2008 visit to Korea looking for a site

After my return to Bellingham I began an exchange of letters with Rev. Haeryang Yoo Kim in Gwangju, South Korea, exploring the possibility of placing the sculpture in Gwangju. For awhile she thought the Mayor of the Nam-Gu District would put up the money for the project but that fell through. As the Mayor of the Metropolitan City of Gwangju was travelling widely trying to get the University Games in Gwangju she was not able to get his support for the project. By early August of 2008 I had decided to go with the Bellingham Sister City delegation to Tateyama, Japan and then visit Korea either on my way to Japan or after the visit.

In preparation for my visit to Korea I wrote the following in a letter to Rev. Haeryang Yoo Kim on 23 August of 2008:

First: I will write to Mayor Park Gwang Tae directly asking if he would be willing to fund the local hospitality, host the dedication ceremony, find an appropriate place for the installation of the memorial and pay the costs for having it installed. I will pay for the bronze plaque in English but would expect him to pay for the Korean version of the plaque. I intend to use the same plaque that we have on the memorial here in Bellingham. If he is willing to do that much then I will raise the money for the air fare for the artist and his wife and pay my own airfare. I would also raise the money for shipping the sculpture to Korea.

Second: If Mayor Park is willing to make such a commitment IN A TIMELY FASHION then I will send the proposal to the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul and ask them to raise the money needed for shipping the sculpture to Korea.

Third: I will try to get a project going among the US Forces-Korea seeking donations from our servicemen and women now stationed in Korea to fund this memorial to those who preceded them by 55 years and fought in the Korean War.

Fourth: I will contact the former President – CEO of Hyundai-America who told me at the dinner table after the Korea Society presentation in NYC that he was ‘deeply moved’ by my story of the Korean War Children’s Memorial project in Bellingham. I am going to ask him to have Hyundai put up the money and then install the sculpture any where in Korea they want, preferably in Gwangju, but that will be their decision.

Fifth: I will contact the Mayor and City Council of Cheongju, Bellingham’s new Sister City, and enquire whether they would like to have the memorial in their city since the US Memorial is in Bellingham. If they are willing to pay all of the costs for the project they can have the sculpture installed there. This is my last option but I am determined that the sculpture will be placed somewhere in Korea. If Gwangju is not interested enough in having it then it will go elsewhere.

I will stop in Seoul on the 21st of October, … and decide in what city the sculpture would be placed.

I close with fond regards and expressions of deep appreciation for all that you do on behalf of Korean orphans and adoptees.
George F. Drake”

On September 13, 2008 I wrote to Rev. Yoo a letter that included the following:

“Here is what I will propose to Mayor Park Gwang-tae:

1. The Metropolitan City of Gwangju would accept the gift from the Government of Mexico to the Citizens of Korea the sculpture “Las Palomas” (the Doves) by the famous Mexican sculptor SEBASTIAN under the following conditions:

a. the sculpture would be permanently installed at city expense in a prominent public space in the Metropolitan City of Gwangju. (in front of City Hall? in a local park? at the Choong Hyun Babies’ Home?)

b. the sculpture would be designated the “Korean War Children’s Memorial” and dedicated to the “American servicemen and women for their aid to the children of Korea.”

c. The Mayor and City Council of the Metropolitan City of Gwangju would host a dedication ceremony and invite the following persons:

1. the President of Korea
2. the Ambassador of Mexico
3. the Ambassador of the United States
4. the Commanding Officer of the US/UN Forces Korea
5. The Mexican sculptor Sebastian and his wife Gabriela
6. Dr. George F. Drake, Coordinator of the Korean War Children’s Memorial in Bellingham, Washington

2. The Metropolitan City of Gwangju would pay the round-trip air fare from Mexico City to Gwangju for SEBASTIAN and his wife and provide hospitality for a period of three days and three nights stay in a hotel in Gwangju.

“I am making this offer first to the Metropolitan City of Gwangju as I am an “Honorary Citizen” of Gwangju and want this city to have the ‘first refusal’ for this work of art. If Mayor Park Gwang-tae declines the offer of this sculpture under the above conditions I will seek another city for the placement of this memorial sculpture. An alternative could be Cheongju which is now a ‘sister city’ to Bellingham. But first I am offering the sculpture to the Metropolitan City of Gwangju.

Please contact the Mayor’s office as soon as possible to arrange an appointment for me to speak with Mayor Park Gwang-tae in October so I can make my travel plans accordingly.”

Sincerely,

George F. Drake

What should be noted in the above is that the sculpture would only go to Gwangju provided the mayor met the noted conditions, otherwise it was clear that the sculpture would go elsewhere.

I had provided Rev. Haeryang Yoo Kim with a draft of the letter I wanted from Mayor Park but some one in the mayor’s office, on seeing a copy of my e-mail, thought that the letter had already been sent by their office and they wanted to know who sent it.

Hello Haeryang:

The “DRAFT” letter from Mayor Park to Sebastian at the bottom of the e-mail I sent to you was only a suggestion of the type of letter Sebastian needs so he can continue with plans to send the sculpture.

Sebastian will not release the sculpture for shipment without such a letter.

Nobody sent this letter to Sebastian. I wrote it as a sample of the kind of letter Sebastian is expecting from Mayor Park (or the mayor of Cheongju or the mayor of Seoul if Mayor Park does not want the sculpture in Gwangju.) My hope, expressed in my e-mail, was that Mayor Park would be willing to sign such a letter before I returned to the US in October so I could take it with me.

George

25 September 2008 (extract from letter of that date.)

You will note that I do not state that the sculpture will be located in Gwangju as that is still not decided. If Mayor Park decides against it or just fails to decide then we will have to discuss where to offer the sculpture. Should it be placed at the Korean War Museum in Seoul? Somewhere else in Seoul? On Chejudo Island which was a haven for many thousands of orphans during the war? If Mayor Park can not meet with me in October while I am in Korea I will inform him that he will have to decide by the end of October whether he wants the memorial in Gwangju or not. If he wants the sculpture (Memorial) then he will have to agree to the conditions I have specified in the earlier letter to him and provide me with the letter for Sebastian.

This is extracted from my notes of 11/6/2008. I sent a copy to the U.S. Ambassador, the Mexican Ambassador, to Haeryang Yoo Kim and to HSC.
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“On Monday we all had lunch with the Mayor of Nam-gu, the district of Gwangju in which the orphanage is located. He actually flew home from Japan one day early to have this meeting as I would be leaving for Seoul early on Tuesday and would not be able to meet him them. He agreed to a shift of a fire lane off the property so it would not cut the property in half. He also agreed to support the reconstruction of the buildings and the development of the museum, archive and hostel. Then, after a bit of a rest, we went to meet the Vice Mayor for Administration for Gwangju (a city of 1.4 million persons). There were some strong words exchanged between Rev. Yoo and one of the city staff persons who claimed that she was the one responsible for the delay in funding the project.

After a lot of loud exchanges in Korean I spoke and informed the Vice Mayor that the Korean War Children’s Memorial sculpture would NOT go to Gwangju if the money is not relea sed by 1 January, 2009 and work begun by 1 February of 2009. I informed him that Samsung Corporation would like to have it in front of their children’s museum in Seoul and that the City of Seoul itself would like to have it in a city park.

After further discussions the Vice Mayor assured me that the city would release $1,300,000 US dollars (equivalent in Korean funds) by 1 January 2009 and that the work would begin immediately following the release of the money. After discussing some more details of the sculpture and the dedication ceremony we left the office. Those in our group were delighted.

I assured Rev. Yoo Kim that I was not kidding, that if the money does not come across by 1 January, for any reason at all, and if the work does not commence by 1 February I will not send the sculpture to Gwangju. It will go to Seoul. The story of my visit to Gwangju appeared in at least six Korean newspapers including the Chosen Ilbo of Seoul. This puts a lot of pressure on the Mayor of Gwangju to put up the 1.3 million dollars as he promised. I give it a sixty percent chance of happening. If work goes as hoped the dedication would probably be a year from now, i.e., late O ctober or early November of 2009.

The next day I took the fast train back to Seoul, met with friends, did some shopping and on Wednesday caught the 6 p.m. flight back to Seattle.”
On arrival in Gwangju I was bothered to find out that Rev. Haeryang Yoo Kim had already given the newspapers a copy of a photograph of the sculpture Las Palomas and reported that the sculpture by the world famous Mexican sculptor Sebastian would be coming to Gwangju. No such decision had been made. It had been offered to Gwangju but there were conditions which ultimately were not met. [The emphasis in the above document is added on 19 February 2010.]