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.