American writer reflects on Korean War miracles
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SS Meredith Victory / Courtesy of www.hopeinhungnam.com
By Kang Hyun-kyungMiracles took place on the eve of Christmas in 1950, the year when the Korean War (1950-53) broke out after North Korea suddenly launched an attack on the South on June 25.In an email interview with The Korea Times Wednesday, David Watts, the author of the newly released book “Hope in Hungnam” as well as a technology project manager living in Texas, reflected on some of the hard-to-believe wartime stories that actually happened during the bloody war.
He said a tiny cargo ship, dubbed SS Meredith Victory, carried 14,000 evacuees on a single voyage to South Korea after the U.N. forces were ordered to escape from the North after Chinese forces joined the war to help its ally North Korea. “This was one voyage, one ship. I’ve toured one of the few remaining Victory class cruise ships before. In comparison, it was absolutely tiny. I imagined it carrying 14,000 while the much larger and much more modern cruise ship might carry two or three thousand”, he said.SS Meredith Victory, which was then commanded by Philadelphia-native Captain Leonard LaRue, still holds the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of persons evacuated on a single ship.Watts interviewed all three surviving crew members of the original forty-six and some of the refugees who were aboard the ship for his historical fiction story. Won Dong-hyuck, one of the 14,000 refugees who fled with his father 62 years ago, was also interviewed by the author. Watts noted the underlying details of the story are true.”All 14,000 refugees were taken safely to South Korea without loss of life. As a bonus, five babies were born en route”, he said.The evacuation was part of the amphibious operation which also helped approximately 100,000 civilians, who were under threat from communist forces, escape from the northeastern city of Hungnam in North Korea. The operation lasted for 14 days from Dec. 10, 1950.During the two-week operation, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command said over a hundred-thousand military personnel, 17,500 vehicles and 350,000 measurement tons of cargo were pulled out.”In comparison with the retreat in central and western Korea, little was left behind. Even broken-down vehicles were loaded and lifted out”, it said.Watts said he was determined to work on the historical fiction after watching a TV program on the Korean War six years ago.”I learned about the great evacuation from Hungnam from a History Channel special here in the United States. There was a special about U.S. Korean War veterans who return to Korea to visit with their counterparts”, he said.”In that special, there was a section about the evacuation from Hungnam. As soon as I saw it, I realized I needed to write about it and help preserve this very important history”.As he has a day-job as a technology project manager and travels a lot for his job, he said he had to use his spare time to meet interviewees and write the story. The book follows the story of a U.S. Marine, Jack Stiles, in Korea during the war. He is bigoted and hateful toward the Korean people but he changes after he was critically wounded and left for dead. A North Korean woman returns him to health after finding him. Watts released the book Monday, on the 62nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.
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