Rudd honored in South Korea
Photos from Marla Colgan
Nearly 70 years ago, Magoffin County native James “Melvin” Rudd was held as a prisoner of war during the Hill 303 massacre, in which over 40 American soldiers were captured, tied up and shot. Two men died on top of Rudd, but he was able to escape, inevitably volunteering to be deployed to Korea for a second time. This month three of his children were able to walk on the same ground, attending a ceremony honoring the soldiers who helped South Korea secure their freedom from North Korea.
Rudd, now 88, wasn’t able to handle the international trip, but three of his children, Stephen Rudd, Marla Colgan and Melissa Rudd-Sanford, were happy to step in and represent their father, touring the place their dad served during the Korean War.
Plans for the trip have been in the works for several years, Stephen explained to the Independent.
“I have been researching the Korean War and Hill 303 for quite a few years now,” Stephen said. “This fellow who had a brother killed on Hill 303 reached out to me and I was able to get in contact with him.”
Though that man was hoping Melvin Rudd could remember something about his brother, since he had just been on the hill a few days, Rudd had no recollection of him, but he was able to put Stephen in contact with Susan Kee, a Korean American author who was collecting information to write about the Korean War.
Through Kee, Rudd received the Ambassador for Peace Medal from the Korean Ministry in 2015, and through contact with Kee, they found out about a Revisit Korea Program, which organizes trips for Korean War veterans to come back to Korea in efforts to thank them for their service and allow them to witness how Korea enjoys peace thanks to them.
Stephen found out about the Revisit Korea Program in August 2015, with a ceremony slated for September, but he wasn’t able to get a passport and take off work with that short of notice, so the opportunity seemed to come and go, but Stephen said the seed was planted.
After several random calls that never really panned out, about 5 a.m. one morning in January this year Stephen’s wife woke him up to tell him someone from Korea was on the phone.
He gave the man on the phone all the information he could, and they started emailing back-and-forth. Melvin Rudd had eight children, with seven still living. Stephen’s older sister, Melissa, offered to pay her own way if she was able to go, but Stephen thought the man seemed too hesitant, so he didn’t think the trip was going to happen this time, either, but the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs offered in August to pay for three of them to make the trip.
“We only had a short time to figure out who was going, but when we were talking about it before, Marla was interested and Melissa was willing to pay her own way,” Stephen said. “I had been researching this for years, so everyone knew I wanted to go, so everyone was really understanding and so supportive.”
He immediately had to let the Ministry know which three of them would be going and their birth order.
“They’re very family-oriented and family hierarchy means a lot to them,” Stephen explained, noting he was the youngest.
The Ministry communicated the arrangements to the Second Operational Command of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Army Unit, in Daegu, who planned a trip centered around the places they wanted to see and the ceremony for the Hill 303 massacre.
The siblings set out on October 8, with seats in Korean Airlines first class, which Stephen said was exceptionally nice, with monitors at each seat showing the flight plan and their current location. After a 14-hour flight, they were met at the gate by several officers waving signs with their names on them.
“They were waving and very friendly, and the first thing they wanted to know was who was the oldest,” Stephen laughed. “Melissa got the royal treatment!”
Though, Melissa pointed out she didn’t take advantage of extra status.
Three ROK personnel and a civilian bus driver traveled from the airport to a very nice hotel in Seoul.
The next morning, they went to the Korean War Museum in Seoul, where Stephen said they were able to see more about the history of the war, including a list of Americans killed in Korea.
“I found a Jimmy Allen of Puncheon on the list,” Stephen said. “He was one of the first guys killed.”
They then traveled to Osan, where the first American ground forces fought North Korea, and toured the Task Force Smith Museum, as well as toured the American military base Camp Humphreys. The Second Operation Command put them up in another nice hotel in Daegu, and the next day they went to the ceremony on Hill 303.
“I didn’t expect that many people to be there,” Stephen said. “There were a lot of reporters, military press, and we got to meet the famous Korean general, Paik Sun-Yup. He’s 98 or 99 years old and commanded the first ROK group. He’s in a wheelchair, but I got to meet him and shake his hand.”
They met the grandson of American General Walton Walker, who served as a commander in World War I, World War II and the Korean War, and was killed in Korea.
Someone from Life Magazine was also in attendance, with Stephen noting that Melvin Rudd had been featured in the September 4, 1950, issue.
The ceremony was held at a monument in front of where the massacre occurred, and when their names were called, the siblings laid flowers at the base of the monument.
“It was overwhelming, and I was emotionally drained at the end of that day,” Stephen said. “We’ve all heard the stories of the things that happened there, not just from dad, but also from other survivors. Dad is 88 years old and he’s the last one still alive.”
At the dinner following the ceremony, the Rudds had those in attendance write on post cards messages for their dad, and a video of Melvin was played.
“They were all very moved by the video, with several officers teary-eyed,” Stephen said. “They remembered the stuff he was talking about and it was very touching. One or two of the officers couldn’t talk about the video without crying, and one was a lieutenant colonel in the ROK army. It was very touching for them and they said the video would help train younger soldiers.”
Within the video, Melvin told the Korean people about his time there, battles he fought in, and said he was glad he did it. He told them he was proud he had served and that he would do it, again.
“He told them he was glad they were free, and he hoped they never got in that situation, again,” Stephen said. “That they always stay free.”
Guests around the room spoke, with one running theme, Stephen said.
“Several made the toast, which refers to the U.S. and ROK alliance, ‘Katchi Kapshida,’ which means, ‘we go together.’”
They gave them several medals and gifts, as well as a plaque from the Second Operational Command.
Their military-grade tour guides took them to restaurants throughout the area, with a mix of traditional Korean and American food, as well as a festival in Waegwan, where Korean War veterans were honored. They checked out a UN cemetery in Busan and a cultural museum in Gyeongju, as well as the tallest building in Seoul, Sky Tower.
“The cities in Korea are really modern,” Stephen noted. “It’s a very modern country.”
All three siblings noted how appreciative the Korean people were of the Americans who served during the war.
“Everyone was very polite they go out of their way to be accommodating,” Stephen said. “They were very appreciative of everybody that fought for them in the Korean War.”
On top of the “trip of a lifetime,” Stephen said they were not out one penny.
“Of course, we made preparations and had some money exchanged, but I never had to get it out one time,” Stephen laughed. “They took us to the places we wanted to see, gearing the trip to the things we had talked about.
For Stephen, he said the trip was beyond words.
“We’ve heard about this our whole life,” Stephen said. “It’s a horrible thing to happen to somebody and this happened to dad on his first trip over there. It just helps you to understand better the situation, and even though it’s something we’ve always known about, it’s different when you’re standing where it happened. There are not many Korean War veterans, and very few still alive, but it made us feel good to see the Koreans appreciated their sacrifice and they really showed that. They appreciated it and they hadn’t forgotten it. This is something that affected our family in many ways, so it was good to go and see these places and how the Koreans really appreciated the Americans who came and fought to help keep them free. Several told us they probably wouldn’t have been able to hold off the North Koreans without the Americans.”
Similarly, Melissa said she had watched previous ceremonies online before the trip, so she knew what to expect, but called it a “trip of a lifetime.”
“It was really good to see where Dad had been when in the military and where so much had happened to him,” Melissa said. “I just loved the trip and I loved the people that I met.”
Marla said the trip made everything come “full circle” for her.
“Dad was featured in Life Magazine for such a sad occasion, and we were able to walk where he was and pay our respects to those that didn’t make it,” Marla said. “We were able to feel the gratitude the South Koreans feel for all countries that helped them to be a free nation. They’re such a gracious people and I was very impressed by how they want to continue to let their young people know this is what happened, and these people helped you. Something that was repeated several times but really stuck with me was, ‘These soldiers came to a country where they did not live to fight for people they did not know.’ I’m proud of my dad and the others who served there I’m sad for those we lost. It was a very fulfilling trip and it certainly brought me full circle.”
Marla also noted seeing General Paik Sun-Yup.
“They brought him up to this platform and there was a little girl there in a school uniform like they wear, and there she was holding his hand,” Marla remembered. “This was a girl that existed because he did a good job and because other counties came to their aid. That image was just so powerful to me.”
“The South Korean people are a very gracious and grateful people,” Marla continued. “They are doing everything they can to preserve these places in history and pass that history down through the generations. They are so grateful for everything and the sacrifices that were made so many years ago. Their country has flourished and continues to grow. Dad would have been so pleased if he had been able to make the trip back. We will forever be grateful for the opportunity that was given to us and so grateful to have represented our dad.”