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How did I get here?
This is my initial impression outside the gate, and I was not enthused. That was what we call TDC, Ville, or Dong Du Chon. (Excerpt from his Yongsan Legacy Talk Series 1 by John Nowell)
How did I get here?
Well, I came on the USS Jason Breckenridge. It left Oakland Terminal on the 15th of December 1964. We proceeded on a 21-day cruise across the Pacific. Halfway there, we stopped at Pearl Harbor and 200 of the 400 troops on board got off. Surely, I was not one of them. Then we headed out to cross the rest of the Pacific and came over to the International Dateline, and guess what? This week was the 24th of December, and I woke up on the 26th… I didn't have a Christmas, and this was the only time that I'd never had Christmas.
US Army Portrait of John Nowell (Photo Credit: John Nowell)
And when we landed at Incheon on the 5th of January, there were already assembled troops to board the ship to take them back home. And of course, others came by aircraft, and if they came from Fort Dix, New Jersey on a 19-hour flight, mostly officers. Mostly from the East Coast. They didn't come by ship, although I think the mid and sun coming from Texas into the Panama Canal doing it around. That way, but. That's a longer trip, I would think.
This is my chronology. 7th District Division is where I started, and then I talk about Sergeant Ahn Yo Han. The Maria Club, Sister City Program, Buena Park, California with Chong Ju transferred to Yongsan Garrison, ETS in Korea, later became DAC, worked at EASCOM and FASCOM, then went to work for 8th US Army Civil Affairs. Then, USFK, UNC, and USFK Public Affairs Officer. And then worked in the hospitality field and worked for Naija Hotel downtown. I didn't mention the Ambassador Hotel. I spent two years there before going to the Naija Hotel. And then back to the Public Affairs Office. Actually, I’ve gone back to the States because my father died, and I was rehired from the state, so I came back under a new length of the tour. Then I went to work for the Public Affairs as Public Affairs Officer of the First Support Group. And then at IMCOM Korea. And then, my last assignment was with U.S. Army Engineers in Sacramento.
So where did I get assigned? I said Camp Casey, right? And we had Quonsets over there. That was our home. We shared it with the 11 other guys, and we had a house boy, and we paid the House Boy $2 to $5 a person, depending on how generous you were. So, this kid could maybe come up with a max of $60.00 a month. Well, that was boom! That was the windfall for this guy back in those days.
The audience asks, “Hey, John, how much? Were you making per month just $7?
I did $56 and I owed $57, and my father paid that debt for me so I could use that $56. So, he was making more than you were. Yes, “he was making more than I would. Right.”
This was the kind of money we could use. Dollar, 25, 10 and 5 cents, no coins except for pennies. You could use pennies. And then the Korean won notes.
The audience asks, “What is the exchange rate?”
It was 480. As I recall, won to dollar. I'm thinking now it might have been 265 and then later it went to four and I'd have to check the dates on and. That's the history, but we won't we. Don't have time. To get into it. If somebody wanted to know later.
This is my initial impression outside the gate, and I was not enthused. That was what we call TDC, Ville, or Dong Du Chon. I was told there were a lot of communists out. Well, I didn't need to arouse a lot of communists, so I just stayed on post for a month and 1/2.
John Nowell, in a white shirt, posing with his colleagues in Camp Casey. (Photo Credit: John Nowell)
But I met this KATUSA on my duty, his name was Ahn Johan, and he said, “Have you been down to Dongducheon yet? And I said “Oh, no, not interested in going. Want to go back to America.” And he said “Oh, no, no… Look, I'll take you down where the Koreans live, where they work live, and to play, not to the Ville. And he persuaded me. His English was rather good. In fact, when he first talked to me, he said, in perfect English, “What is your name?” I said, “John.” Then he said, “Me, too!” Another shock. “Your name is John?” He said, “No... my name is Yo Han, the bible name is John.”
Anyway, this guy persuaded me to go downtown with him. He took me to a movie, and he took me to some Bulgogi, rice, and some kimchi and some Makgeolli. I got some in a bowl, and I said, “That looks like Starch.” I took a sip of it, “and it tastes like starch.” I wasn't too enthusiastic about the Makgeolli.
This is the gentleman, and he created in me a 180-degree turn. Here is a video of his autobiography. Now this was 1965. And he got out of the service about a few months later. And he got married to have two daughters. He started a restaurant near Yonsei University. He was doing cracker jobs, making all kinds of money.
Then, in about 1975, he got an opportunity to teach Korean to the Americans at Presidio, Monterey. And in the process of applying for the job, he had to take a physical. And they said, well, you’ve got water in your right eye. You’re going blind in the right eye. And later on, he decided not to take that job. And he went to the doctors, and doctors told him, you know, whatever it was, it was in your right eye, but now it’s in your other eye. And so, he was slowly going blind. Whatever money he had, he was spending on seeing doctors to get better. Then he came to me. “I heard you can you take me to 121 Hospital? And I'd like to have an American doctor check my eyes. Tell me, I am going blind. Is there no shot?” And so, I took him over the 121. The doctor said, “Hey, John, we can't take him. I said look, he's a KATUSA. He did very good things for our military, just take a look. He's you're not going to operate. You just sit in the chair, and just take a look.” and he did. He said zero. Nothing. So that was it. Going to be blind.
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