There are very few countries that have had as many things happen to it in such a short time then Korea. The nation in just the past 55 years since the end of the Korean War has faced communist insurgencies, coups, break neck economic development, assassinations, economic collapse, as well as a successful democracy movement. Throughout all these years American servicemembers rotating for mostly one year tours on the peninsula have bared witness to all the set backs and accomplishments of the Republic of Korea.
Despite this constant presence of the American military in Korean society, very little has been written about the GI experience in Korea. This is what makes Tim Norris’s book, Seasons in the Kingdom such a unique addition to the growing number of Korea related books. Norris’s book is a historical work of fiction that follows the life of a US Army soldier who was drafted into the Army and instead of being sent to Vietnam was sent to South Korea to complete a tour of duty on the peninsula between 1973-1974.
1964 picture of ASCOM City.
The soldier, Mike is given orders to work as a guard at the 8th Army Confinement Facility, which at that time was located on the outskirts of Incheon in an area known as ASCOM (Army Support Command). ASCOM was the US military’s main logistical support hub at the time and the only remnants of it that remains today is Camp Market. The story initially develops by following Mike’s interactions with fellow soldiers in the barracks before getting into the meat of the story, which is his life in the “ville” which are the small camptowns located outside US military installations in Korea.
1968 image of a ville outside a US military camp.
For those that have served on the Korean peninsula during or near this time frame; this book should really bring back memories of what it was like back then as Norris explains in great detail, not only what the life of a GI was like in the ville, but the girls working there as well. Norris does a great job describing the girls working in these clubs by really bringing home to the reader that these girls were more than just prostitutes, but people who also had hopes and dreams before being shackled by the club system.
1968 photo of US military barracks bunk.
In order to describe the life of the numerous Korean prostitutes working in the GI camptowns, Norris has Mike meet the beautiful Songhi. Songhi’s life like many in Korea was filled with bitter disappointment and strife after she was locked into the club system by a scheming ajumma when she was forced to quit college due to her father not having enough money to pay for her education and Songhi’s younger brother as well. Songhi like many girls working in the ville dream of marrying a GI in order to escape the club system that has trapped her and to bring her a better life in America.
The rest of the story develops as Mike eventually purchases Songhi from the club ajumma to become what was known back then as a “yobo”. The yobo system no longer exists today, but back then GIs could purchase girls from the clubs, set them up in a small apartment, and that woman would effectively be their girlfriend for the entire year they were in Korea. Being a yobo was highly sought after by the club girls because it meant they no longer had to prostitute themselves in the club anymore and increased their chances of marrying a GI.
1968 photograph of a Korean girl outside a US military club in Korea.
Sign posted on base in 1968 warning soldiers of club girls with STDs.
As their relationship develops both Songhi and Mike have unrealistic expectations of each other, but neither seems to realize it until Songhi becomes pregnant with Mike’s baby. The book concludes with Mike completing his tour of duty in Korea and having to come face to face with what kind of life and future he wanted to have with Songhi.
The story is compelling, but the real reason why I recommend people should read this book is not for the story, but to get a better understanding of the conditions servicemembers serving in Korea during this time frame experienced. This book makes clear the latent racism and the huge drug problem that plagued the US military in the 1970s. The drug problem in the ranks was so bad that soldiers were arrested for using their M-16s to murder Korean drug dealers when drug deals went bad. In fact two soldiers were so high on drugs that they took their weapons and had a stand off on Seoul Tower with the Korean police before finally giving themselves up.
The book also describes how some guards used to beat black prisoners and how some clubs became segregated by race as well. The racism was just between white and black soldiers but many soldiers also directed their racism and frustrations at the Koreans as well. Even in the 1970’s “gook” was still a common term for a Korean.
1969 picture of Korean women in Seoul.
Likewise the Koreans themselves were very racist. The prostitutes in the ville were considered the bottom of society and often insulted in the streets for associating with GIs, especially black GIs. Children of these women often had no other options in Korean society other than becoming workers in the camp system themselves.
1968 image of a village woman.
In many aspects the US military’s behaviour back then was less then admirable and it is easy to see why many 386 generation Koreans still hold negative stereotypes of the US military based off their experiences from growing up during this time frame. Like the incredible progress Korea has made over the years, US military has come a long way as well and this book is a welcome reminder of that. Hopefully one day the ville system still in place today will be the last reminder of this time.
12:12 pm on May 29th, 2008 1
That Mishelov site is great for pictures of that time period.
5:58 am on May 29th, 2008 2
A wall with Korean whores names with STD’s. It seems as if Korea was one big whore house then.
I guess with all the red light dist, room salons, business clubs, da bang’s (coffee shops), booking clubs (sure is a long list and there is more LOL)in Korea these days, things sure have changed and sure have stayed the same.
It is a great site for pictures especially high quality color pictures of that time period.
[…] GIKorea at ROKDrop.com reminds us that the US forces in Korea have come a long way since 1974 as well. May 26, 2008 […]
Thanks for the great review of my novel, Seasons in the Kingdom. I appreciate it and all that you do.
Tim at nandupress!
[…] from reader’s of this novel, many by Korean Service Veterans & others. ROK Drop Review. Go here to read review at ROK Drop, which includes other links for Korea and Korean Veterans. This is the most recent review, but be […]
- stanley Ray Mcqueen
12:41 am on June 5th, 2008 7
I was stationed on a missile tact side in south korea in the year 1970, while there i caught Tuberculosis and had to be flown back to the states to be treated for my ten remaining month in the service and was given a early release in feb 3 1972, my memory of the place is not so good , i nearly died over their with active Tuberculosis , and still suffer with breathing problems assocated with my old Tuberculosis, I think if i had not had relationships with the korean woman my health and life would have been of a better quality..but i was young and stupid like all young people back then, and i never knew the risk that i was taking back them as far as my health was conserned, I have never read the book about korea, maybe i will in the future ..good day stanley Ray Mcqueen
Tim no problem it was a great book and I enjoyed reading it.
Stanley sorry to hear about the TB. Korea has come a long ways since then but it is still not uncommon to hear about people getting diagnosed with TB unfortunately. I do recommend you check out the book since you were stationed in Korea back then. You would probably enjoy it.
I visited Ascom City on my recent trip to Korea. Amazingly parts of Sin-Chon, my village, and Cherry Hill are still there. Photos to follow soon on my website. I visited the house where I lived and walked some of those alleyways. The rice fields around our compound are now all apartments blocks that loom over the remaining parts of the old villages. Will update when photos are available.
I have just posted images of Sinchon, Cherry Hill, and the village nearby. These images are from my recent trip, but they alleyways are still there from my time in Korea. I also have a few comparative shots of the village from then and now.
Best, and more to come.
- Dave L.
5:03 pm on June 12th, 2008 11
I was on the DMZ in ’67-’68 and I can tell you it was all business when we were on the zone, very serious stuff. There was a huge difference between being stationed on the DMZ and near Seoul. I only made it to Seoul once and it was only about 35 miles away. The life in the ‘ville was probably the same except for the racism, as far as I knew all races coexisted very well. I had a number of black friends, although we didn’t have too many black guys in my infantry unit, perhaps more were stationed down south. The Koreans were still very much appreciative of what we did for them during the Korean War although many GI’s were jerks to the Korean people.
I will buy the book and thanks for writing of your experiences.
- Paul E. Black
11:13 pm on June 12th, 2008 12
I enjoyed reading your book Tim.
As I worked for the NCO Club Admin office I seen a lot of the interaction between the Korean women and the GI’s as you spoke of in your book.
I spent a few days at the Ascom City base just prior to my departure from Korea.
I really enjoyed the Korean language cross refrence in your glossary. I liked the Military Language and Bamboo English too.
I look forward to seeing your recent pictures of Korea.
Paul in Tampa
Tim, great photos of the old ville. I liked your before and after shots that show how much the area has changed.
I’m glad you enjoyed your return trip to Korea.
- Ancient Soldier
4:54 am on September 5th, 2008 14
Sounds like me…I ordered the book…I’m sure it will be a great read and a real memory jogger. I was there in the late 50s and 1969-70.
- Paul D Coffey
4:25 am on November 28th, 2008 15
I was in the 249th 1968-1969
If you will tell me how I will send you a picture.
Paul, be sure to check out my website at http://www.nandupress.com.
- Paul D Coffey
12:29 pm on November 29th, 2008 17
Thank you for helping Ronnie Partin and I to get in touch with each other after over 35 years, since being in the 249th together in 1968.
- Steven Gunn
9:42 am on May 11th, 2009 18
I was fresh out of basic training in 1979 assigned to the 249th MP Det Confinement Facility. As soon as I reported to the First Sergent he had me, himself and two of my buddies breaking the ice up in the duck pond. I knew this place was wieird. After my tour I releized how much I missed it. No I did’t have a YOBO I was still playing the bars and saving money instead one sucking me dry. We only had one attempt escape.
I’d like to hear from you. You would probably down at Camp Humphreys. I remember when we moved the stockade down there in ’75. It was a big deal to move into modern facilities. I have many posted pics and more coming of the 249th at Ascom City. Any photos or stories please send them my way.
website is http://www.nandupress.com.
- Steven Gunn
8:56 am on May 31st, 2009 21
I have no pic’s I was just 17 and too excited leaving home for the first time, my one year flew by fast. We had a pretty good softball team and that duck pond we had came in handy in the summer months. By the way chickens can swim. The problem with the pond was the ducks and chickens kept missing, we thought it was the KATUSA. found out it was the perimiter guards that stayed in our compound, TASTY If you have pics of the Humphry’s 249th mp could you send them at email@example.com I’m presently a civilian in IRAQ for DOD.
- Jennifer Luntzel
1:40 am on July 27th, 2009 22
I have just ordered the book! I was one of the few civilian women who followed my husband to South Korea.
05/69-09/70. We lived in the village of Bupyong Dong about a 15 minute walk from the post. We took many pictures as we spent a lot of time at the craft shop on the base. We did the developing ourselves. It sure was an interesting time. We have a lot of stories! I was fortunate to secure a job at the 121st evacuation hospital and witnessed the Pueblo crew arriving. I have often wondered how the area is now. Anxious to read the book.
Jennifer, glad to hear from you. You can contact me direct at nandupress.com…I have my email addresses there. Best to you. Interested in pictures of the village when you have the time to share. Tim Norris
Thanks for commenting and I would be interested in seeing any photos you may have as well. If you want you can post them over at the ROK Drop Forums to share with everyone:
Where is the lovely song you had on your site “arirang”.
- gerry landrum
12:14 am on November 22nd, 2009 26
i have many photos of ascom and the guys
in my unit,the 728th MP, company A.
i was stationed there from january 1968 to
have not read your book but plan to do so.
Thanks for your comments. You may want to check out my website where I have some excellent donated photos to look at. Look forward to hearing from you.
- charles kent
11:13 am on December 29th, 2009 28
tim i was in the 249th mp 1969-1970 i was the only one that was in the stockade, tdy and perment party all in 18 months
Just wanted to check to see if you received your book?
Glad you have made contact…check out my website http://www.nandupress.com for photos and other information about 249th MP Detachment…best, tim
- Paul Coffey
10:41 am on January 2nd, 2010 31
I just came back from Korea, I went in October 2009 returned to America November 2009. I did not go back to where the old 249th was when I served there in 1968-1969,the ASCOM Area, but much has changed and become very modernised, I spent one month in down town Soul Korea on my last trip to Korea in 2009.
Landrum, I was assigned to A Co. 728th MPs November 15, 1970 for about 3 months before being transferred to Yongsan. I never really knew what the hell the post’s name was. Did you know Daniel Dwyer, Joins, or Roy Areana?
Oh! believe me when I say C Co. lived on a condemmed ROK Marine compound it wasn’t better then A Co. barracks. Yongsan Compound was nice but the MPs didn’t live there, we were half way between Yongsan and the Han River, right by the bus station.
I was assigned to A co. 728th MP Co. February 1968 to May 1969. Co. C 728th Mp Bn 1969 to 1971. 1975 Camp Market. 2ND infantry div MP Camp Pelham, PDSK 1978 Wanshmnee Security for the Norther Operations district for the pipeline. A total of 8 years in Korea.
7:27 pm on February 17th, 2010 34
I’d like to comment on Dave L’s statement:
“although many GI’s were jerks to the Korean people.”
John Duncan, director of UCLA Center for Korean Studies, made a similar statement. His first contact with Korea was, you guessed it, via US Army.
“He (John Duncan) also recalled that during his Army stint he was repulsed by the behavior of many fellow G.I.’s towards South Korean employees and locals they came in contact with near the demilitarized zone.”
Here’s the link:
- Greg Brooks
9:46 am on February 27th, 2010 35
I was stationed at camp Wentzel for a short time in 70. Was a section sgt with a 4 duece mortar platoon 2nd/9th/HqHq. I remember life being quite grand there, modern facilities and all. I remember Spoonbill Bridge as a pontoon structure close by on the river. I also remember my first of many visits to the vil. We soon packed up everything, turned the camp over to the Korean Army and moved down the river just north of Libby Bridge. Our platoon however was stationed several miles away from the main camp out closer to the MDL. Our little camp was knowns as RC#10. It was quite primative but we had alot of freedom there and took turns with long stays in Souel, ChangPaRi and I believe PoeWaNe, parden my spellings. It was an interesting experience at RC#10, to be caressed to sleep each night by the loud Speakers on the north side of the fence. I recall a huge hard drug problem in at the main camp but our tight little group preferred beer and pot. I also recall our platoon being all white or asian. But I had several black friends I had made prior to our separation from the rest of the Company and I often joined them in the village. One night all hell broke loose and two of my black friends came into the club where I was, grabbed me saying nothing and slipped me down a dark ally and they told me to get the hell out of there. The next day I learned that there had been a big clash between black and white soldiers with serious injuries. The girls were my fondest memories as they by the most part were attractive and very pleasant ladies. I had a yobo for most of the time I was there and she was beautiful and very smart. The guys I hung out with were polite and always helpful to the Koren people. Needless to say I enjoyed my stay in Korea and have very fond memories of the Korean People and especially the home rice and the kimchi.
- Thomas Lee
3:40 pm on April 1st, 2010 36
I was at Greaves and Liberty Bell… what camp was north of Libby? I remember RC#4 and Camp Pelham in Sonju-ri, but north of the river, when I was there in the 80’s, we only had Greaves, Liberty Bell and Bonifas (plus tent city).
Found your blog on AskJeeves, great information, but the site looks awkward in doing my browser setup, but will work fine in IE. choose figure.
- Chris In Dallas
8:59 am on May 14th, 2011 38
I read this book and am kind of torn over hit. The story of Mark and Songhi is magnificent and they way he brings the juicy girls into three dimensions is simply wonderful. But the editing was horrible! And I am not referring to a misspelled word here in there. Repeat sentences and even whole paragraphs one after the other is just a total no go!
One minor point. I found Songhi’s background story to be a tad distracting. Yeah, I know you can find club girls in similar situations. But come on, did she have to be a drop out from an elite university?
- Jim Flora
11:40 am on December 6th, 2011 39
Was stationed at Taegu with the 503 MP Det. After ASCOM started to close we be came A Co 728th MP Bn, had alot of MP’s from ASCOM. We were split up between Pusan Taegu and Waegwan. I ended up at Camp Carroll in Waegwan with many of the MP’s from ASCOM. Went there the first time to escort three GI’s to the stockade after the Taegu riots.
- Rod Palmer
9:21 am on December 30th, 2011 40
Chris in Dallas: I agree. I haven’t been able to finish it yet because of the editing and some of the writing. I can’t understand why broken English was used to portray a conversation between two Koreans (presumably speaking Korean). I thought it somewhat demeaning. Also, some of the prose used to describe various scenes was waaaay too wordy. But, I will finish it for no other reason than the story line.
- ALBERT PACELLO
7:39 pm on June 15th, 2012 41
I WAS STATIONED WITH 121ST. EVACUATION HOSPITAL IN ASCOM CITY, FROM NOVEMBER 1960 – FEBRUARY 1962. I WAS A MEDIC WITH THIS HOSPITAL. THE LONGEST TIME I EVER HAD OFF IN ALL THOSE MONTHS THERE WAS 3 DAYS. MY RNR WAS CANCELLED BECAUSE OF WHO KNOWS WHY! THEN I WAS EXTENTED BY UNCLE SAM FOR 3 ADDITIONAL MONTHS. I CAME HOME ON THE USS GAFFEY. AFTER SERVING THERE I WAS STATIONED UPSTATE NEW YORK, WHERE I BECAME ILL AND WAS GIVEN A MEDICAL RETIREMENT FROM THE ARMY.