Posted by: bodking | December 27, 2010

Korean Christmases

December 25, 1950.  Somewhere above the 38th parallel. One month earlier things had seemed up for UN forces fighting in the Korean peninsula.   Pyongyang had been captured and American and South Korean soldiers were almost at the border with China.  But then everything turned real terrible.  It was the worst Thanksgiving ever for a lot of those guys as an unbelievable number of Chinese volunteers charged through the cold of the rugged northern Korean hills.
The Chinese came in with such energy and in such volume that in a few weeks the UN was forced to evacuate Pyongyang and most of Korea north of the 38th parallel.
The only good news for the UN was the spectacular breakout of surrounded US Marines from the Chosin Resevoir which had been capped by the even more miraculous evacuation of all UN forces and thousands of Korean refugees from the city of Hungnam.

Christmas for most soldiers on both sides was spent literally freezing in the cold.  Many troops on both sides suffered frostbite, hypothermia and other ill effects of the cold.  UN and South Korean troops spent their Christmas walking their way back towards the 38th parallel, even though inflicting terrible casualties on the Chinese and North Koreans it was a sudden, humiliating and cold reversal of fortune.

December 25, 2010.  Somewhere below the 38th parallel.  It’s Christmas day in Gunsan.  For as Christian as this town is, there is not too much of a festive spirit to be found.  (If you want to hear some of my theories why there’s no Christmas spirit, feel free to message me.)   Recent provocations have made the divided peninsula appear to the outside world as a scary and tense place.    But the reality is that the everyday lives of people here haven’t changed and although there’s definitely a lot of worry about what’s happening by the border, there’s no real sense of panic.
Immediately after getting out of a Christmas lunch with my friends, snow began falling in such a perfect gentle way.  I met up with them again later and we all headed through the snow to a nice restaurant to have a good proper sit-down meal with knives and forks.  The world outside did seem like that fantasy image of a winter wonderland.  So peaceful and far from any of those real-world worries.  The weather was really cold but the atmosphere was warm.

As the cold settles in for who knows how long and the wind whips at the windows of my apartment, I try to think of the poor guys who fought in this same country in this same cold 60 years ago.  Their suffering kept this half of the country free from the rule of the Kim family.   I’ve also been thinking of my friends and family back home.



  1. One day after Christmas. Here in New York the snow has started falling for the first big blizzard of te winter. The logistics of getting back to the city (LIRR) from the island are the pressing issue of the morning. With only the cold outdoors as my real and present danger snug and warm in my house I feel so very blessed .It is a comfort to know you and your friends are safe as well.

    New Year wish.. that all the powers that be keep their heads as cool as a winter day above and below the 38th parallel.

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