Conflict with Gwangju

Early in 2009 in correspondence to me Rev. Yoo Kim made it clear that the money was not forthcoming as promised, that she did not even have building permits to begin construction and that half of the money still had to be released by the national government. I felt this could go on for another two years or indefinitely with promises, promises and promises. The city did not meet its commitment to release all the funding by 1 January 2009 and did not begin construction by 1 February, 2009. Further, we had no letter from Mayor Park addressed to Sebastian accepting the conditions of the gift. Consequently I made the decision in February to withdraw the offer of placing the sculpture in Gwangju and sent the following letter to Rev. Haeryang Yoo Kim:

February 9 2009

Dear Rev. Yoo Kim:

This letter will not make you very happy.

I have discussed the situation in Gwangju regarding the reconstruction of the Choong Hyun Won with Sebastian and, on my advice, he has decided to withdraw his offer to donate the sculpture Las Palomas to the Metropolitan City of Gwangju. The understanding in October was that the Vice Mayor would release the total amount of the funds promised (1,500,000,000 won) in January of 2009 and construction would begin in February. Now we are informed that more than half of the funds have to wait for a decision of the federal government with no certainty of when they will be made available and that the building permit might (or might not) be obtained by the end of February.

In addition Sebastian has not received a letter from the mayor agreeing to the conditions of the gift. In other words, the offer of the sculpture to the City of Gwangju has not been officially accepted by the Mayor and the commitment made by the Vice Mayor to you in October has not been fulfilled. Accordingly, the offer of this sculpture is now withdrawn. I stated clearly to the Vice Mayor in October that if the full amount of the funds was not released in January and the construction begun in February that the sculpture would go to Seoul.

The difficulties that you face on a daily basis having to put up with the district, the city and the national bureaucracies is enough to tire a person with twice your energy. I admire you for your fortitude and your continuing fight to achieve your goals. Unlike you, though, my time frame is shorter. I need to see closure to my involvement in this project. It can not go on indefinitely. That is why my statement to the Vice Mayor (and to the representative of the National Assembly) named a specific action to be taken by a specific date. Such was not done. Now I must move on.

I am truly sorry that the reconstruction of the CHW is taking so long…. years since my first meeting with Mayor Park at the time of the photo exhibit. I truly admire you and your fortitude in pushing forward your dream of creating a hostel for returning adoptees, an orphanage museum and archive. If my presence in Gwangju has been of use to you in generating visibility, publicity and credibility for your project I am pleased to have been a help. You and your husband have always been marvelous hosts and I truly enjoyed visiting with you, your family and your board members and friends. I feel that I truly have a home in Korea when I am with you in Gwangju. For that I thank you.

I am also pleased that the results of my labor for ten years on the relationship of the US Servicemen and women to the children of Korea will be kept for posterity in your museum and archive. You now have all of the original material that I collected as well as ! a digital copy of everything that I scanned in the USA and in Japan including over 1,800 documents and over 2,000 photographs. Some of the material that I gave you is very valuable, not only in a monetary sense, but in a historical sense. I am content to see all that material in your care, preserving it for the generations to come in Korea. I am putting more material that I find in my files in a box to give to you at a later date.

When the reconstruction of the CHW is finally completed I will help you find a suitable sculpture to celebrate your years of labor on the project. I am working with Sebastian to mount an exhibit of 12 of his sculptures here in Bellingham in time for the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics (12 to 22 February, 2010) being held only 50 miles to the north of us in Vancouver, BC, Canada. The exhibit will remain until October of 2010 and will be the centerpiece of the Washington State celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mexican liberation from Spain. I will encourage Sebastian to donate one of those sculptures to the CHW when the exhibit closes provided the reconstruction of the Choong Hyun Won is completed by then.

In the next several weeks I will explore options for the placement of Las Palomas in Seoul to serve as the Korean War Children’s Memorial. It will be dedicated to the memory of the more than 500,000 children who died in that war and to honor those who tried to help them survive. I will keep you informed of my thoughts on the matter and would appreciate any suggestions that you might have as to the best placement in Seoul for the sculpture.

I am reluctant to deal with the Korean War Museum as it is another huge bureaucracy and the project could get lost in paper shuffling for years. The same goes for the City of Seoul and the placement of the sculpture in a city park. Another possibility would be placing it at the Samsung Children’s Museum across from the Lotte Hotel or let Hyundai sponsor the project and approach President Lee to have it placed on the grounds of the Blue House. Another alternative would be to forget the whole thing and go ! for a long bike ride. I guess I am tired and want to see this project come to a close and the sooner the better.

I am sending a copy of this letter to my good friend Hong Song Chang who will be my primary contact in Seoul. I am also sending some of this information to the Mexican Ambassador in Seoul as he has already called Sebastian in Mexico City asking about the status of the donation. I must work closely with the Mexican Ambassador as the sculpture will be a gift of the artist and the government of Mexico to the people of Korea. Sebastian has given me full responsibility for determining where it will be placed in Seoul. He is too busy to get personally involved as he is currently very occupied with a project in Qatar, United Arab Emirates.

Most sincerely yours,

George F. Drake