Gouge Family Reunion
A Speech from Jeanna Park at the Gouge Family Reunion:
Hello everyone my name is Jeanna & I want to welcome you all here tonite. First of all, let’s just address the elephant in the room. This is an unusual situation. Believe me when I say, there is no book, magazine, web site, blog, or Pinterest board that gives advice on how to conduct a gathering like this. Trust me, I looked.
So thank you for coming here tonite, in spite of the unusual circumstances, we are extremely grateful to have you here. Each & every one of you. Hopefully, by the end of the night, it won’t be strange anymore.
My family & I have asked you to come here tonite because we have been searching for you all for a very long time. As you all have heard by now, my father Robert is son of James Lewis Gouge.
I want to share with you as quickly as I can, the timeline of events, my dad’s story, and how we came to find y’all. Ok it’s probably not going to be so quick, so please enjoy your dinner while I tell you a story.
James Gouge enlisted in the army on June 12, 1946. From what I understand, he altered his birth certificate to say that he was of legal age, although he was just 16. On November 9, 1946, he joined his unit, the 24th Corp in Korea. When WW2 ended a year earlier in 1945, unrest in Korea was just beginning. For more than 30 years, Korea had been under Japanese occupation. But with the Japanese defeat that ended WW2 in the Pacific, that time of occupation ended, and Korea’s future looked uncertain with different factions vying for rule. The US sent troops to try to calm tensions, and James Gouge, along with the 24th Corp was among those sent.
At some point, he met my grandmother. She was working with the American soldiers as a translator because she spoke English, among many other languages.
He left Korea on September 16th, 1948, before the break out of the Korean War, to return home to the US.
In 1949, a little boy was born in Korea. Immediately, it was evident that he was different. And he was treated as such. Everywhere my grandmother took him, people stared. And they judged her. And treated them both harshly. All while a war was destroying the country all around them, as the Korean War had begun in 1950. They were trapped in the capital city of Seoul for 2 ½ years during which my grandmother had to keep my father hidden from the North Korean soldiers, because they were actively looking for, and killing, anyone who consorted with the Americans.
Later on, she sent him to his grandmother’s in the rural countryside, again as a way to keep him hidden. His grandmother shaved his head so his light hair color wouldn’t be seen. But people still knew he was different. And they threw mud & rocks at him & called him horrible names. Simply because he wasn’t exactly the same as they were.
Since everyone made a point of emphasizing just how different he was, it was only natural that my father would be curious about why he was different. But every time he would ask his mother about who his father was, she refused to answer. All he could do was wonder and dream about him.
In 1965, Nobel Prize winning author Pearl Buck, author of the book The Good Earth came to Korea. When she visited an orphanage there, she was shocked to find several mixed race children who had been abandoned and sent to the orphanage. She, an American who had grown up in China because her parents were missionaries, knew that many Asian cultures viewed mixed race children as taboo. Because of this, she had a great interest in American-Asian, or AmerAsian children, a term that she coined that described mostly children of American soldiers during the Korean & later the Vietnam wars. She knew that these children would be outcasts, not given much of a chance at life.
Somehow, she heard about my dad. A young AmerAsian boy in a prestigious high school who got very good grades (a huge emphasis in Asian culture) and she wanted to meet him. So he was brought to be paraded in front of her. By the time he got there, it was as if she had lost interest. Her assistant asked most of the questions. She barely looked at him. My grandmother began to beg Miss Buck to take him to the US. She of all people, should understand that these children have no future. They carry the mark of dishonor on their faces, through no fault of their own. Desperately grasping at straws to get this rich woman to notice her son, my grandmother told Ms Pearl Buck, the winner of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes for WRITING, she told her, he writes! He’s a very good writer! He has a diary that he writes in all the time. All of a sudden, she perked up and asked for the diaries. My father tried to protest, as would any angst filled teenager who keeps a diary……but no one heard him. No one paid any attention to him. He was dismissed after the diary was brought. And Pearl Buck disappeared. By the way, if you would like to read that angsty teenager’s diary, you can find it in a novel called New Year, written by Ms Pearl Buck.
Two years passed with no word from her. She arrived back in Korea, and summoned my father again to see her. By then, he had entered into Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious in the country. When he arrived at her hotel room, Ms Buck and her assistant Ted Harris told my father that they were taking him to the United States. She even used her star power to convince the president of Korea to waive the mandatory military service required of all young men under the age of 30. So on June 15, 1967, my father left his family, friends and life in Korea and came to the US. He lived in the Pearl S. Buck Foundation House in Philadelphia, and traveled around the country with Miss Buck for several years. However, due to the horrific treatment that my father received at the hands of Ted Harris, with Miss Buck taking Ted’s side, after 2 years or so, my father left Philadelphia and Miss Pearl Buck behind and moved to Arizona.
Eventually my father made his way up to Canada, met my mother, got married in 1975, and moved to Houston in 1980 where I was born & a few years later, my brother, Tim, came along. They had moved to Houston because my grandmother was there, having recently been abandoned and divorced by her Korean husband. My dad knew he needed to take care of her since she had sacrificed so much to protect and take care of him.
My grandmother was a very tough, stoic woman. Except with me. She loved me so much. And we were quite close. But mostly what I remember of her was that she was a tough woman. Who had lived a very hard life. She lived thru the Japanese occupation. Two wars. Rape. Abuse. Neglect. Abandonment. Who wouldn’t be angry and icy after living through all that? My grandparents on my mother’s side are also quite stoic- it’s a trademark of their generation and the culture at that time. They have seen and lived through horrors and atrocities that I can never fathom. But they were never as tough as my grandmother, dad’s mom. I know it was because they knew and loved Jesus, and she did not. Towards the end of her life, she asked my mother to lead her to Jesus and she finally had peace. She passed away when I was in 5th grade. And she literally took her secret to the grave, except for a badly pronounced, partially incorrect last name. Not enough to piece anything together. And as many times as I have cried out in frustration over that, I know that she did so because she was protecting my father, as she always had. And she was protecting you too, (Jimmy, Kim, Debbie), perhaps not specifically, but indirectly I believe that she was.
When I was growing up, I always wondered about who my grandfather was…..I always felt something was missing. While Korean was my 1st language, by the time I went to school, my parents switched to English only at home & I lost all my Korean. So when we spent time with other Koreans, since I couldn’t communicate, I never felt good enough. Or Korean enough. I didn’t know until I was much older, that when Koreans look at me, they immediately know that I have mixed heritage. But at school or in other situations, I WAS the token Asian girl. People would ask me, where are you from? And I would say here. I was born in Houston. And they’d say, no, but where are you from? Even though I was born & raised in Texas, wearing cowboy boots & overalls, I still wasn’t enough.
I will admit to you, when I was growing up, in some confused attempt to connect with a grandfather that I never knew, I saw every episode of the TV show MASH multiple times. I think when I was younger maybe I thought I could get a glimpse of my grandfather lying in a bed in the 4077th, and when I grew up some & realized that was ridiculous, I continued to watch just to try to understand what he might have experienced over there & have a bond with him thru that.
For my whole life, I thought of him. Dreamed of him. Wondered about him. Long ago, I made it my life’s mission to figure out the biggest mystery of my father’s life. I’ve scoured the most random records, not even knowing what I was looking for, hoping a name would just jump out & slap me in the face. I’ve talked to friends in the military, trying to access old records, again not even knowing what I was looking for.
2 or 3 years ago, my dad showed me a 20/20 or 60minutes special featuring a woman who called herself a DNA detective. Her life’s work is dedicated to reuniting Amerasian children with their American veteran fathers and vice versa. She is highly successful in her work, but the stories are not always happy. There are perhaps more than 1 million Amerasian children, and so many of them have tragic life stories. Many are abandoned in Korea or Vietnam and then adopted to other countries. The tv special highlighted an American veteran who lost touch of his Korean wife and 2 children once he came home. His letters had gone unanswered for decades. So he reached out to Cece Moore, the DNA detective, and she went to work. She actually found his 2 children living in the United States. After he was sent home from his service in Korea, their mother had abandoned them in an orphanage and they were separately adopted by 2 different families in the US. The siblings had not seen each other since leaving Korea. Neither of them had happy lives in their adopted families. Their reunion was so sad- all of them wondering what life would have been like if he never had to ship out of Korea.
I took a chance & googled Cece’s name. Which led to her website & Facebook group. Which opened up the world of DNA. We were assigned our own “search angel,” a volunteer who works with Cece Moore and Dad sent in his dna to 3 different testing companies & matched to tons of 4th, 5th, & 6th cousins. The search angel waded thru everything until she found Henry Arnold. And he pointed us to you, Jimmy. I can’t tell you how nervous we were at home waiting for you to respond to the letter we sent. It took everything to not jump on a plane & knock at your door with a dna test in hand. Thank you for answering us. Thank you Kim & Debbie for being accepting and open minded.
Jimmy and dad took a special dna test that determines whether or not they share the same Y chromosome. Everyone’s Y chromosome comes solely from your father. And their test was a match.
So almost 70 years later, the mystery is solved. And that’s not even 1/2 of my dad’s story. He was a banker when I was young, working his way up to be the president of the bank that he worked for & then later at the age of 40 answered a calling on his life to become a pastor. He’s done amazing missions work all over Central America & Mexico, but most notably in Cuba. He’s a published author with books in 3 different languages, so far. My parents together have had several successful businesses, not to mention a long and happy marriage. My dad is a success story….he has worked ridiculously hard his whole life, and continues to do so, always helping others, counseling, ministering, teaching. His life’s story could’ve gone a totally different direction, in fact, it was practically set up to be a sad story, but God had a special plan for my dad & this day, this dinner right now, was all a part of God’s plan.
I am proud to be his daughter, and I hope that you are proud to call him & us, a part of your family.
It’s truly amazing the way this has all played out. As I said earlier, dad’s life could have been a very sad story. I conceded very quickly on the science aspect of the DNA search, it was clearly much more than I could possibly understand. However I did do other research in forums and FB groups filled with some of the millions of Amerasians searching for their birth parents. I read so many stories of rejection and pain, of failure and disappointment. If Henry had not sent in his DNA sample to 1 of those 3 companies, we would have never found you. Not only that, you didn’t shut the door in our face. You could have. Easily. And truthfully, we would have understood. We were prepared for it. Kind of. But you opened up your arms and hearts to a new big brother. And to a crazy family of Koreans. The way that you have been so open is a testament to the man and woman who raised you. They must have been wonderfully loving people. I wish I could have met them, but I look forward to the day when I meet them in heaven. The truth is, we don’t know if he knew about my dad. It is entirely possible that he did not. We have to just know that it was God’s plan and His will that we not meet in this lifetime. And I’m ok with that, now that we have found each other. So with all that said, I would like to pause here and make a toast, so if you would all please raise your glasses. To James and Frances Gouge. Thank you so much for raising a family so accommodating, open, and warm. This family and this dinner tonight is a true testimony to you both. I hope you are proud of us right now.
I’d like to research further into the Gouge family, if that’s ok with y’all, or if anyone has already done that, I’d love to see it. On my mother’s side, my grandfather traced our family back to the 15th century and a prince of Joseon Dynasty before the Korean Empire. I would love to see how far back I can trace the Gouge tree.
As you can imagine, we want to know everything we can about Grandfather Gouge. So I want to open the mic up now if any of you want to share any stories or fun facts that you think we ought to know about him. Not only that, but we want to know about you all too and especially we want to know how you feel about this whole situation. Like I said earlier, we understand that this is a unique situation, and we are all navigating our thoughts and feelings about this together. So I would like to start with, if its ok, with either Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Debbie or Aunt Kim and then if any of the rest of you want to share, we can go to you.