A LOST ISLAND FRIENDSHIP

I have only his Christmas cards now, the message on each beginning, “Dear Wayland!”

He was Chung. I was Wayland.

I remember well the night his pocket was picked by a “slickie boy” pretending to peddle cigarettes in the dark, noisy Seoul night club called OB Cabins. (OB stood for Oriental Breweries, which was a Korean beer.) I’d been to that venuye during previous forays into Seoul and heard a Korean band do a creditable cover of Iron Butterfly’s signature song, “In A Gadda Da Vida, ” drum solo and all.

In lifting his wallet that night, the thief also robbed Chung of his intention to re-pay me for my companionship.

Our friendship began one leisurely summer Sunday on Kanghwa Island, Korea in 1970. I was a Military Policeman assigned to the Army Security Agency (ASA) and further assigned to the ASA operations company on Kanghwa, which sits on Korea’s west coast, carved off from the Republic’s mainland by a narrow channel – a river estuary– and from Communist North Korea by the Han River on its final approach to the Yellow Sea. I and two other G.I.s – fellow M.P.s Jim Barnes from California and Larry Donahue from Boston, if memory serves me – set out to explore the island by jeep. Our duties usually kept us on our small compound and divorced from the real world of our host country. We knew the 116 square mile island was worth exploring, with its temples and farmland.

We stumbled upon the tiny seaside village of We Po-ri at the far northwestern edge of the island. A Republic of Korea (ROK) naval ensign moved us from a restricted area, then chatted us up congenially. We’d stumbled upon a small ROK naval detachment. (The island, being so close to the hostile north was protected on its waterfront by Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines. This Naval detachment patrolled near the smalleer, surrounding islands, always on guard against infiltrators.

The young ensign was the commanding officer. His name – Jin Myung Chung.

I felt the need to know Chung better. Somehow, we hit it off. I’d made no Korean friends to that point in my tour.

Chung was single, well-educated, about two years my senior. I made many overnight trips to his home in Seoul, met his parents and brother, helped them with their English grammar and pronunciation, shared dinner, slept in a spare room. Chung guided me around Seoul, visiting tea rooms, having long talks about life, family, politics, my native Boston, Korea’s future prospects. He planned to marry and have children.

It seemed his best intentions for me were always being thwarted. He invited me to a soccer match. We missed our rendezvous. He planned to motor me up Inchon River aboard a ROK Navy vessel. The boat was out of commission.

Finally, though I knew he had little money and no taste for Seoul nightlife, he insisted on treating me to that outing to OB Cabins, hearing Korean bands cover the Beatles and Iron Butterfly. Then his pocket got picked. He sat patting his pockets frantically.

“Tonight, I am very unlucky,” he said, distressed and humiliated, as I picked up the tab.

I don’t recall our goodbyes. I wrote him after Army discharge. He apparentkly didn’t trust his English for a letter but his Christmas cards contained long notes: “How is your life recently? …Much regret not to write you, wondering if this card will reach you as you may change address since then.” I was, in fact, moving around, state to state. But the cards always found me.

He’d become general manager of maintenance and repair for Honam Tanker Company, a subsidiary of Texaco. He’d married, had a family. He once asked: “Do you have any schedule to visit Korea?” I didn’t.

The Christmas cards stopped. Then, around 2012 came the surprise – an early morning phone call to my Clinton, Mass home. It was Chung. Stunned, delighted to hear his voice, but in the middle of breakfast, facing a long commute to my television reporter job, we chatted barely a minute

Why didn’t I call him back? It was a busy time. But, why?

Now I have a bunch of old home and business addresses. I wrote some. No reply. I want to find him. Is he still alive?

“I can’t think of my military service time without thinking of you,” he wrote in an undated Christmas card.

Same here, Chung. I pray I find you again. I’ll even let you pick up the tab.

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