In December 1968 I was in the United States Army and stationed in Korea. I was a green 19-year-old spending his first Christmas away from home. Korea, of course, is a Buddhist country and does not celebrate Christmas. There are Christians there but they are such a small percentage of the population.
I the late 1960s Korea was still a war zone near the DMZ. Even though a truce had been called in 1953 the animosity between the two countries was palpable and armed conflict still erupted from time to time. Sometimes it was in the form of infantry but mostly it was an exchange of artillery fire. American soldiers stationed on the DMZ became caught in the crossfire and lost their lives.
That was the first of four Christmas I spent away from home while in service to our country. The next three were while I was station in Italy. Of course Christmas there, as here, is a big event. But still, we were away from our families at a time when family togetherness is so important.
Christmas of 2015 will once again see 100s of thousands of soldiers and sailor stationed away from their homes and loved ones. Some will be in the warring countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. Their Christmas is particularly tough as has been true throughout our country’s history for every soldier who found himself on a battlefield at Christmastime. For this part of my little diatribe, I ask that you take a moment to remember the men and women who have donned our countries uniforms and taken post in faraway places, away from their families. Their gift to us is insured freedom.
While in Korea I was tasked with visiting an orphanage which was support by the military group I was stationed with. We were a small convoy of a couple of trucks with a jeep mounted with a 50 caliber machine gun in the front and rear of the trucks. Each of us also were require to take our M-16 rifles along, just in case. But besides the men who were in the trucks we also brought food and presents for the children of the orphanage. The exact location of the orphanage was kept secret from us for reasons we were never given. I do know that it sat right on the DMZ in northwestern South Korea.
We arrived at a single story cinder block building which housed the children and who were looked over by Catholic nuns. I do not think there were more than 25 or 30 children present but my memory them is that of expectancy, wonder, and sadness.
We were told that all the children were of one of two types: those born to prostitutes who of course could not keep them and those who were Asian-American, born of Korean mothers and American fathers. Theirs was the worst fate of all as they would never be accepted by Korean society simply because of their obvious differences.
We were all gathered into a single room where the children were introduced to us and we to them. As I looked around the room my eyes fell upon this one little girl with blond hair and blue eyes. Her only language, of course, was Korean, and even if all the other orphans had even a slight chance in Korean society, this little girl certainly had none. It broke my heart to see her and she haunts me to this day. I wanted more than anything to get her back to the United States where at least she’d have something of a chance. I actually looked into it but was inform that a married couple would have to be found and then it would be a prolonged affair to actually have her adopted.
The point is, those Korean orphans were all the result of a war. They are the casualties of war that go unreported, are pushed into the background and out of sight. As I sit here this evening I have no doubt that similar conditions exist in Iraq and Afghanistan. Orphans in those countries undoubted outnumber the ability of the country to care for them. You might ask “what can we do for them?” There actually is an answer, UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. They have a website at unicef.org and are always in need of donations.
It only seems appropriate at this time of year here in the United States where we have so much that we remember the children who have nothing.