In the summer of 1964, a few months after the 9.2 magnitude earthquake hit Anchorage, I got to visit my Uncle John and Uncle Jerome in Juneau, Alaska before heading east to Philadelphia to enter the tenth grade.
Jerome worked for the US Postal Service and John had a researcher's job staying on a pristine remote island monitoring all the animals, insects and plants. Fish during the day and hang out with the other guys in the evening for a week in a remote cabin eating grilled fish, drinking beer, and playing cards, among other things. Then go home by boat to your wives for the weekends. What a life!
Jerome took me into the mountains panning for gold in streams where the tailings had washed down from some old abandoned gold mines above. We did get some gold dust worth $30.00 or so but no nuggets.
While panning, I noticed several teenage girls and boys working their way up the trail toward us. They had pick axes and were hammering on rocks with little veins of quartz, hoping to find gold. I had a candy bar wrapped in gold foil so I ate the bar and pushed strips of the gold foil into a long crack in the rock wall so that it would look like a vein of gold.
When the kids got up to where we were panning and started picking at the rocks, I heard one of the girls excitedly call out to the rest of the crew, "Hey, come here! Check this out."
I could sense the anticipation building as the picking and hammering increased into a frenzy with hushed voices not being able to hide their excitement.
Jerome and I, squatted at the stream's edge with our backs to them, could hardly control our urge to burst out into peals of laughter.
No telling what kind of thoughts about us ran through the minds of those kids when the disappointment of finding out that they had been duped set in. But, they quietly left back down the trail and Jerome and I giggled and guffawed on and off for the rest of the day.
RODNEY GOES TO JAPAN WITH HIS FATHER
World War II Revisited
My father, Theodore Hard (Ted), was an Orthodox Presbyterian Missionary in South Korea since right after the Korean War in 1954. Dad helped Christian colleges and seminaries organize and stock their libraries as part of his mission overseas. In 1965, my older brother, Sterling, was already back in the United States. So, Dad took me, son number two, on a trip with him to Japan. It was sort of a working vacation and sight seeing week.
Dad and I booked passage on a small Japanese ship. The ship was actually a converted LST (military designation for Landing Ship, Tank, since they used it for beach landings to divulge tanks and troops) left over from the Korean War. When we boarded in Pusan, Korea, I found out that we did not have a room on the ferry to Japan. Everyone just sort of claimed a spot on the floor in the hold of the ship (where the tanks and jeeps used to be stored) and set up camp with sleeping bags and personal belongings for an overnight trip.
While chatting with some of the Japanese crew members top side in a mixture of some Japanese I knew, broken English, and the little bit of Korean they knew, we were able to carry on a friendly conversation about various things. Eventually, the conversation moved into World War II territory and Dad ended up telling them that he had been a navigator in the B-29s that bombed Japan. The crew's friendly smiles subsequent to that conversation seemed a little forced for the rest of the trip. Needless to say, I did not sleep well that night out in the open in the hold of the ship.
When we arrived in Japan, we traveled by train to where the seminary was where Dad would be helping out. We had a nice dinner at the home of a professor with his daughter (shown in picture) and his wife.
Now, it happened that the wife had one side of her face all scarred up. During the course of the evening, near the end of the meal, Dad asked the professor what had happened to his wife's face. The professor proceeded to tell us how his wife had gotten severely burned in an air raid on his town during World War II. Dad asked him what town he lived in when it was bombed. The professor told us (I don't remember the name of the town) and that is when it got interesting.
I really don't know what is up with Dad's total honesty thing, but there are times when it is best to just leave well enough alone. But, NO! Dad proceeded to tell the family that that town had been bombed only once near the end of the war and that he was the navigator in one of the B-29s that bombed that town.
I guess Dad relied on the Christian forgiveness thing and let bygones be bygones. But, I figured that the Japanese Ninja retribution thing may trump the Christian forgiveness thing in this situation.
That night we stayed in a dormitory room at the seminary. It was a hot summer night with no air conditioning and against my better judgment (or perhaps, unfounded fears), Dad wanted to sleep with the windows wide open to let in the cool night. I told him that I thought it was a bad idea that he had told the professor and his family about the bombing raid, and I told him I thought it was a bad idea to leave the windows open in case the Ninja came to assassinate us. Dad laughed and poo-pooed the whole notion. After all, the war was over.
I did not get any sleep that night because every little sound I heard fueled my fears of us being in mortal danger from assassins that were about to burst through the windows with Samurai swords drawn.
I remember this story very clearly because of the impact of the fear I suffered. Dad, on the other hand, does not remember any of it. The last time I saw Dad before he died, Sterling and I were retelling a lot of our memories. Dad still denied that this happened.
A HIGH SCHOOL PRANK
The Girls' Nap Rudely Interrupted
I attended boarding school for my 9th grade, 11th grade, and 12th grade. Korea Christian Academy was about 125 miles (as the crow flies) away from home on the outskirts of Taejon City. I travelled by steam engine train for six hours to get to Taejon and then took a bus outside the city to O-Jung Dong. Every six weeks or so, I took the train back home to Pusan for a weekend with the family. There were only two English speaking missionary high schools in Korea and KCA was the closest one.
You can see from the senior yearbook picture of me lighting a fire in the stove under my girlfriend Pam that I was definitely a mischievous young man. I loved pulling pranks on fellow students and teachers. The best prank of all was during my Freshman year when both my older brother Sterling and I were both at KCA at the same time.
One Sunday, after church and then lunch in the school cafeteria, the girls all went to the dormitory to take a nap. Some of us boys, including Sterling and me, went hunting for mice and rats. We used to have contests as to who could kill the most rats and mice in one week. We would even get up before daybreak, several hours before school started, to go hunting in the fields and ditches. We collected the tails and kept them on a string hanging in our dormitory room windows.
This particular Sunday afternoon, we were in the field to the left of the red brick dormitory (which is behind the school building in the foreground of the picture) combing through a large compost pile for nests of mice and rats. We found several nests of baby mice on one side of the pile and a big bundle of baby garter snakes on the other side, coiled together, warming themselves in the sun.
Several boys in our group took the snakes to the front door of the girls' dormitory and let the snakes loose in their hallway. When the snakes hit the cold cement floor, they became very active and started scattering in every direction down the hallway and under the doors to the girls' rooms.
In the meantime, the rest of us went to the side of the dorm (where you can see the windows of the red brick building facing you) and shot the baby mice out of our slingshots at the girls' windows. The girls woke up when they heard the mice splattering against their windows. Seeing the mice hit the windows and slide down the windows in bloody streaks, they screamed and jumped out of their beds.
To our sheer delight, we heard the second series of even louder shrieks and screams when the girls went running out of their rooms into the hallway filled with little writhing snakes.
We all got in trouble with the principal and, of course, the girls, but it was more than worth it.
While attending high school boarding school at Korea Christian Academy, we took a Junior/Senior trip to Jeju Island off the southern coast of Korea. There were only five of us in my Senior class and only a few more than that in the Junior class.
We took a train to Pusan and then a ferry boat to the island. After a day of sightseeing as we made our way around to the south side of the island, we stopped at a small village and checked into a small inn.
The inn had a small courtyard lit by one little 60 watt bulb. The rooms had sliding rice paper doors with no latches or locks and all opened onto the porch facing the courtyard.
We all went to a little Chinese restaurant, the only restaurant in town, for dinner and feasted on pork egg rolls, sweet and sour pork, and several other pork dishes.
After dinner, back at the inn, my friend Steve Linton and I asked the inn keeper where we could find the bathroom. She pointed in the direction of the rice patties next to the inn. It was a moonlit night with no ambient city light to obstruct the view of the vast array of stars, but walking along the one foot wide mud dikes between the water filled rice paddies in the dark was still a challenge.
We found the outhouse which had a hole in the floor you had to squat over to relieve yourself. I went first but, before I squatted, I realized that something was awry. There was a four foot long stick leaning against the corner, which was so unusual that I decided to investigate first.
Steve and I discovered that the outhouse was built over a pig pen. The pigs had grown up to full size now, so you had to use the stick to poke the pigs' snouts to keep them away from your underside as they fought for positioning to get their next meal directly from the source. That is about as delicately as I can explain the situation. The irony of me having just pigged out on pork hit me hard enough to make me sick at my stomach.
After relieving ourselves, Steve and I went back to the inn. Two of the girls asked us where the bathroom was. Steve and I looked at each other, hesitated a moment contemplating whether we should tell them about the pigs, and then pointed in the direction of the outhouse without any further explanation.
We waited with baited breath listening for a reaction from out in the dark and were rewarded with the most blood curdling screams we had ever heard. Needless to say, those girls did not talk to us for the rest of the trip.
Steve Linton was my best friend in high school at Korea Christian Academy in Taejon, Korea. We did everything together. One of our favorite pastimes on weekends at our boarding school was to take a bus into the city and catch dinner and a movie.
One weekend we decided to watch the Dracula movie at the local theater. The Koreans are very superstitious so Steve and I decided to pull a practical joke and scare some young ladies.
I had a pair of vampire teeth with the elongated fangs that I had purchased at a novelty store in America when I was on furlough the prior year. As we were walking out at the end of the movie through the lobby, some young couples walking out were staring at us. So, I opened my mouth and flashed my fangs.
One young lady just keeled over in a dead faint and the other girl screamed and took off running.
While Steve tended to the girl who had passed out, wanting to let the fleeing girl know that it was just a joke, I ran after her to show her the fake teeth. When she looked back and saw me chasing her, she screamed and ran that much faster.
When I caught her, she was wide-eyed and shook in abject terror. I didn't want her to go through life with garlands of garlic around her neck carrying a large crucifix so I showed her the fake teeth and told her it was just a prank.
She was still bug-eyed and shaking like a leaf when I left her. I felt bad about what I had just done because I had no idea that the girls' reactions would be that severe.
It was still pretty funny though, and being an inveterate prankster, I got over the feelings of guilt pretty fast over dinner at a good Chinese restaurant.
WAYLAYED ON A BUS
As a high school Junior in boarding school at Korea Christian Academy, I spent much of my spare time training in the martial arts of Judo and Tang Soo Do. I befriended a very large Korean fellow who was also into martial arts and had muscles upon muscles. He was an avid weight lifter and had a callous on the back of his head the size of an egg from lying on his back and bench pressing all the time. He was an expert in Judo, Karate, Boxing, and Wrestling. His name was Aw Baw Gee, and though he was older than I was, I think he hung out with me to learn English.
My best friend at school, Steve Linton, and I liked to take a bus on weekends to the City of Taejon for a movie and dinner. One fateful Saturday afternoon, Steve and I got onto the bus heading to the city. The bus had seats along the sides and Steve and I sat down near the back. After several bus stops it got fairly crowded with a lot of people standing up in the middle. Then, at the next bus stop, two guys got on and started talking boisterously and looking at Steve and me. At the next bus stop, two more guys got on and started talking to the first two guys. They all started looking over at us. The next bus stop, two more guys got on and talked to the other four. They looked at us and said in Korean, "Hey, why are you Americans talking so loud and being impolite in front of elders?"
I answered in Korean, "We are minding our own business having a quiet conversation. It appears that you are the ones that are loud and impolite having attracted everyone's attention."
They glared at us and went back to talking with one another. Over the next four or five stops, eight more of their gang got on. Realizing what was about to happen, all of the other passengers got off the bus as quickly as they could.
That left fourteen mean looking young men glaring at us. Steve and I rose to get off the bus, but the guy sitting by the door drew a sword hidden in his cane and shook his head side to side as if to say, "No, you aren't getting off here."
Steve and I had been in a similar situation before when eight guys followed us and trapped us in a dead end alley we had run into unwittingly to get away from them. Steve and I had gotten out of that one by acting crazy. We started arguing and fighting with each other as to who was going to get to fight this time. "You had last time; it's my turn this time." I said as I pulled him behind me and headed toward the gang. Steve pulled me back to get at the gang saying, "No, you had all the fun last time; it's my turn to fight them." The gang looked at us in wide-eyed unbelief and just took off when we got to within several yards of them.
But this situation on the bus was different and more dangerous, mainly because there was fourteen against two of us and no room in which to maneuver. They could just pile on and beat us to a pulp.
The next stop was the train station at the edge of the city. There would be a lot of people around and probably some policemen. At least that is what we hoped as the bus came to a stop. Steve said, "It's now or never. Let's go for it." As we rose to make our move, the gang closed in on us. But something caught my eye outside the bus on the sidewalk. It was my friend, the Hulk. I thought, "Three against fourteen is better than two against fourteen." I frantically yelled out to my friend, "Aw Baw Gee!"
Everyone in the gang froze with panic in their eyes. Then, some jumped out the windows and others ran out the door as fast as they could. Aw Baw Gee watched the evacuation, pointed to one of the gang members coming out the door, and sternly barked, "Come here!"
Steve and I watched in relief and amazement as the head of the gang Aw Baw Gee had summoned lay groveling at his feet begging for forgiveness. The man said, "We're sorry, we didn't know they were your friends."
Aw Baw Gee snarled, "I'll deal with you later." and gave him a swift kick.
Steve and I took our friend out on the town and treated him to a wonderful dinner. We couldn't stop thanking him for saving our hides. We told him about the encounter with the other gang in the alley several months ago and he had a good laugh about how Steve and I had handled it. He promised that he would get the word out, and nobody would ever again mess with us or any of the foreign kids from our school.
About fourteen years later, I was running several Karate schools in St. Louis, Missouri. I hired a Korean martial arts master to run one of my schools. Master Lee had been in the Korean Secret Service and had been a bodyguard to President Park Jung-hee when he was assassinated by his own security chief, on October 26, 1979. Master Lee and all of the Secret Service became under suspicion and were purged from the service, though there was no proof of their involvement. Most went to other countries in disgrace as did Master Lee, who came to America.
So, because of his former position, Master Lee was in the know about most criminal activity and crime families in Korea. When I told him the story of how Aw Baw Gee had saved me from a serious beating back in 1966, he just looked at me with amusement and said, "You have no idea who this Aw Baw Gee is, do you?"
When I told him I did not know, he went on to tell me about my friend. Master Lee told me that Aw Baw Gee was the youngest of five brothers who ran all the illegal activities in Taejon City. They were feared by all and had their hand in theft, extortion, prostitution, black marketing, gambling, and many other shady enterprises. All the gangs in the city answered to them and gave them a piece of the action.
Had I known back in high school that Aw Baw Gee was a member of a Korean mob family, I would not have befriended him or hung out with him. But in retrospect, I am very glad I did not know and that he had been my friend. He really did save my hide.
I learned that no matter how good you are, there can always be a situation where someone else can get the better of you.
I learned how important it was to cross train in other styles of martial arts.
I learned it was important to be able to fight at close range with little room to maneuver.
I learned that being able to fight was important, but that it was more important to learn to avoid situations that may lead to a fight.
In the back alley situation, I learned what Bruce Lee meant when he talked about "the art of fighting without fighting".