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Living his American dream

Korean soldier left his native land in search of new opportunities

Created date

September 24th, 2014
man relaxing at Highland Springs

As a young man growing up in Korea, Dan Pak had his future mapped out.

“I wanted to be a medical doctor,” he says. “In 1949, I enrolled in a pre-med program at Yonsei University in Seoul.”

On June 25, 1950, two years into Dan’s pre-med studies, North Korea invaded South Korea, launching the Korean War.

“Medical students could defer military service until they graduated from medical school,” says Pak. “But money ran out after two years of schooling. I volunteered for the Korean Army when I was 22.”

Dan came from a family of landowners in South Korea whose holdings were wiped out during the war.

“Everything was decimated,” says Dan. “The country’s infrastructure was destroyed.”

A new path

At the end of the Korean War, the 1st United States Army Corps was tasked with two missions—to watch for any North Korean violations of the armistice agreement and to help rebuild the local economy. 

From 1956 to 1958, Dan was assigned as a language aide to Lieutenant General Arthur G. Trudeau, commanding general of the 1st U.S. Army Corps.

“Those were pivotal years in my life,” says Dan. “County commissioners submitted projects for approval through the U.S. military assistance program. I helped screen projects and weed out those that were politically motivated, like erecting statues.

We needed projects that would rebuild our infrastructure—bridges, highways, and schools.”

In March 1958, Dan met his future bride, June, an office worker. The couple married in September that year.

In 1961, at Dan’s request, Lieutenant General Trudeau helped Dan secure a new post as a translator for the Voice of the United Nations Command, a radio station out of Okinawa, Japan. 

“I was considered a U.S. Army civilian, and I worked at the radio station in Japan for 12 years,” says Dan. “In 1973, the U.S. State Department issued a special immigrant visa for me and my family.”

Coming to America

Dan and June immigrated to Atlanta, Ga., with their two sons, Tommy and Charlie. The couple’s youngest child, Ellie, lived with her maternal grandmother in Korea until she rejoined the family in the early 1980s.

“There was already a large Asian population on the West Coast of the United States, so I thought I might have better job opportunities elsewhere in the country,” says Dan. “I heard Atlanta was up-and-coming, so we settled there.”

Dan worked as a marketing executive for the textile chemical company Seydel, traveling to the Western Pacific. After four years, he went to work for Southwire, a manufacturer and exporter of electric conductors.

Texas calling

In 2011, Dan and June planned another big move, this time to Texas to be closer to their daughter Ellie and her family.

“Ellie looked at several retirement communities in the Dallas area,” says Dan. “She liked Highland Springs.”

Dan says they felt at home right away in the North Dallas Erickson Living community.

“It’s the people who make this community special,” he says. “Everyone is so friendly.”

June, who was known around Springs for her style and grace, passed away in November 2013. Dan says the built-in social network at the community provided support when he needed it.

“I’m glad to be surrounded by friends,” he says.

‘A brilliant glow’

Dan’s apartment home at Highland Springs faces west, and he often pauses at the end of the day to take in the glorious sunsets.

“Shortly before the sun goes down, the last glow is so powerful,” he says. “That’s what I want from this stage of life—a brilliant glow.”

Toward that end, Dan is working on his second book, a fictional tale of two sisters and their experiences during the Korean War. Dan plans to publish the novel, tentatively titled The Wood Bracelet, through Archway Publishing. Dan’s first book, a self-published memoir entitled A Generation Comes to America, is available through Amazon.