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Letter from Korean War calls for ‘lasting peace’

In February 1952, a 19-year-old Alec Keith remembers surveying for enemy troops in the South Korean city of Chunchon, when he was slipped a letter by a young South Korean man.

Keith was a member of the 6148th Tactical Control Squadron at the time — a “Mosquito” target spotter group of the U.S. Air Force stationed at the air base in Chunchon during the Korean War.

In that moment, he said he was heavily armed. So he tucked the letter away in his pocket and continued on, without exchanging conversation with the man.

“He just walked out of the building and came over to me,” Keith, who is now 85 and lives in Hilo, recalled Wednesday. “I was trying to be safe and trying not to get shot. So I just took the letter, folded it up and put it in my pocket in exactly the same fold it is now.”

About a year later, after returning to the United States, Keith read the letter for the first time. He was touched to read what he believes is a message from the young man expressing gratitude to the United Nations armed forces.

“According to your effort, Korea people have the happiest life every day,” the letter reads. “… We shall have tomorrow too, spring has come, snow and ice have melted away and everything is waking the long winter sleep, a that time, we believe we can have the lasting peace of the world and build the happiest Korea by your strength.”

Although an armistice signed in 1953 ended the fighting, the Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war. Tensions have ramped up in the past year, as North Korea has test-fired nearly two dozen missiles since January. Hawaii was the first state in the country to begin developing a preparedness plan in the event of a North Korean attack. Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency announced earlier this week it would begin testing an attack warning siren Dec. 1.

In early 1952, however, Keith remembers South Korea was beginning to return to a more “normal state of living.”

“When we first (arrived) in early 1951, we flew missions in all directions — north, south, east and west,” Keith said. “Because (North Korea) occupied the entire peninsula. By this time, everything was pretty well-organized. The battle lines had been established on the 38th parallel exactly (the original boundary between South and North Korea before the war) and we were told we could not go more than 5 miles north of the battle line in our missions. So by this time, South Korea was free of enemy troops.”

Keith left Korea in 1953 and went on to forge a long career in academia and the pharmaceutical industry. He and his wife moved to Hilo in 1997.

Through the years, he said he’s shown the letter to just a handful of people. He said he believes the letter shows the Korean War was “a constructive war.”

“After being there two years I could tell the Korean people really appreciated having us there,” he said.

The letter writer signed off as “Park bo sun.” Keith said he’s attempted to track the man down, though without success. He thinks the man was in his late 20s or early 30s at the time and might have been a teacher.

He also believes he received the letter by chance. He said the letter writer probably “would have done the same thing if it was anyone else from our air base” and “there was nothing special about me.”

“I happened to receive it but I think if anyone else had been out there, they would have received it also,” Keith said. “I think the (letter writer) was trying to express the fact that he was glad North Korea had not taken over South Korea. He was just grateful.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

————-

The letter

22th feb, 1952

To; a respectful soldier of U.N. Army,

How do you do our great friend?

How painful day have you to contrust the unitiful of Korea and the independent of Korea? According to your effort, Korea people have the happiest life every day, the we shall have tomorrow too, spring has come, snow and ice have melted away and everything is a waking the long winter sleep, at that time, we believe that we can have the lasting peace of the world and build the happiest Korea by your strength, next April we have a new school term, that is only owe to your the bravest and victorious fighting for that we pay our think’s too much to you from all our heart, Now that I must say good bye to you, I have your luck and happy, Oh respectful friend your truly, Park bo sun

 

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