Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Netherlands' UN Participation Monument -- Hoengsong, South Korea

Located in Hoengsong, South Korea is the Netherlands' UN Participation Monument to commemorate the contributions of Netherlands during the Korean War. The Netherlands battalion played a key role in the defense of Hoengsong in February 1951 which allowed elements of the US Second Infantry Division and ROK units to withdraw to safety after having gotten through "Massacre Valley."

During the Korean War 120 men from the Netherlands lost their lives including the commander of the battalion at Hoengsong.

This monument, and others like it in South Korea were the brain child of Lee Kap-chong who wanted to do something to remember the countries who came to South Korea's aid during the Korean War.

Each of the monuments, which are located in and around the areas where military units from these countries fought, has a unique design to symbolize both the country and the war effort.

In War Remains, there is a mention of this battalion which defended Hoengsong and allowed the 38th Infantry Regiment to withdraw to safety.

More praise from another veteran journalist and author

War Remains got some more praise today; this time from Korean old hand and veteran journalist and author Mike Breen.

This is what Mike had to say about the book:

Bobby Washkowiak battles his way through the first bitter winter of the Korean War, longing for home. Fifty years later, his son and grandson come across his wartime letters from the father and grandfather they never knew and learn what happen to him on one of the battlefields of that "forgotten war." In this emotional tour de force, Jeffrey Miller vividly recreates the horrors of combat and the yearning for closure experienced by millions of soldiers and their families.

Mike Breen is the author of two very important books about Korea: The Koreans: Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies and Kim Jong-il: North Korea's Dear Leader.

He is also a regular columnist at the Korea Times. In fact, I first met Mike at the newspaper's 50th anniversary party at the Sejong Cultural Center in downtown Seoul in November 2000.

Thanks for the write up Mike.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I saw a movie and wrote a book

Well, not exactly.

What I mean is that when I sat down and started to write War Remains in September 2009, I saw or envisioned the story as a movie. I knew how the book would begin and how it would end, and I saw these two scenes as scenes in a movie, kind of like bookends. Having never written a novel before, seeing the book as a movie made it easier to write.

Other than a few short stories and some feature articles for the Korea Times, I had never attempted anything quite as ambitious, so seeing the novel as a movie helped me in terms of how I would move the story along, especially with some of the flashbacks.

Maybe those two semesters of film classes at SIU (Southern Illinois University) finally paid off, as well as being a film buff my whole life.

Oh, one more thing: I thought about writing a screenplay of the story while I was writing the novel.

You know, I can see a Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks Korean War movie collaboration once they finish WWII. The Second Infantry Division and 38th Infantry Regiment would be very good units and subject matter for Spielberg and Hanks to cover.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A war was once fought here

"Massacre Valley" -- Hoengsong, South Korea

Earlier this month, I went to Hoengsong north of Wonju to visit "Massacre Valley" a Korean War battlefield that was the sight of a major battle from February 11-13, 1951 and one that figured prominently in my novel.

This a monument/memorial dedicated to the US Second Infantry Division

The inscription on the back of the monument/memorial

There's an interesting sidebar to my trip to Hoengsong to visit this monument. I had no idea where it was located; I had come across a photo of it in the Korean War book, Wonju: The Gettysburg of the Korean War. I kind of figured that the monument/memorial would be located somewhere in "Massacre Valley" but I wasn't sure where. While riding in a car, heading north through the valley, I just happened to glance to my left when I saw the monument/memorial on a small bluff overlooking a stream bed.

Inspiration for War Remains

In May 2001, while covering a visit to South Korea by a veteran's group from San Antonio, I had the honor of meeting, (and later interviewing for an article in the Korea Times) Oscar Cortez.

It was on a bus to Chipyong-ni, to commemorate the 1951 Battle of Chipyong-ni, a battle that turned the tide of the war for the US Second Infantry Division, when I interviewed Oscar. I was overwhelmed by the story he told me, how he had survived the Pusan Perimeter and Kunu-ri, and then later, how he was captured by the Chinese on February 12, 1951 and spent the rest of the war in a Chinese POW camp. You can read the story here.

When I started to write War Remains last year, I thought about Oscar and the article I wrote back in 2001. In fact, some of the events he described in the article became key events in my novel. It was also one of the reasons why I chose Hoengsong for some of the novel's key scenes.

This photo of Oscar was taken at the War Memorial Museum in Seoul next to an artillery piece similar to the kind of piece used in the Korean War.

Sadly, Oscar changed his email address in 2005/2006 and when I tried to locate him, the email was bounced back to me. I tried a number of Google searches, hoping to contact some veteran's groups in San Antonio, the same way that Michael does in War Remains, but to no avail.

Thank you Oscar. I've included you on my dedication page.

Thank you for your service during the Korean War Oscar, and God Bless you.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Genesis of a novel

One day, in September 2009, I was thinking about these articles I had written for the Korea Times back in 2000 and 2001 when I was covering various commemorative events for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Korean War was when I first started thinking about writing War Remains.

In particular, I thought about three articles I had written in May 2001 when some Second Infantry Division Korean War veterans came back to Korea to commemorate the Battle of Chipyong-ni. (The Battle of Chipyong-ni would become a turning point in the Korean War, especially for the US Second Infantry Division which had been severely defeated just two-and-a-half months earlier at Kunu-ri.) I accompanied the veterans to the Chipyong-ni battlefield as well as to the War Memorial Museum and a Repatriation Ceremony at Yongsan, headquarters of the Eighth Army.

With the 60th anniversary of the Korean War approaching, I wanted to something more than what I had done from 2000-2003 when I covered many of the commemorative events for the Times. Back then, it was easy for me to write as many articles as I did because I lived in Seoul, lived close to the Times’ office, and had many contacts. This time though, it wouldn’t be as easy—especially living in Daejeon.

At first, I thought about compiling all those articles I wrote on the Korean War commemoration events and put them into a book. I also planned to introduce each of these articles with a short essay, “the story behind the story” as it were.

However, maybe there was another way, I thought. “Wait a minute, maybe I could take these articles, glean what I could from them, and write a novel instead?”

And that’s when I came up with the idea for what would become War Remains. One of the articles I had written about the Chipyong-ni visit became the genesis for the novel. In addition, my interview with Oscar Cortez (on the bus to Chipyong-ni with veterans and their spouses), who was captured by the Chinese at Hoengsong on February 12, 1951 and spent the rest of the war in a Chinese POW camp, also served as an inspiration for the novel.

I knew right from the start what I wanted to write, how the novel would begin and how it would end.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Glowing praise from veteran journalist and author

War Remains got some glowing praise from veteran journalist and author Don Kirk for one of the books' blurbs:

"Jeffrey Miller captures the terror and agony of war up front -- not just any war but the "forgotten" Korean War that lives on in the hearts and minds of those who lived through it and the loved ones of those who died. He alternates between images of horror and friendship on historic battlefields with scenes of the warmth, love, longing and sadness of a middle-American family on the home front.

Overall, the plot is imaginative, a portrayal of the suffering of war from vivid action to endless waiting and longing.

His book is a welcome addition to the scant literature of a war whose significance intensifies with awareness of the threat still posed by North Korea -- and the dangers of a second Korean War."

Don Kirk, who is the author of Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine and Korean Crisis: Unraveling of the Miracle in the IMF Era has a long and distinguished journalist career that started with covering the Vietnam War and the political unrest in Indonesia in the 1960s (Remember the Mel Gibson, Sigourney Weaver movie, The Year of Living Dangerously?).

I met Don back in 2000 while we were both covering one of the Korean War Commemorative events at the War Memorial Museum in Seoul on June 25th, the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

War Remains now available at

War Remains is now available at
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