, etc. just modernize and super.

25:47

This is what word development, Korean

25:52

government. Then, meantime, for the last, what

25:56

50 years, look at Koreans are

26:00

well-educated at the first class

26:02

universities, colleges they are

26:06

dedicating. I: You never thought that South

26:08

Korea would or could ever flourish the

26:10

way that it did and just expand and grow

26:13

and rise on top? N: But, we expected growth

26:18

slowly, not like that is so rough time element.

26:22

Of course we had a wonderful

26:26

leadership in Korea. Personally speaking at

26:31

the beginning I opposed when a military

26:35

took over government, President Park. But

26:39

he did a wonderful job. He was the one

26:44

approached the Korean scientists in the US,

26:50

1971, he said, “Please come to the Korea

26:54

then observe what we are doing. If you

27:00

would like to work for Korea

27:02

we’re gonna pay your same scale what you

27:05

are making.” He invited Korean

27:09

scientists, first time in nineteen

27:12

seventy one, fifty Korean scientists. I

27:16

was one, went to Korea; well treated.

27:20

Then he was begging, “please come to your

27:26

native country, show what you learned and then

27:32

dedicate for

27:34

Korea. Then Korean was KIST (Korean Institute of Science and Technology), Korean

27:36

science, the organization that’s

27:39

just popping up and everything’s

27:41

changing. Then president Park, when he

27:47

made a highway system, then economic

27:51

situation completely changed. As

27:55

everybody knows our incomes averaged

27:57

ninety dollars in in 1960s, 70. Now, well

28:03

yesterday when I was reading a Time

28:05

magazine, our pay scale is almost same as

28:08

the USA. It’s amazing, for such a small

28:14

country. I: Do you think it’s important for

28:17

younger generations to understand and

28:19

know the sacrifices and contributions

28:21

made during the Korean War? N: Of course

28:24

because of the… Now younger Koreans

28:29

are well educated but then they want to

28:32

learn too but, but they are not the kind

28:39

of deeply concerned what we have

28:42

experienced in the during the nineteen

28:44

fifty Korean War. So some of the young

28:47

men they don’t know actually what our

28:54

generation, like our generation, have

28:56

experienced under the communist invasion.

29:00

So many refugees, the destructions, hunger.

29:08

Still I think… when I think of nineteen

29:12

fifty under the communist occupation I

29:14

ate one meal a day then when United

29:16

Nations came back from Incheon, such

29:20

poor people are just begging food. Now

29:28

young people, as I mentioned before, well

29:31

dressed, over well dressed. In

29:37

every major main street good food, good

29:42

music, westernized, hairstyles are

29:47

unbelievable. But the way of dress,

29:50

girl and boys are different. You know I

29:53

am happy. You know Korean living

29:56

standards (gestures hands upward) for that much. If our young

30:04

generation think of what we have

30:06

experienced, maybe different story.

30:16

I think we can do it. We’re going to

30:18

achieve but I’d like to see before I

30:22

die, I’m 84 years old, the time is

30:27

coming, unfortunately in our complicated

30:33

in Korean political situation we are

30:37

leaving an age of turmoil and

30:39

uncertainty. But, as I’m Christian, I

30:44

totally believe what God will do for us. Thank you.