Home Editorial Activities Stories Links
  Editorial Dr. Drake's Bio  

transparent.gif (42 bytes)

Dr. Drake's Bio

Korean War Veteran - 326th CRC 1952 - 1953

drakeinkorea.jpg (18670 bytes)

Coordinator, Korean War Children's Memorial

What motivates a guy to spend thousands of hours of volunteer labor and his own money to develop a national memorial for a cause that most people are totally unaware of?  I'm not really sure.  Let me see if I can figure this out for myself.

About 15 years ago I was sitting next to Paull Shin at a banquet in Seattle for a high ranking Chinese official hosted by the Governor of the State of Washington.  While waiting for the meal to be served Paull was telling of his life on the streets of Seoul during the war as a war orphan.  He stopped and looked at me and asked, "What's the matter?"  Tears were streaming down my face.  The "matter" was that his words took me back to my days in Korea where I spent a lot of time trying to help the orphans.  His words unleashed emotions that I had buried for many years. 

A neighbor of mine who served with a MASH unit in Viet Nam recently commented that perhaps the American GIs spent so much energy to help the children of Korea during the war as a way to assure themselves that they were good, decent, upright American human beings and not killers.  War is hell.  War is the antithesis of all one is taught in the family, in the home, in school, in the community.  War is death and destruction imposed on other human beings.  Our soldiers had to be taught to point a gun at another human and shoot.  They did not have to be taught to pick up a crying child and comfort him or share a bit of food with a little waif begging at the gate to the army camp.

I hated Korea.  I hated the destruction, the loss of life, the debasement of human values.  I hated the smells, the abject poverty all about, the last bodies not yet picked up and buried from battles fought weeks or months ago, the mined fields you had better not enter for fear of being killed. And I hated the miserable winter cold.  A tour of duty in Korea during the war period was not a pleasant experience.  I was not in a combat unit but rather was assigned to the 326th Communications Reconnaissance Company which was an Army Security Agency radio intelligence company located a fairly safe distance from the front lines. 

I was one of the few fellows in our operations unit that had no college education but I did have a lot of experiences that they did not.  When I was but 15 years old I put a knapsack on my back and took off on a three-month hitchhike trip around the U.S. and Canada.   Later, when I finished high school, I bought a bicycle and with a hundred and eighty dollars and a letter of introduction from the Boy Scouts of America, I took off for South America aprendiendo mi espanol en las calles, cantinas y pulquerias (learning my Spanish in the streets, bars and gin mills) of all the countries from Mexico to Panama.  I ended up in Panama with 13 dollars and no bike. In order to replenish my funds I took a job with the Inter-American Geodetic Survey as an engineer aide.  It was a wonderful experience working deep in the jungles and on mountain tops throughout Panama and, later, Guatemala.  By June of 1950 I had saved enough money to return to the 'States to begin college but when I arrived in the U.S. the Korean War had begun.

It looked like college would not be in the works so, before the draft board called, I took off for a six-month hitchhike trip throughout Europe.  Then I came home and enlisted in the army.  I sought assignment with the Army Engineers but was soon sent to school to become a high-speed radio intercept operator.  From there I went to Monterey, California, to the Army Language School to learn Chinese Mandarin and only then was I sent to Korea. 

My involvement with the company orphanage committee was intense.   Somewhere I noted that in the first six months I was in Korea I had sent out over 1,000 letters soliciting help for the orphans.  I was spending upwards of 20 hours each week on orphanage affairs, this after pulling my regular shifts in the operations tent or guard duty.  Elsewhere in this web site you can read my letters to folks back in the 'States about the children.  Suffice it to say the experience had a deep emotional impact on me.

On returning to the 'States I enrolled at Monterey Peninsula College in Monterey, California.  There I organized several campaigns to collect material for the orphans in Korea and was pleased to be able to send upwards of twenty tons of material aid to the orphanage the company was supporting.  After earning the Associate in Arts I went to the University of California at Berkeley for the BA and MA in history and sociology, respectively.  I continued my interest in China and, for one semester, was the only student studying the Tibetan language.  Mainly, though, I focused on comparative social institutions.  Three years of high school teaching followed after which I entered the U.S. Foreign Service.  After training at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, D.C. and Arlington, Virginia, I went with my wife and newborn Down syndrome son David to Colombia.

For several years I served as the Director of the Centro Colombo-Americano, the USIA cultural center in the city of Manizales.  While there I became very involved in community organizing.  Saturdays and Sundays my wife Mary Ann and I (with David in a pack on my back) would visit the poor barrios of the city.   After awhile we became familiar figures in the poorest sectors of the city of almost a quarter of a million inhabitants.  Mary Ann worked two days a week as an R.N. and was one of five registered nurses in the four hundred-bed university hospital.   We donated her entire salary to the local orphanage of over 200 children.  It comprised over half of their monetary income for the time we were there.  The children went begging "sobreitas" (leftovers) from house to house to supplement their diet.

I really feel it was the exposure to the plight of the orphans and the battered civilian population in Korea that made me sensitive to the problems of survival of the poorest sector of this city in Colombia.  I was not shocked at what I saw and could communicate with the humblest of the slum dwellers, treating them with dignity and respect knowing full well that they were not responsible for their plight.  I was able to develop programs in the national prison, in the slums, in the industrial trade school for poor boys and in the orphanage.  The literacy program we developed in the US cultural center was one of the largest in the nation.   When we left to return to the US to pursue the Ph.D. (and get David specialized help) we were named honorary citizens and given the keys of the city in gold, the first time such was ever given to a foreigner.  We were also given many other awards for our service to the lower social classes of the city.  For me it was a continuation of my work that began with the orphans in Korea.

The Sociology Department of the University of Wisconsin at Madison offered me a grant to study there for the Ph.D.  I took the concentration on social organization and focused on community systems analysis and voluntary action.  (The Korean experience popping up again?)  The doctoral minor was in Latin American Studies.  Wanting to go back to the West Coast I took a position in the Sociology Dept. of Western Washington State College, now Western Washington University, where I remained until retirement in 1990. When we moved to Bellingham in 1967 our family included an adopted racially mixed son named Todd. 

The next twenty-two years had me involved in scores of community action projects at the local, regional and state level.  Most of those involvements were with social causes addressing problems of poverty, racial discrimination, social justice and issues relating to mental or developmental disabilities.  In 1974 I became the first Ph.D. teaching faculty at the university to be elected to the Bellingham City Council in its 74-year history in the town.  On the City Council I continued to be an activist.  The Korean War experience with the orphans taught me the lesson that the efforts of one person can make a difference and with the coordinated efforts of many the impact can be remarkable.

At the university I was named Chair of the Center for East Asian Studies, Special Assistant to the President for International Programs and finally, until retirement, served as Director of the Office of International Programs. 

In about 1985 Mary Ann and I decided to open a small "mom, pop and handicapped kid" nursery to provide employment for mentally retarded, mentally ill and brain damaged youth, beginning with David.  I built a solar greenhouse, Mary Ann quit nursing and together we cleared the woods near our house for a nursery specializing in rhododendrons, azaleas and Japanese Maples.  We planted in the woods the plants we were selling so the visitors would eventually see what a mature plant would look like.   The city park department eventually purchased our land for a city park and we put the entire amount of the sale in the local community foundation to be used to support programs for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled in the park. For a number of years I chaired the city park department sculpture committee that is developing the park into a major sculpture garden.  It is there that we built the Korean War Children's Memorial pavilion.

When not in my office working on issues relating to the Korean War Children's Memorial I am often out on my bicycle.  I ride thousands of miles a year and from time to time participate in bicycle races. I maintain that the only way I will win a race is to out-live the competition. Now in my mid-70s I'm doing that and am bringing home the gold. Even though I am usually the only person in my age group I still have to ride the course. Darn!  People ask how I can find time for cycling with all my other activities.  I explain that they have it backwards.  I can do all the other things because I keep myself fit on the bike.

This is the shortened version of "The Story of George F. Drake". Some day I will write an autobiography but for now I am too busy creating more content for that story.





Home  |  Editorial  |  Activities  |  Stories  |  Links