By Mr. Robert H Mcelroy (IMCOM)March 24, 2009
HUMPHREYS GARRISON, South Korea--Sgt.1st Class Ruth Wong doesn't know when she was born and who her real parents are but she knows Korea was her first home.
Abandoned as an infant in February 1963 she has grown-up to become a senior noncommissioned officer in the Army, mother of three and grandmother of one.
Her life's journey has brought her from the steps of a Chechon City municipal building to the Headquarters of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. and now back to Korea to participate in exercise Key Resolve.
On Saturday Wong had the chance to visit Chechon where she spent her first seven years and regain a piece of her past.
Wong, a fulltime Army Reservist, was born in South Korea in February 1963 but orphaned soon after birth.
Although she doesn't know for sure, she believes her mother wrapped her in a blanket and left her on the steps of a municipal building in Chechon, south of Wonju.
A police officer found her and brought her to an orphanage run by a young American missionary named Jane White. White took her in, cared for her and named her Ruth after the biblical Ruth. She gave Ruth the surname Baik, which means White in Korean.
Life at the orphanage in 1963 was austere. Money was scarce and the orphanage depended on donations from individuals and churches in America and whatever donations of money or supplies White could obtain from either the Korean government or nearby American military units.
White did not have formula for the babies she took in so she fed them powdered milk the Army gave her. She put a little bit of oil in it to give it a bit more taste and nutritional value.
The orphanage was a single mud and stick building with no running water or indoor plumbing. White said that in the winter she could scrape the frost off of the inside walls and, when it rained, the ceiling would sometimes turn to mud and pieces would fall from it.
While they didn't have the plushest accommodations what the orphans had was love, from the woman they still call their mother, Jane White.
White believes that God called her to open and run the orphanage in part because of "a special love" that He placed in her heart.
"She was my first mother, before I was adopted," Wong said.
Wong found a home and a family at the Chechon orphanage and, when she was seven years old, an American couple, the Strauchs from Grand Island, Neb. adopted her and another girl, Candace.
Wong and Candace flew to Nebraska and found themselves in a place which was a world apart from Chechon. They had beds of their own, indoor plumbing and hot and cold running water.
The first night there we slept on the floor because our beds were uncomfortable, Wong said. My American mom said that Candace and I used to spend hours playing with the bathroom faucets. We'd never seen such a thing and were amazed that you could turn them on and get hot water or cold water.
Wong had a normal American upbringing, attended school and church and learned to play the piano and guitar. But as she assimilated into American life she lost a part of her heritage-the ability to speak Korean.
I wanted to speak Korean with Candace but she didn't want to, Wong said. Candace said '...we're in America now, we should speak English.'
Although she lost the ability to speak her native language Wong never lost her identity as a Korean or the connection she felt to the country of her birth. When she was in the 11th grade she signed up for the Army's delayed entry program. Her goal: to return to Korea as a Soldier.
Following high school graduation she entered the Army and, after completing basic training and advanced individual training, she returned to Korea as a personnel specialist in the 2nd Infantry Division in 1983. One of her visits was to Chechon and Jane White.
The years had been good to Jane White and the orphans in her care as well. The Chechon Orphanage had grown from a single mud and stick building to a modern three-story brick building that housed 40 children and a small staff.
Wong enjoyed her visit to the orphanage in 1983 and had the opportunity to see photos of her and her sister Candace before they were adopted. Unfortunately she was unable to obtain copies of the photos then.
En route to Chechon Saturday Wong expressed concern about getting copies of her photos. She said that White had experienced health problems and she was worried for her and the connection to her past.
"I don't want the memories of my past to go with her," Wong said.
When she arrived at the Chechon Children's Home White greeted Wong with a long hug and a huge smile. The two chatted about Wong's time at the orphanage and life in Korea in 1963. Then came a surprise, White had photos and negatives of Ruth and Candace.
As they sat together on a sofa in White's modest quarters Wong gazed at the black and white photos, smiling.
"Every time I write to her I say I need my pictures," Wong said, still smiling.
"Well, I know but I take care of kids, sometimes I'm too tired to work on pictures," White replied.
"I know, I know," Wong said.
White turned to Wong, stroked her hair and smiled.
"Now you can sleep tonight," she said.
"Oh, thank you, I'm so happy," Wong said as she hugged White. "These are such wonderful pictures. I never thought I'd get to see my baby pictures again."