The Sunday After Korea
NORA WALN, an American author and Quaker, went back to the Orient in September, 1947, after an absence of fifteen years. She made her headquarters in Tokyo, gathering material for her new book, Sliding Doors; she flew to Formosa and to Northern China, where she visited the House of Exile, the subject of her first book. The outbreak of war drew Miss Waln to Korea, and there she remained as a war correspondent until December, 1950. She has recently been lecturing in this country and, in the course of her travels, soliciting contributions for the Korean orphans she speaks of in this touching paper.
by NORA WALN
HALF a week of air travel separates Korea from Pennsylvania, but my mind had not yet made the division on a Sunday afternoon when I went with Winifred Tilbury to the loveliest of homes, the house of Mr. and Mrs. Henry S. Drinker on the Merion Road, to attend their Musical Party. As we motored along the Schuylkill I saw the waters of the Han, but the trees on the banks of the river had not been shortened by artillery fire.
Maple and sycamore, beech and graceful elm, stood where they have been growing in beauty ever since I can remember, their branches veiling a blue sky. There were no rice fields where Korean men and women, wearing gleaming white and bright colors, tried to plant and harvest their families’ food between battles. On a rise above Fairmount’s smooth driveway, green spruce and glossy young hemlocks had been pruned to reveal William Penn’s bronze statue near a rock where I like to sit listening to familiar bird songs.
We passed no encampments of Marines on the alert, no patrolling tanks guarding the countryside. Turning left over the bridge, we had no need to watch out for Communists with rifle or flung bazooka. Ambulances carrying our wounded to Valley Forge Hospital reminded me of the arena from which they and I had just been flown, three days and four nights away.
Our spacious park was not filled with Korean families who had fled from burning homes with their frightened old people and liitle children. My imagination put them here, safe from advancing and retreating troops. With thankfulness I saw our own citizens at their recreations as we went by neat suburban homes, where napalm has never fallen, and passed estates with rolling fertile acres, whitefenced. Many a family along this way has a man in Korea. I came back with telephone numbers that soldiers had asked me to call.
Beyond Merion’s gray stone church with its charming steeple, we came to Harry and Sophie Drinker’s front door. The polished knob turned easily under Winifred’s hand, the lock left unlatched to welcome visitors. Within the broad hall were the warmth of greetings, the sound of pleasant voices from adjoining rooms, and the happiness people have when they meet again.
Gifted Morrison Boyd, scholar of music from Oxford University, and others had already arrived with their instruments — friends and fiddlers gathering in the home of our tall, beautiful hostess in a black lace dress with fitted bodice and long, full skirt, and her taller husband in his musician’s coat. In this red velvet jacket he ceases to be our city’s foremost lawyer and becomes our beloved leader into the harmonies that awaken the heart.
Twenty-three years ago, they and their children began to give the Musical Party. This is a supper party to which invitations are sent out eight to ten times a year, a gathering to make music for the love of playing and singing. The original guest list numbered twelve outside the family. It has grown to one hundred and twenty-five. Through war and national crisis, Harry and Sophie have continued their musical parties because music is essential to fortitude and vision.
Copyright 1951, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston 16, Mass. All rights reserved.
Giuests are young and old. Neither race nor creed counts. Some are rich and others have very modest means. Our jobs cover a wide range. Players and singers come from Boston and Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York, and more distant places. Out of their acquaintanceships through the years, the host and hostess have made their selection. Amateurs and famous professionals meet in this hospitable home where the baton is in Harry’s hand.
The programs are of his choosing. There are no rehearsals. He may introduce new compositions or ancient music never played preiously in our country. He has sometimes discovered musical scores during his trips abroad.
The guests move into the music room with its two grand pianos, small organ, and seats for everyone. Chairs have been arranged. Sheet music is on every seat. Players of strings, flutes, oboe, and French horn have their places.
“Please write your names in the Musical Party Book,” asks our host, “recording whether you sing alto, soprano, tenor, or bass, or play an instrument and which one.”
He stands on a low platform in the center of the room. Seated among the singers are his wife, several of their children, nephews and nieces. Among the instrumentalists are their daughter Cecilia Saltonstall and her husband from Boston, Harry’s brothers — Philip Drinker, inventor of the iron lung, and Cecil Drinker, famous for his work in industrial medicine — and his sisters — Ernesta Drinker Barlow, my favorite writer of travel essays, and exciting Catherine Drinker Bowen, author of Yankee from Olympus and John Adams and the American Revolution. I am the only listener. My place is on the worn brown sofa.
WE’LL do Bach cantatas before supper,” announced Harry on the Sunday after I came from Korea, “and then Schütz, born a hundred years before Bach.”
He lifted his baton and the music was a part of living. Starting quietly, clear and highly colorful, the dramatic cantata of Johann Sebastian Bach returned me to Seoul more swiftly than a Stratocruiser had carried me home across the Pacific. Unknowingly, he had selected the choral composition I heard on the Sunday when the city was liberated from its first ordeal under Communist administration. The voices that sang in Merion were American but the voices to which my inner ear listened were Korean, jubilant and adoring.
It was in the late afternoon and I was the guest of General Kim and his adviser, Colonel Dean Hess of Marietta, Ohio, at their headquarters on the plain cast of the Han River. While the fighting was still going on in and around Seoul they had put up a blue tent for me. From this lodging I was making trips among the people to get acquainted with them. Chaplain R. L. Blaisdell had come to lead Christian services at the camp, which was soon to move on above the 38th parallel.
After lunch we borrowed Colonel Hess’s jeep. Crossing the Han on a bridge of moored boats, hastily constructed to replace the bombed suspension bridge, we went through ruins and rubble where the fires of war still burned. Koreans were in the city and others were rapidly returning. Families with tiny native oxen coaxed their beasts not to be afraid. Women, carrying bundles on their heads, encouraged their children forward. Men pulling earts loaded with household goods called out joyously to kin and friends.
“Welcome United Nations,” we read on banners.
“Welcome,” called those who could pronounce our word.
Faces were radiant. Material loss, personal tragedy, and an uncertain future were their lot, yet the Korean people had put up festival arches of evergreen. Suddenly I wanted to walk. In the jeep I was too far from them. Chaplain Blaisdell had Evening Service at Fifth Air Force Headquarters and he had to go on. We parted after arranging where I would connect with the jeep again.
After wandering with Koreans, whose language I cannot speak, I met a Chinese girl born in Seoul who told me she was twelve. She readily agreed to be my companion and interpreter. Returning refugees were going directly to the places where their homes had been. If they found only a heap of rubble they did not weep. Their concern was to find relatives and neighbors, then build temporary shelters.
Volunteers were busy clearing the clogged streets. Women, wearing badges which said they were those of a literary club, were sweeping up glass. School boys and girls marching four abreast, led by teachers carrying United Nations flags, broke lines and began to dig out streetcars buried in debris. And, then, the singing began — the music of Bach. Everyone stopped to listen. The good sound came from somewhere put of sight.
“It’s Christian music,” exclaimed my Chinese guide. “The Presbyterian church.”
She took my hand and hurried. Darting through fire and ruins she led me until we came within sight of a magnificent church that stood undamaged, a stone church handsomely built in Western style. It was awesome to see this building for Christian worship miraculously saved. A great throng surrounded the church, two or three thousand Korean people, singing with the worshipers inside. An organ led them. They had wind and string instruments. The music was music for the love of playing and singing — joyous and triumphant.
Here in Pennsylvania, an evening breeze swayed the curtains and I saw Harry, in his velvet jacket, with his friends gathered in his home. My imagination enlarged the walls of this house in Merion until it sheltered the Koreans I had hoard at that church in Seoud. Under Harry’s baton, time and distance disappeared. Americans and Koreans made music together, united by the power of a German Christian named Bach, praising God in chorus.
IN THEIR way of singing, the Koreans remind me of the Welsh. They make music easily, openly, freely. Often I heard them sing sad songs from their own folklore — “Longing for Home,” “Nature Has Forsaken Us,” “Mountains Do Not Care.” This was because I lived among them in this period of terrible war when they have no security, no safety for their children, no place to hide. They have native songs of gladness praising the flowers, the beauty of the sky, the gracious rain that helps the crops grow; dance tunes and melodious love songs. And, they have taken our music to heart in a way that I have heard in no other part of Asia.
Christian missionaries have gone to Korea for many decades. Many thousands of Koreans are Christians. Never elsewhere have I witnessed the fervor that was in the surviving Christians I met. When the Red Curtain was rolled back for a short while north of the 38th parallel, I saw the graves of Christian martyrs with markers showing dales from 1945 to 1950. In the yard of the Presbyterian church standing in Seoul, my Chinese guide later showed me the grave of the senior church elder, put to death by Communists. She showed me other churchyards where there had been mass burial of Christians shot in groups of tens. On the rubble of destroyed churches and by Christian graves Korean Christians sang hymns.
Great congregations gathered in bitter weather in the open on the plot where their church had been, and held their services just as if the building were still there. The heavens were their roofs. Sitting on the brown sofa, I remembered their spiritual courage.
It was in the Seventh Division of the Tenth Corps, a division which has Korean youth conscripted and inducted into every regiment. The Koreans were outfitted with our infantry uniforms and armed with our equipment. They were given three weeks of training in the use of our weapons before they were committed to combat.
Strangers to each other, from very different homes, without a common language in which to converse, our boys and these Korean boys have not found this close relationship easy. It is often difficult even though the two fight efficiently as a team. Some hate one another, despise one another’s habits, call one another derogatory nicknames. Others have become companions, friends who sacrifice their lives for one another.
On the way to the Yalu, a narrow stream which has for centuries marked the division of Korea from Manchuria, the Seventeenth Infantry Regiment was the Seventh Division’s spearhead. I was at the Yalu with them. They are a valiant regiment. Within the Seventh, they fought northward through territory where the while man is a stranger. It is a wild country of the bear, the boar, the deer, and striped cats — a country settled by Chinese and Koreans who farm the narrow valleys and hunt game in the hills, take fish from the streams. On the mountain ridges are caves and tiny connecting paths that pass under the scrub growth. People can live up there unseen from the air. In this region Chinese Communist armies were settled in. They looked down while the United Nations forces fought with the Korean Communists, who lured our soldiers on.
Enduring subzero weather, the Seventeenth took twenty days to touch the riverbank where they set up our flags. Here and there on the way up, they had fierce victorious battles with Korean Communists — and then, mysteriously, contact with the enemy would be lost. There were many deeds of heroism as they went north and later after the Chinese had attacked them. I remembered those bleak mountain ranges of Korea, during battle, on that Sunday evening in Merion at the Musical Party.
Near the close of the Bach part of the program, the cantata called Wachet auf with its heart-stirring solo was performed, and while organ played and voices sang, memory took me back to two soldiers — one American, one Korean. Among our wounded there was a boy so badly mutilated that he was near to death, yet he was conscious. He called weakly for his Korean buddy. The Korean boy tried to move him and finally shifted him behind a boulder. Then mortar fire came down on that side.
The Korean could have saved himself but he would not. Perhaps it was wrong to spend two lives; but the Korean’s heart commanded him, and he obeyed its dictates. Sheltering his dying comrade with his own body, he responded to the American boy’s request that he sing. In the midst of harsh explosives, his young tenor voice — clear and true — could not be heard far. A Korean chaplain and I were close by, tending others, getting them ready for the medical corpsmen to pick up.
“Nearer, my God, to thee,” the Korean boy sang for his American buddy. They could not have been more than — nineteen they looked younger.
The tune was our tune and the words of the hymn were Korean. He sang the first verse and half the second. Communist fire got both boys.
In Korea I was never able to cry tears, but the warm comfort and the music in Sophie Drinker’s home helped to unfreeze my emotions, gave me the release of damp eyes, and then it was suppertime.
Catherine Drinker Bowen came for me. We took plates and went to the buffet, where there were hot dishes and cold. Then we sat together and others came. The talk was not of music but of the writing of books and of the revolutions of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries and of mankind’s desperate struggle for the freedoms that help us endure and prevail. We are immortal because of a spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance, and endless search for truth.
After supper the music was the music composed by Schütz, from whom Bach derived much — carrying on a torch. In that music room where the pictures on the walls are oil paintings of the older Drinkers when they were children, I was reminded of a young woman executed at Seoul because of her association with a Communist leader who could not be found.
Our military did not have authority to do other than liberate cities. That branch of the United Nations which has been preparing the Covenant on Human Rights had not yet gone beyond the conference stage. Trials conducted by Koreans against Korean Communists were quick and cruel. Through the streets of Seoul and other liberated cities I saw the condemned, tied together, pass from courthouse to jail and from jail to execution ground. Women were allowed to keep their babies with them in court, prison, and at the place of death until after the mask was on. There was no one to tend them. Often the baby went back into the prison yard, joining a growing throng. Korean Christians who tried to take charge of them were rebuffed.
This day reporters went to the place of execution. I went because I wanted, if possible, to get the babies before they were returned to the prison and shut in. There was a young woman — tall, slender, with rare beauty. She had her child in the shawl sling tied round her waist, in the way that Korean mothers carry their little ones. She was third in the line of death. The two in front of her had refused to say any word as to why they should not die. Shots killed both.
Her turn had come. The baby had not been taken away from her. The blindfold was put on her eyes. The twelve-year-old Chinese girl who was with me as my interpreter reached for and clutched my hand and then the proud young Korean woman began to sing — “A Prayer for the Frightened,” my little interpreter told me later. She finished it and look a step forward, lifting her head higher, and we who were her audience were strangely held — not a rifleman moved.
Her gaze on the sky, she sang the centuries-old, the everywhere-known Korean love song: “Love has no barriers. Love is eternal. The love of a woman for her man endureth forever.” They let her finish and then asked if she was ready. A prison woman took her baby and later I got it for the Christian Korean orphanage that cares for such as these. The mother was not finished.
“I am not a Communist,” said she. “I love a man who is a Communist. He escaped you. In his place I die.” In his place she fell by the open grave.
And then it was the turn of the man next in the remaining five.
While Harry Drinker led the group in Schülz’s great setting for our Bible’s One Hundred and Thirty-Sixth Psalm: “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever,” my thoughts were with the child of this executed mother — now cared for on an island off the coast of Korea — and with the great multitude of refugee orphan children who need us to share our abundance with them. He maketh “the sun to rule by day, the moon and the stars to rule by night,” and us to do His practical work on earth.