Cherished Korean Christmas memories

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  • Hundreds of Korean children stand in perfect formation in their school yard Christmas Day 1956 to receive presents and food rations from the American soldiers of Lt. Dave Bartruff's nearby Intel unit facing the DMZ.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Hundreds of Korean children stand in perfect formation in their school yard Christmas Day 1956 to receive presents and food rations from the American soldiers of Lt. Dave Bartruff's nearby Intel unit facing the DMZ. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Korean school children march in amazing unison in 1956 as they prepare to receive Christmas toys and food rations from the personnel of Lt. Dave Bartruff's Intel unit along the Korean DMZ.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Korean school children march in amazing unison in 1956 as they prepare to receive Christmas toys and food rations from the personnel of Lt. Dave Bartruff's Intel unit along the Korean DMZ. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • An American GI plays Santa on Christmas Day 1956 handing out individual presents to the young Korean students of the school located nearby their own compound near the DMZ "No Man's Land" separating North and South Korea.  Photo by Dave Bartruff An American GI plays Santa on Christmas Day 1956 handing out individual presents to the young Korean students of the school located nearby their own compound near the DMZ "No Man's Land" separating North and South Korea. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Christmas treats and toys given by US military personnel stationed nearby bring smiles to the faces of these Korean school children in 1956 near the DMZ separating North and South Korea.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Christmas treats and toys given by US military personnel stationed nearby bring smiles to the faces of these Korean school children in 1956 near the DMZ separating North and South Korea. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • The harsh, cold Korean winter doesn't deter this young Korean girl from going outside on family errands or to play in 1956.  Photo by Dave Bartruff The harsh, cold Korean winter doesn't deter this young Korean girl from going outside on family errands or to play in 1956. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Korean boy on his homemade ice sled maneuvers on a frozen rice paddy with two short poles in a fun moment in the shadow of the DMZ demilitarized war zone in 1956.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Korean boy on his homemade ice sled maneuvers on a frozen rice paddy with two short poles in a fun moment in the shadow of the DMZ demilitarized war zone in 1956. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Young sisters in classic Korean dress ford a small stream on their way to their school yard to receive Christmas gifts from American soldiers stationed nearby along the Korean DMZ "No Man's Land" in 1956.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Young sisters in classic Korean dress ford a small stream on their way to their school yard to receive Christmas gifts from American soldiers stationed nearby along the Korean DMZ "No Man's Land" in 1956. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Why Korea in winter is called "Frozen Chosen" is illustrated by this farm women who is carrying home a bucket of water on her head for household needs in December 1956.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Why Korea in winter is called "Frozen Chosen" is illustrated by this farm women who is carrying home a bucket of water on her head for household needs in December 1956. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Winter laundering in an icy stream by Korean country folk was an everyday occurrence in 1956 as witnessed by Lt. Dave Bartruff, commanding his Intel unit along the DMZ separating the Communist North from the Republic of South Korea.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Winter laundering in an icy stream by Korean country folk was an everyday occurrence in 1956 as witnessed by Lt. Dave Bartruff, commanding his Intel unit along the DMZ separating the Communist North from the Republic of South Korea. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • US Army Lt. Dave Bartruff, commander of an Intel unit near the DMZ boundary between North & South Korea in 1956.  Photo by Dave Bartruff US Army Lt. Dave Bartruff, commander of an Intel unit near the DMZ boundary between North & South Korea in 1956. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • A happy Korean boy on his winter sled maneuvers across a frozen under a road bridge on his way to receive Christmas gifts from American Peacekeeping GIs stationed nearby in 1956.  Photo by Dave Bartruff A happy Korean boy on his winter sled maneuvers across a frozen under a road bridge on his way to receive Christmas gifts from American Peacekeeping GIs stationed nearby in 1956. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Smiling Kim Hyung Tae visits the US military compound where he and unit commander Army Lieutenant Dave Bartruff served together three years earlier facing the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating The Republic of Korea from the Communist North.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Smiling Kim Hyung Tae visits the US military compound where he and unit commander Army Lieutenant Dave Bartruff served together three years earlier facing the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating The Republic of Korea from the Communist North. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Flanked by two Korean elders in traditional formal attire, photojournalist Dave Bartruff on assignment in Seoul, Korea for the Army-Navy-Air Force Times in 1959. Bartruff served as the officer of an Intel unit on the DMZ three years earlier.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Flanked by two Korean elders in traditional formal attire, photojournalist Dave Bartruff on assignment in Seoul, Korea for the Army-Navy-Air Force Times in 1959. Bartruff served as the officer of an Intel unit on the DMZ three years earlier. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Civilian Dave Bartruff reunited with his beloved former houseboy Kim Hyung Tae in Seoul, Korea three years after serving together in an isolated outpost along the DMZ in 1956.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Civilian Dave Bartruff reunited with his beloved former houseboy Kim Hyung Tae in Seoul, Korea three years after serving together in an isolated outpost along the DMZ in 1956. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Photojournalist Dave Bartruff on publication assignment in Seoul, Korea with military and civilian escorts and his beloved former houseboy Kim Hyung Tae in 1959. Three years earlier they had served together along the Korean Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Photojournalist Dave Bartruff on publication assignment in Seoul, Korea with military and civilian escorts and his beloved former houseboy Kim Hyung Tae in 1959. Three years earlier they had served together along the Korean Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Rendezvous with beloved former houseboy Kim Hyung Tae and family members in rural Soputh Korea while on publication assignment in 1959.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Rendezvous with beloved former houseboy Kim Hyung Tae and family members in rural Soputh Korea while on publication assignment in 1959. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Worshipers depart the world's largest church in Seoul, Korea after a Christmas Sunday worship service in 1959. Seven separate services are held each Sunday in the sanctuary which seats 20,000 parishioners.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Worshipers depart the world's largest church in Seoul, Korea after a Christmas Sunday worship service in 1959. Seven separate services are held each Sunday in the sanctuary which seats 20,000 parishioners. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • The congregation of Seoul Korea's Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world's largest, numbers more than a million members. Here is part of one congregation departing their service from the sanctuary that seats 20,000 worshipers.  Photo by Dave Bartruff The congregation of Seoul Korea's Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world's largest, numbers more than a million members. Here is part of one congregation departing their service from the sanctuary that seats 20,000 worshipers. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • A team of television cameramen transmit the Sunday services to other multi-storied church annexes filled with parishioners adjoining the main sanctuary and also to commercial TV networks that reach 2-3,000,000 viewers each Sunday.  Photo by Dave Bartruff A team of television cameramen transmit the Sunday services to other multi-storied church annexes filled with parishioners adjoining the main sanctuary and also to commercial TV networks that reach 2-3,000,000 viewers each Sunday. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • The main sanctuary of the Yoido church accommodates 21,000 worshipers here now at prayer.  Photo by Dave Bartruff The main sanctuary of the Yoido church accommodates 21,000 worshipers here now at prayer. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • View of the main sanctuary of Seoul's Yoido Full Gospel Church featuring its choir and musicians numbering more than 100 members along with 21,000 worshipers in the pews.  Photo by Dave Bartruff View of the main sanctuary of Seoul's Yoido Full Gospel Church featuring its choir and musicians numbering more than 100 members along with 21,000 worshipers in the pews. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • The choir and instrumentalists of the world's largest church,Yoido Full Gospel of Seoul, Korea lead their congregations in the singing of Christmas carols during the Advent Season.  Photo by Dave Bartruff The choir and instrumentalists of the world's largest church,Yoido Full Gospel of Seoul, Korea lead their congregations in the singing of Christmas carols during the Advent Season. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Full sanctuary in song during a Christmas Advent worship service in Seoul's historic Yongnak Presbyterian Church. Christian missionaries first arrived in the Korean "Hermit Kingdom" in 1784.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Full sanctuary in song during a Christmas Advent worship service in Seoul's historic Yongnak Presbyterian Church. Christian missionaries first arrived in the Korean "Hermit Kingdom" in 1784. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • Entrance to Seoul, Korea's historic Yongnak Presbyterian Church on an ordinary weekday.  Photo by Dave Bartruff Entrance to Seoul, Korea's historic Yongnak Presbyterian Church on an ordinary weekday. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • A Korean Sunday school class sings Christmas hymns on the floor of a gymnasium on a Christian church compound.  Photo by Dave Bartruff A Korean Sunday school class sings Christmas hymns on the floor of a gymnasium on a Christian church compound. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff
  • A Korean Sunday school teacher helps her class find answers to their questions about the first Christmas in their own Bibles.  Photo by Dave Bartruff  Photo by Dave Bartruff A Korean Sunday school teacher helps her class find answers to their questions about the first Christmas in their own Bibles. Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by Dave Bartruff Photo by: Dave Bartruff

Story and photography by 1st LT David Bartruff, USAR

Karaebi and Seoul, South Korea: “It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old…Peace on earth, good will to men, From heaven’s all-gracious King”

The beloved carol of Christmas was ringing out loud and clear in 1956 in the hearts and minds of the American GIs stationed at their remote outpost along the Demilitarized Zone, the 38th Parallel truce line that separated the two warring Koreas: the Republic of the South from the Communist Aggressor of the North. 

Just three years earlier the United Nations had negotiated a ceasefire to end three years of warfare on the peninsula that took the lives of 1.2 million combatants and civilians.  But tensions still remained high and another outbreak of war was always a possibility.

But now in 1956, it was Christmas Eve and the GIs and their unit commander were frantically organizing the distribution of food and toys to be given out to hundreds of Korean youngsters from the nearby village school of Karaebi located near their compound.

Early in the morning of Christmas Day, when the khaki-clad American “Santas” arrived at the school, they were overwhelmed to find hundreds of the village children had already massed in military-like formations that would make any US Army drill sergeant proud.

Then in order to receive their Christmas presents, the children next paraded in tight columns to the front of the school and stood patiently by until one by one, each received their gifts. 

And Christmas became a blessing to the GI providers and young recipients alike. 

This was just the first of two memorable Christmases in Korea that the young American officer would experience in the coming years ahead.  His second Korean Christmas would occur nearly three decades later in 1985, out of uniform and as a photojournalist on assignment.

But between his two Korean Christmases, the former US Army unit commander would return yet again to Korea to experience a heart-warming reunion with his Korean houseboy who through the years had become just like family.

Kim Hyung Tae at 44, was twice the age of the young 22-year-old Second Lieutenant when he arrived at his unit at rural Karaebi in the shadow of the DMZ in1956. The young officer had just graduated from the University of Illinois in the spring of 1955 with a journalism degree and his ROTC officer’s commission.

A close relationship quickly developed between the young American officer and his Korean house boy because of their common Christian faith. 

Their friendship continued to flourish across the Pacific especially each Christmas even after the lieutenant returned home to the USA.  This time it was with their exchange of Christmas cards each and every year for more than four decades.

But then the two met again in the capital city of Seoul in 1959, the former officer now a journalist. It was like “heaven on earth” for both.  Especially moving was their visit to Kim’s family home in rural Karaebi and the nearby military outpost where their relationship began.

Then in 1985, another Korean press assignment miraculously brought the US Army veteran to Seoul just in time to celebrate Christmas in Korea for a second time.  And this time he would worship in a  downtown Christian church with the largest congregation in the world: The Yoido Full Gospel Church with more than one million members!

The megachurch’s main sanctuary seats 21,000 worshipers.  Seven services are conducted each Sunday in the main sanctuary and on all other celebrations such as Christmas and Easter.  Throughout the year attendance is in excess of 200,000 worshipers on Sundays at the entire Yoido complex.

The mammoth church itself is actually its own “downtown”: an entire city of multi-storied buildings that serve as alternate worship annexes and Sunday Schools. Yoido even operates its own bus system to get its mammoth congregation back and forth between home and church on Sundays. 

All services in the main sanctuary are televised and broadcast not only to the satellite buildings of the church complex but to commercial television networks.

In all, 2-3 million Korean viewers “attend” Sunday services via television.  And the worship services are also translated into 16 languages and broadcast worldwide.

Yoido’s founder, the Reverend David Cho, once a Buddhist, survived a near-death experience and found his salvation and hope through the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Despite being the height of the Korean War in 1953, the Rev. Cho successfully founded his Yoido Church in the Korean capital of Seoul, facing of all things, the South Korean Government’s Capitol and National Assembly directly across the street.

Despite all the efforts of Christian missionaries from abroad to evangelize Korea, long known as “The Hermit Kingdom” beginning in 1784 with little success, miraculously it took the heartache of the Korean War in the 1950’s to explode the growth of Christian believers from 50,000 to over 10 million today. 

And one in ten of these new Christians have been baptized in the Yoido Full Gospel Church.

Korea’s transformation as a highly Christian nation is also seen in its sending of missionaries abroad nowadays: ranking second in the world only to the United States.

Note: The young Army lieutenant and photojournalist mentioned throughout the story above is the Communities contributing columnist Dave Bartruff. 


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Dave Bartruff

California-based Dave Bartruff is an award-winning photojournalist who has traveled to more than ninety countries.

Column Description: “Faraway places with strange-sounding names” is my middle name.  I’d like to introduce myself to you as often as I can.

 

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