Overseas adoption: An Army officer's lifelong journey to finding family
OSAN, South Korea -- Sometimes the questions we ask lead us to answers we least expect.
For one Army officer the choice to give back to his country by serving in the military brought the chance to meet the mother he never met and another mother that he had always wanted.
Second Lt. Jonathan Taylor joined the military in May 2013, after serving in the Reserve Officer's Training Corps at the University of Hawaii, where he earned a degree in Business Management.
His parents, both upper class and educated, were proud of the son they had adopted, and Taylor was grateful for all they had done while caring for him over the past 15 years.
Barry and Cathy Taylor were unable to conceive a child of their own and decided to apply for an overseas adoption.
They were approved by a Korean adoption agency and 5-year-old Jonathan left his orphanage in Pyeongtaek, South Korea to start a new life in Lowell, Massachusetts.
"My dad greeted me at the airport with a big hug," said Jonathan. "He gave me a banana and a stuffed animal. Mr. Bunny, I think. I still have that old thing."
Despite having a loving new family, Jonathan's mind would often drift to the few memories he still had of his birth mother and his short time living in Korea.
"One of my earliest memories of my birth mother was when she would place me on her back while walking around town selling bubble gum," Jonathan said.
"We were poor, there were seven of us that would sleep on the floor of a small shack. Sometimes I would pick wild berries to help with the hunger pains in my stomach. On the day I went to the orphanage, I remember my grandmother crying as she waved goodbye to my mother and I on the bus. My mother placed me on the corner of a road and said she'd be right back…she never came back."
Jonathan kept a small photograph of his mother hidden in the bunk-bed at the orphanage until one day, it too disappeared.
And although he could no longer remember her face as he grew older, Jonathan spoke of his mother and life before America with his friends.
Jonathan's story spread through word of mouth ultimately reaching a woman in Korea.
Minhae Kim, a Korean mother of two and a New York State University graduate, felt the need to help Jonathan reunite with his birth mother and decided to retrace the administrative process of his adoption.
While researching his early childhood, she invited him to spend time with her family in Seoul and Jonathan agreed to pay the Kims a visit.
"I was so impressed with him," Kim recalled. "I asked my son to email him and see what kind of things he would like to do during his visit to South Korea. Jonathan said he only wanted one thing: to try and find his birth mother. I told him that if you cannot find your mother; I'll be your mother, your Korean mother."
Jonathan and the Kim family continued to visit each other and finally Minhae had found who she was looking for.
She coordinated to meet Jonathan at the orphanage he was sent to as a child in Korea to share the special news he had been hoping for.
"We went and saw the nursery room full of little babies all waiting to be adopted," said Jonathan. "And then [my birth mother] walked in. I couldn't remember her face but when we shared our first hug, it was like she had never left."
Jonathan's birth mother cried and apologized for leaving him years ago.
The two spent the day visiting tourist sites around Seoul and then said their goodbyes.
After commissioning as an air defense artillery officer, Jonathan knew exactly what duty station he wanted: South Korea.
But it wasn't to spend more time with his birth mother.
Jonathan's visit with his mother was exciting, but the excitement wore off and memories of abandonment still lingered.
Conversely, Jonathan's relationship with the Kim family had blossomed and he felt more at home in the Kim's modest middle class apartment than he had with his birth mother or in his own apartment out in the Korean district of Songtan.
"We were so grateful for the chance to have met him," said Kim. "He kind of enlightened my life too. You know, we never appreciate our parents. Going through this experience with him made me realize how my own parents were just trying to do their best even in the worst kind of situation."
Jonathan's introduction to Minhae, his reunion with his birth mother, and his military assignment to the city where he was born were much more than he could have ever expected.
"There were so many questions I had growing up and answers I thought I had already figured out, but I wasn't ready for any of it," said Jonathan.
"The lessons I learned from my adopted parents, from my educators, from the military, it all prepared me to embrace both the good and bad things that happen in life," he said. "The truth is: sometimes the answers we get, just aren't what we expect."
Editor's note: Taylor is assigned to Charlie Battery, 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade stationed at Osan Air Base.