To mark the 48th anniversary of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s recapture of Seoul from Communist forces, Korean Americans spent an evening cleaning up MacArthur Park and, for good measure, feeding the poor.
“What better way to honor the great American,” said Nam-Tai Cho, president of the Korean Veterans Assn.'s Western region and organizer of the Monday event. “As one who works in nearby Koreatown, I always feel sad that the statue of such a great man is surrounded by trash.”
Young-Seok Suh, an anesthesiologist who lived through the Korean War as a child, said, “If it weren’t for Gen. MacArthur, we wouldn’t be in Los Angeles. But for the general, we would be suffering under communism today.”
Suh said most Americans do not appear to care much anymore about MacArthur, who was fired by President Harry S. Truman for insubordination in a dispute with superiors over the waging of the war. But Koreans continue to consider him a hero for his role in saving South Korea from Communist rule.
Officials at MacArthur Memorial--a city-run agency in Norfolk, Va., that maintains a complex of museums and archives devoted to the general--were delighted to hear about the park cleanup. “We are touched,” said archivist Jim Zobel, especially given the condition--and reputation--of the park.
Zobel said MacArthur’s widow, Jean, 100, still lives at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. She moved there with the general after Truman relieved him of command of the United Nations forces in Korea in 1951.
About 60 Korean War veterans and their families also came to the Los Angeles park to remember the day that Koreans call gu-i-pal, which means 9/28, the date MacArthur recaptured Seoul from the North Korean army.
Cho, an enthusiastic participant, hurt his back trying to pull a cart loaded with junk from the shallow water near MacArthur’s statue. “It’s amazing what people have put in the water,” he said, grimacing in pain.
Although they did not participate in the work, more than 100 residents of the area enjoyed Korean barbecued beef, spicy cucumber salad, soft drinks and coffee.
“I like Korean food very much,” said a man who identified himself only as Romero. Neither he nor his two companions appeared concerned about the connections linking the food, the cleanup and the historic day. They sat on the grass and enjoyed their good fortune: food served by immaculately coiffed members of the Korean American Mothers Assn., dressed in gray striped aprons.
The Rev. Jong-Ryul Yu, pastor of the Church for the Homeless, prayed with each person in line.
“God bless you,” he said. “In the name of Jesus, amen.”
The pastor appreciated the mothers group’s help. For the last three months, Yu and colleague Lucky Chung have fed breakfast, lunch and dinner to as many as 450 people a day at the park.
“We now have 10 former homeless people who are working as volunteers,” Chung said proudly.
The Korean War cost 54,246 American lives and left 250,000 Americans injured. An additional 8,177 Americans are still listed as missing. More than 2 million Koreans died.
The two Koreas are technically still at war. An armistice, declaring a cease-fire, was achieved in July 1953, but no peace treaty was ever signed.
John Chavez of Redlands was 20 when he went to Korea in 1950 to serve in the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. He said he was gratified to be invited to the remembrance at the park and to be recognized for his service.
Americans, he said, “all forgot. But not Koreans.”
Chavez and his 187th Airborne buddies David Cabrillo of Riverside and Joe Castaneda of Wilmington were among the 154 American veterans invited to Korea in 1994 by the South Korean government, he said.
Because of the American role in the war, Korea has looked to the United States as its benefactor.
On Sept. 28, 1950, U.N. troops under MacArthur’s command took over the South Korean capitol building and hoisted the U.N. flag.
After living under Communist rule since June 25, when the war broke out, jubilant Koreans, waving and applauding, greeted the soldiers arriving in the city.
Their appearance coincided with Chusok, the Harvest Moon Festival, when Koreans honor their ancestors by visiting graves with the first fruits of the harvest.
Koreans did not know it then, but weeks before the Allied victory in Seoul, MacArthur and the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been at loggerheads, squabbling about the general’s plan to launch an amphibious attack at Inchon, a port city about 12 miles west of the capital.
Everyone but MacArthur worried about the difficulties of putting an amphibious force ashore there, where waves were known to be among the tallest in the world. But MacArthur went ahead, and the strategy worked.
Friction between the Truman administration and the general came to a head in April 1951. Truman wanted to contain the war at the 38th parallel, but MacArthur insisted on driving the Chinese, who had joined the North Koreans, from the peninsula. He argued for bombing the Chinese border, if necessary, with nuclear weapons.
Neither officials in Washington nor their allies in Europe saw Korea as worth the risk of starting a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. So Truman fired MacArthur, shocking Koreans, who had hoped the general would liberate all of Korea.
The enormous statue of MacArthur overlooking Inchon Harbor is testimony to the affection Koreans still have for him. And though he may have faded from American memory, Korean immigrants have brought their regard for him to L.A.
“My heart breaks whenever I come to the park and see the garbage strewn near his statue,” said Kyu-Ho Im, 74, a Koreatown resident who has waged a one-man battle to maintain the statue.
“It pains me,” he said. “That’s why I keep coming back to the park. This is my way of saying thank you to Gen. MacArthur.”