Tuesday, March 19, 2019


This is the text of a speech I gave recently.

North Korea is one of the most repressive regimes in the world.  Its citizens have no freedom of anything.  If someone commits a so-called crime against the state, his whole family will be imprisoned.  Thousands of people live in slave labor camps, scrounging for food because a relative once tried to escape.  Many spend their entire lives there, from birth.

Kim Ker Yung, an 11 year old boy made a choice early in life, and it had a profound lifelong positive effect on his future.  We all make choices in life, and hopefully they are the correct ones.  Because young Kim made a decision that day, he is alive today at 79. 

My Korean friend, whom I've known for about 40 years, did just that.  When he came to America, he became John Kim.  We met through the local synagogue in Vernon Hills where our kids went to Hebrew School together.   That is a strange story because Mr. Kim is not Jewish, and neither is his American born wife, Chrisanne.   John's step kids are Jewish, and John participated in their activities.

Like many Asians, John likes to gamble.  We play poker together in a bi-weekly game.  Some of the other guys call him "Rocket Man" to throw him off his game.  "I don't care what you call me,  just bring a lot of money for me to win."  He and I went to the Kentucky Derby together last year.

We eat lunch together about once a month.  We usually go to a Korean restaurant for kimchee.  Jokingly, I asked him one day if he was North Korean or South Korean.  To my surprise, he answered "North Korean."   He wasn't threatening to shoot me, so I asked him to explain.

The young boy Kim lived in the North Korean capitol, Pyongyang when the Korean War broke out in 1950.  His father was a carpenter who built homes.  Until the war, the boy's father, mother and 3 brothers lived a lower middle class existence in a modest home.  When the war started, they dug an underground shelter.  Their home was destroyed by a bomb, and they moved underground with other families.  Life was very difficult, and there was little food.

Kim was resourceful.  You do what you have to do to survive. On several occasions he swam across the river to a watermelon patch where he stole a melon for the family to eat.   Other times, he and other young boys would steal a dried fish from a pushcart and run away.  Usually their diet consisted of barley.  Barley for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  To this day John hates barley.

In late 1950, the American soldiers were able to repel the North Korean invasion of the South and occupy the North including the capitol where they established a military base.  The young boy befriended the American GI's and hung around the motor pool.  The Americans liked the boy and sometimes gave him food to bring home.  Kim told them he would like to visit the U.S. someday.  That was in his wildest dreams.   He was the unofficial mascot of the unit.

The fortunes of war quickly change, and before long the Americans were in full retreat.  In their haste, the American troops were ordered to leave everything behind.  Thousands of North Korean peasants, including Kim's family, begged the Americans to take them along.  General MacArthur gave an order that no Koreans be taken South.   In a hasty retreat, the GI's could not be bogged down with thousands of refugees.

The boy was heartbroken and cried his eyes out.  One of the soldiers told him "Come back tomorrow morning, and we'll see what we can do."  Kim went home and told his folks he was leaving.  He and his family knew they would probably never see each other again.  How would you feel if you could never see your family again?  That took courage.  He was only 11 years old.

Early the next morning, Kim, who was small for his age, climbed into a large duffel bag and the soldier threw him onto the back of a truck.    Kim was terrified, but the alternative was certainly worse.  Several hours later, he emerged in the DMZ in South Korea with the American unit, but certainly not safe.   He found himself with an American paratrooper squadron, sleeping in tents.  He was almost killed on more than one occasion, as bullets flew through the tent.

An Army chaplain, Father O'Boyle took the boy under his wing and protected him for the next few years.  After the Armistice in 1953, the priest guided the boy through the process to emigrate to the United States.  Admitting an enemy alien to the U.S. is not so simple.  Bureaucratic red tape created many obstacles.  For example, parental permission is required.   Kim's family could not be located.  He believes his folks were killed in the war.  The fate of his brothers is unknown.  After a year and a half, he got the green light to go to America.

Father O'Boyle brought the boy to San Francisco.  On reaching America, Kim became John Kim, as he is known today.  He was in effect, born again.  He vowed to himself, "I will never starve again!"  John was sponsored by a Houston fire captain, Frank Malek, of Bohemian descent.  John moved to Texas where he learned American customs and attended school.  His sponsor taught him how to fish.

As a foster child, John was eventually placed in Father Flanagan's Boy's Town in Nebraska where he was taught the printing trade.  He graduated in 1961, the oldest kid in Boy's Town.

Meanwhile, Father O'Boyle, now Colonel O'Boyle was transferred to Fort Sheridan, near Chicago.  He invited John to come live with him in Highwood, IL.  As a graduation present, he gave John a Volkswagen that he brought back from Germany.  In Highwood John met his first wife, and they had a son, John Jr. and a daughter Michelle.  Today, both are in their 50's and are pursuing successful careers.   The marriage broke up several years later, and John married his present wife.  They are married over 40 years. 

John started a printing business in Mundelein, IL. where I brought him business printing up flyers for the Jewish holidays.  Today, John is living the American dream.  He is not wealthy, but he owns a house, has a family that loves him, and he has the freedom to do what he wants to do--fish. shoot pool and gamble.  He made a decision at age 11, and it changed his life forever.   If you're going to dream, dream big! 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home