My parents’ life together began Thanksgiving Day 1968 in South Korea. Both of them arrived in Korea in August 1968. My mother, a recent college grad, was serving a two year teaching term at Korea Christian Academy in Taejun. My father enlisted in the Army as the conflict in Vietnam fomented. He was eventually stationed near Kunsan Air Force Base working at a ballistic missile battery.
His station had no religious services on base, so the Army would pay his taxi fee so my dad could go to church services. One of the closest places to attend church, was at a missionary compound, some 15 miles away in Chonju. He grew to know and respect many of the missionaries who served there. Dr. Seel and his family, were one such family and they invited my dad and a couple other GIs to join them for Thanksgiving Dinner. What hungry GI wouldn’t say yes to a home cooked meal, especially around the holidays?
My mom taught English and Physical Education at Korea Christian Academy, and most of her students were missionary kids. The children lived on campus but for Thanksgiving, many students headed home for the long holiday weekend. Two of my mom’s students, who just so happened to be Dr. Seel’s children, invited my mother to join them for the holidays. My mother, like my father, was excited to go home for the weekend with her students, to visit their family, and enjoy some home comforts and traditions.
Thanksgiving Day my dad and a fellow GI made their way to Chonju. They were warmly greeted and put to work to help prepare the big feast. My dad ended up at a table cracking pecan nuts for some tasty pecan pie. While he labored at the tedious monotony of cracking nuts, grateful to be with fellow Christians and a semblance of family during the holidays, a door opened. And in walked my mom.
My dad was immediately captivated by this lovely young lady. Introductions were made, conversation unfolded, and attraction grew. They talked the night away. Yet sadly, much of what was spoken of, was my dad’s broken heart. Just the week before, he had received a Dear John letter from his girlfriend back home. He had bought a beautiful mother of pearl pendant and was having a local jeweler turn it into a necklace, so he could send it home to his girlfriend. But before he was able to make this a reality, a letter crushed his dreams. My mom graciously listened, captivated by this handsome GI, who she quickly came to see, loved and lived Jesus.
After all the dinner prep and then Thanksgiving dinner, there was a Thanksgiving Service. They walked to the chapel together and sat next to one another. At one point of the service, everyone stood and joined hands and sang a hymn. I’m certain both of them shouted out on the inside, “Thank you Jesus!” Who knows how long that handholding lingered. The service ended and their conversation continued late into the evening.
My dad stayed in Dr. Seel’s study that evening. My mom was staying at a nearby house with a single missionary teacher. The next morning was my dad’s birthday but he had guard duty, so he headed back to base. On Saturday, he made his way back to Chonju and asked my mom to join him for a walk around town. He had to pick up the pendant necklace that the jeweler had made for him. That must have been somewhat awkward for both of them. Fo my dad, spending the day with a beautiful woman he found himself more and more captivated by while going to pick up a necklace he had made for his now ex-girlfriend. For my mom, spending the day with a handsome young man who was still getting over the sting of a Dear John letter, and then going to pick up a beautiful pendant necklace, for that now ex-girlfriend. But God works in mysterious ways.
My dad stayed Saturday night again at the Seel’s home, and told my mom who was catching the train the next morning back to Taejon, that he’d see her off at the train station. My dad awoke Sunday morning to a delicious pancake breakfast that Mrs. Seel had prepared. My dad was enjoying those pancakes so much, that by the time he made his way to the station, the train, with my mom, had left the station. Oops!
But my dad was determined. He wrote my mother the next day that he was headed up to Seoul the following weekend for a week long Men’s Christian Retreat that he had gotten leave to attend. He would be passing through Taejon on Friday and would love to visit her. My mom was overjoyed. She reached out to the Somerville family whose children attended the Korea Christian Academy and who lived on the school grounds, to see if he could stay with them. Dr. Somerville was a well respected and admired professor at the nearby Presbyterian Seminary. The family graciously opened their home to my dad.
Again my dad stayed in the study, this time Dr. Somerville’s study. My dad was fascinated and drawn to the rich theological books that filled the study. My parents spent all day Saturday together. My dad then took the train on to Seoul and spent the week there. He lettered my mother asking if he could visit the following weekend on his return back to base. He signed the letter with the simple phrase, ‘It’s There, Thomas.’ The magic, the love, the spark, the romance, was there. Way to go Dad!
My dad stayed at the Somerville’s again and my parents enjoyed the following Saturday hiking and exploring the countryside surrounding Taejon. Winter was quickly approaching but love was certainly in the air and hearts were heating up.
The following weekend was Christmas Break. My mom was again invited by the Seel children to spend the holidays with their family. My mom didn’t hesitate to say yes. My parents saw each other that weekend and enjoyed as much of the Christmas holiday together as possible. And guess what Christmas gift, my dad gave my mom for Christmas? That beautiful mother of pearl necklace that he had picked up just a few weeks earlier. My mom could have yelled foul, but she’s far more gracious and classy. She knew what that meant. He chose me! What a gift! Way to go Dad!
Marriage was discussed that blessed Christmas break. And in February, my dad asked my mom to marry him. A poor GI who just met the woman of his dreams, doesn’t have time for a big ring. So my dad did the better thing, he procured a beautiful piece of black walnut wood and carved my mom a ring, with two beautiful flowers and the Korean word for love, ‘saranghae.’ The ring fit perfectly.
The months flew by. The school year ended and that summer, my mother vacationed with her parents around SE Asia. They ended their time in Korea and my dad met Charles and Ruth Hoffmeister. My mom’s mother had some reservations towards the speed of things, but her dad didn’t think they should wait. He gave my dad their blessing.
My dad’s 13 month tour was coming to an end in September 1969 but my mom had another year to teach. My dad applied for an extension and with that extension came a two week required leave. My mom was just about to start another school year. A missionary mom at the school agreed to cover my mom’s English classes. She was from England and was delighted to teach a unit on Shakespeare. My mom was grateful for the time off, and also delighted because she never much enjoyed Shakespeare. My mom’s PE class was covered by Richard, another missionary at the school.
My dad was given the last two weeks in October for his leave. My dad flew a quick free military flight to California, where my mom was from. My mom and dad made their first large purchase together on credit, a $1,200 ticket for my mom to fly home. They spent the first year of their marriage paying that off. But it was worth it!
Back in the States, my dad’s job was to find a ring and find a honeymoon destination. My mom’s job was to find a wedding dress. The wedding would be held at Central Presbyterian Church in Merced, California where my mom’s dad was the minister. At the local jewelry store, a kind lady was helping my dad find just the right ring. She was asking questions and heard a bit of my dad’s story and how he met my mom. She was intrigued and inspired by their love story. She asked my dad where they were planning to go for their honeymoon. My dad said he was still working on that. She paused, went to the back of the store, and after a lengthy delay, came back with an envelope in her hand. She handed my dad the envelope. She said she had just spoke to her husband on the phone and they wanted to let him use their Lake Tahoe cabin for their honeymoon. The key was in the envelope, with an address of the cabin and an address for where to mail back the key. My dad was shocked and overwhelmed, and told the lady, “You don’t even know me.” To which she replied, “You have an honest face.”
My mom found a beautiful dress and on October 18th, 1969, Thomas and Jean Hamilton were married. “Whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Today, my parents celebrated 53 years of life together as one.
Thank you Mom and Dad for your faithfulness to God and to each other. May God in his grace bless you with many more years of life together as one.