BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The Korean War veteran who established the Korean War Children's Memorial in Washington state will return to South Korea this July.
Invited to Korea by Gyeonggi Province Gov. Kim Moon-soo, Dr. George F. Drake will return with other Korean War veterans for the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice.
While serving as a high-speed radio intercept operator, Drake volunteered to help orphans find homes during the Korean War. The 83-year-old former U.S. Army sergeant served in the 326th Communications Reconnaissance Company in Uijeongbu.
His Korean War experience stayed with him. More than 10 years ago, following the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, Drake decided the war's littlest survivors needed to be remembered along with the American service members who helped them.
Drake launched a campaign to have the Korean War Children's Memorial built in the park near his house in Bellingham, Wash.
Drake has been back to South Korea five times since the war and he donated a Korean War Children's Memorial that stands at Imjingak, just south of the border with North Korea.
The former Bellingham city council member and retired sociology professor has diligently chronicled the efforts of U.S. service members to help orphans in Korea during the brutal three-year war. His journey has taken him from his Washington state home to the archives of Pacific Stars & Stripes in Tokyo to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
According to Drake, U.S. service members helped more than 10,000 children and sustained more than 53,000 in more than 400 orphanages, many of which they either built or repaired.
Drake said U.S. troops also donated more than $2 million from the less than $100 per month that most of them earned and brought in thousands of tons of aid from the United States for the children and their care givers.
On July 27, Korean War veterans from across the United States will mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice agreement that brought major combat operations to a halt on the Korean Peninsula.
While the armistice is has never been replaced with a peace treaty, the ceasefire has enabled South Korea's rise from abject poverty to the world's 13th largest economy in 60 years.
Drake said the most rewarding experience of his efforts to tell the story of Korean War orphans was a letter from one of the children he helped at an orphanage named Manassas Manor after company commander Capt. John Consolvo's hometown in Virginia.
"My name is Eddie Cho, and I am one of your Manassas orphans," Cho wrote to Drake. "I was about 4 years old when the Korean War broke out. I remember my father being taken captive by the North Koreans and my mother being so sick and eventually dying of the black plague while trying to escape, on foot, from Seoul."
"I have often thought of the American soldiers from the 326th Communication Reconnaissance Company who took care of us at the Manassas Manor orphanage. I had always wished that I could have known their names and addresses so that I could have expressed my gratefulness," wrote Cho.
"So many wonderful memories," Cho wrote. "We were kings of the world! You included us in each and every recreational activity, such as games and movies, with the spare time you had. I cherish and thank you for those precious memories you provided for us at the Manassas orphanage."