Woman attends memorial for father killed in Korean War
SEOUL — Kathleen Mischke remembers her father, always a soldier, teaching her to make a bed so tightly that a nickel would bounce off it. She remembers him teaching her to roller skate and singing funny songs, and how he could whistle louder than anybody she knew.
She also remembers travelling to Fort Lewis, Wash., with her family to say goodbye as he deployed to South Korea, where he would die on Sept. 6, 1950, in fighting near the Nakdong River during the early days of the Korean War. He left behind a wife and three young daughters; Mischke was only 5.
“What does a little girl think of her dad? He was my hero and he didn’t come home,” said Mischke, now 68 and a retired gerontologist living in Beaverton, Ore.
She would later read the letters her father, a 27-year-old World War II veteran, sent home to her mother from the front, describing the devastation and the cold, the World War II-era equipment used by the soldiers and how some were sent to the peninsula without full training.
She dreamed of going to South Korea to see where he spent his last days.
On Thursday, more than 62 years after Staff Sgt. John Hughes was killed, she finally got that chance during a brief visit to South Korea that included a surprisingly warm welcome from the country.
Mischke and her husband, David, had initially planned to travel to South Korea on a cruise that included a one-day stop in Busan. Before the trip, she contacted a Korean War veterans’ association in Oregon and former Oregon Sen. John Lim, who put her in touch with acquaintances in Busan. The South Koreans who heard about Mischke were touched by her quest. They arranged to pick the couple up from their ship and to hold a ceremony at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan, where her father’s name is inscribed on a monument to troops who died in the war.
Nearly 90 people attended the event, including a number of South Korean dignitaries and even former presidential candidate Moon Jae-in, who flew from Seoul to give a condolence speech. Afterwards, she was taken to one of the city’s best Korean restaurants for a banquet.
“Everybody was of one heart because we were so grateful for the sacrifice John Hughes and all the other soldiers made,” said Dr. John Chung, a joint chairman with the World – Korean Interchange and Cooperation Association, which along with the Korean Veterans Association organized the ceremony. “We wanted to help her fulfill her dream.”
During the ceremony, Mischke cried, laid flowers at the memorial and touched her father’s name, an experience she described as “overwhelming.”
“Considering what’s happening here now, it’s important that those things are remembered,” she said, referencing tensions between the two Koreas that are increasing by the day and some fear could escalate to war. “I think (South Koreans) are concerned about peace, and they should be right now.”
She said her mother, now 90, worried about her safety during her trip to the peninsula, which came with a “feeling of disappointment” because of the never-resolved hostilities.
“It bothers her that there is so much unfinished business,” Mischke said, adding that she was surprised by how developed the country was compared with the land her father saw. ”We don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”