Allan and Joan Eubank
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea -- If you were to ask a Korean War veteran about their most memorable experience from the war they might recall a tense combat patrol, a challenging battle, or even the bone-rattling temperatures of some of the coldest Korean winters on record.
For former Army Capt. Allan Eubank, his combat experiences are certainly etched into the back of his mind, but pale in comparison to a chance meeting he experienced at an isolated outpost just south of the 38th parallel.
"By March of 1953, I had been in Korea a year and was commanding Alpha Co., 11th Engineer Battalion (Combat)," he recalled. "My unit was blasting a road through the mountains to build a secondary defensive position. It was a lonely and isolated location. The battalion commander, probably feeling sorry for us, sent a small USO troupe to entertain us."
Joan Hovis, a young singer from Texas who was rapidly gaining notoriety on Broadway, just happened to be among the group scheduled to perform. She had taken time away from her budding career to bring joy to the brave men risking their lives to defend freedom.
"As they walked into the mess hall, I was struck by one particularly pretty face," Eubank continued. "She added something special to the G.I. uniform she was wearing. After the show, we had a chance to get acquainted and I discovered that we were both from Texas."
"When it came time to send them back to group headquarters…I wanted to take Joan back myself, but I remembered my prior decision. I came to Korea knowing that most soldiers were rotated home after about a year (and) I decided if I don't write any letters to girls or put up pin-up pictures, I (would) be all right."
Despite Allan's best attempts to keep Joan off of his mind, he finally surrendered to temptation after she left him an invitation to visit her at a nearby Army hospital.
"That invitation was all it took," he said. "I think I skipped worship and jumped into my jeep."
It just so happened that the 11th Eng. Bn. was in charge of pouring cement floors at the hospital where Joan was scheduled to perform that day. Not that he needed additional motivation, but Allan decided that it was his "duty" to inspect the ongoing construction.
As he pulled up to the hospital he noticed Joan outside talking with a few officers and immediately began to regret his decision. Nervously he approached the group and asked if there was anything he could do for her.
Without hesitating she replied, "Yes! You can drive me to…our next show."
His hopes quickly dashed, however, when her escort informed him that she was required to travel with the rest of the performers. Undeterred Allan decided to try again, "Well, is there anything else?"
"Yes, tomorrow is my day off," she said. "I haven't had time to go through the wards to visit the wounded yet. Could you take me?"
Following that first date, their relationship continued to blossom despite the unusual circumstances surrounding their courtship. Unfortunately a few months later on July 27, 1953 Allan's tour in Korea came to an end and he transitioned back to the U.S.
By the time Allan got out of the Army, Joan's career had taken off with multiple appearances on national television shows including "The Lone Ranger" The Ford Theatre". Despite her burgeoning fame the couple continued to stay in contact and spent time together whenever they had the chance.
Finally, in January 1958 Allan decided it was time to solidify what had begun six years earlier in the fog of war and asked for Joan's hand in marriage. She enthusiastically agreed and they tied the knot Dec. 12, 1959 at the Chapelwood Methodist Church in her hometown of Houston, Texas.
Earlier this year, they had the chance to bring their relationship full circle as part of a "Revisit Korea" tour hosted by the Gyeonggi Province, the One Race Sharing the Peace Organization, and Eighth Army.
The nostalgic trip down memory lane allowed them to see firsthand the modern, vibrant nation that their efforts helped to establish, but it was the hospitality from the Korean people that left the biggest impression this time around.
"Joan and I feel that this visit was one of the highlights of our lives," Allan said. "The Korean host's friendly smiles, generous spirit…and radiant faith made this event inspiring and unforgettable. We have never felt more honored and appreciated."
As one of only a few couples selected to make the return trip, the Eubanks' were humbled to be able to represent the veterans who selflessly served during the war.
"We know that we only represent those thousands who really did sacrifice to preserve our freedom, and it made us feel very humble," explained Allan. "We never considered what we were doing…a sacrifice. We just wanted to help and were doing our duty."
After 56 years together and a return trip to the place that it all started, the couple are as close as ever. Almost poetically what began in the depths of war at a small outpost just south of the 38th parallel, seems almost fit for the bright lights of Broadway.
Photo: Joan Eubank (formerly Joan Hovis) performs with her USO Troupe for soldiers from the 11th Engineer Battalion (Combat) in March 1953 during the Korean War. Among the soldiers in attendance that day was Capt. Allan Eubank, commander of Alpha Co., 11th Eng. Bn. Joan would later go on to receive the Theatre World Award as one of the 10 most promising personalities on Broadway for the 1957-58 season. The two would later marry and go on to spend the rest of their lives together as missionaries in Thailand. (Courtesy Photo)