The day I held Retrieving Bones—a collection of short stories and poetry written by Korean War veterans—at the Kyobo Book Centre in downtown Seoul one cold February afternoon in 2000, was the day I started writing War Remains.
As I stood there in Kyobo, debating whether or not I should pay the 39,000 Won for the book, I convinced myself that if I bought the book I could maybe write a book review for the Korea Times; after all this was 2000 and the 50th Anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Maybe, the editor would go for the idea. He did, and asked me if I could write more book reviews. I said I could. And that is what got me started down the road as a feature writer for the newspaper and covering many Korean War commemorative activities in Korea from 2000-2003.
It's true, I was an accidental journalist, but for the first time since college, I was writing almost on a daily basis and at the same time becoming a part of history while learning about history and above all, discovering a forgotten war.
In May 2001, I had the opportunity to meet some Korean War veterans from San Antonio who came to Korea to commemorate Chipyong-ni, an important battle of the Korean War in February 1951, which turned the tide of the war for the US Second Infantry Division (2ID). Most of the veterans had served in the 2ID, including Oscar Cortez who was captured by the Chinese on February 12, 1951 north of Hoengsong—east of Chipyong-ni.
When I sat down a little over a year ago to begin writing War Remains, I had in mind that battle. Although, the battle itself would not be featured prominently in the novel, it was part of the inspiration.
It’s a good thing I bought that book that day. It changed my life forever.