INTERVIEW WITH HAN PYO-WOOK-8/1/97
INTERVIEWER: It's the 8th of January 1996 (sic), Seoul, Korea. Mr Han Pyo-Wook, thank you very much for inviting us into your home today to talk to us about the Cold War and specifically the Korean War and could I.. start off by asking you how had you been in the United States by 1950 and what was your position at the time?
HAN PYO-WOOK: Actually, I joined the Embassy in Washington early in 1949 but of course my wife and I had been in the USA at least 8 years prior to that as students and when I was assigned to Washington DC actually, I was only one of the two men appointed to the Embassy -- Ambassador and myself. (Background comment) To some parties, but somehow I stayed home and I got a call, rather late in the evening I would say around 7:30 or 8 o'clock, from UP at that time, United Press. It was a duty officer. He told me "I'm a duty officer" and that meant that I didn't know him because I knew quite a number of them there. The duty officer was saying that "Mr Han, do you know that your country has been invaded by North Korea?" and momentarily the remark stunned me so much that I didn't know what to say whether he was joking with me or whether he was really sure, but upon re-thinking about what he said from the tone of his voice, I'm sure meant what he said and I continued to ask him what the basis of his information and he said that they have a man in Korea and he is sending despatches and the despatches indicate that the Korea has been invaded by North Koreans and he asked me whether I knew anything about it and I of course knew nothing about it. And then I asked him whether I could call him back for further information in case he should have them and then immediately after we stopped, I called a friend of mine in the UP at that time, man by the name of Stewart Hinsley, he was a veteran diplomatic correspondent covering State Department and covering (unintelligible) the Korean Embassy and other embassies around Asia too at that time. And I asked for him and he was not in but I got his telephone number, he was in the countryside for the weekend. And I called he was there and we chatted. I told him what I had heard from his office and he said he had been also alerted and he said he doesn't know anything more than what the duty officer had told me. And he said that he's rushing to Washington DC and then it just.. occurred to me that I should check with another news agency to be sure and I called AP. I had a friend there, man by the name of Morris (background noise -- unintelligible) Harris and.. (background noise)..
INT: Right, so starting again, Mr Han, as though you're telling me for the first time, can you describe how and when you first heard about the North Korean invasion of the South?
HPW: Well, it was Saturday evening, 24th of June 1950. I got a telephone call from the UPI.. rather UP duty officer saying that.. Korea had been invaded by North Koreans and I asked him whether he had any informed basis for information of that sort. He said indeed he had. They had a correspondent in Seoul and on the basis of the stories that he find, that's the story, and asked me whether I knew anything about it and I didn't.. I said that I didn't know anything and we stopped. Then I called AP to verify further and.. there again, being weekend, only the duty officer was there to get my telephone call and he said that he had.. gotten something like that too, he said, but he was not quite as positive as the UP man. Then after I called the State.. AP, I felt that I ought to call the State Department and again I called and the duty officer answered. It wasn't anybody whom I used to know, being weekend. I asked him whether he had heard anything about the war in Korea. He said he didn't know but he said something rather significant to me. He said "the press officer is coming to the office and.. if you want to, you could call the State Department later, again." So after I have done that, I felt that I ought to rush to our ambassador, Ambassador Chong, and.. it took me about 20 minutes or so by car and I went to see him and then I told him what I had heard from the UP and AP and from the State Department. And then I called the State Department. I told the Ambassador that I was politely advised to call back the State Department. So I called the State Department and then of course there were people whom I used to know very well. I think it was probably Norris Bond who answered my telephone and he said.. 'please, I want you to come, Philip, I want you to come and your Ambassador, to the State Department as soon as possible." So we rushed, not too far from our Embassy to the State Department and when we went there, there were say a crowd of people, most of whom I knew very very well, including Dean Rusk, the (unintelligible) Assistant Secretary of State for Far East and after greeting.. briefly.. Mr Rusk invited Ambassador Chong and myself to his anteroom and we went to his anteroom, 3 of us sat there, and first thing he asked us was whether or not we had heard anything from Korea, and our answer was no. And.. then he said that.. he had gotten some despatches from his ambassador in Seoul, the name was John Mitchell, and.. he said that.. obviously it was a calculated invasion according to Ambassador Mitchell and then Dean Rusk was anxious to get some kind of reaction from our government and after this exchange of words -- not too long, we were there about 20 minutes or so -- we.. decided to leave, but before we left Ambassador Chong made it very clear that.. even if there was no clear-cut instructions from the government, the situation is such that we do plead for immediate help. Our country's (unintelligible) obviously, it's being invaded by North Korean troops. Mr Rusk didn't say yes or no on that question but he had a very, you know, friendly expression on his face which told me (unintelligible) be sure that we will do whatever we could (laugh), sort of. And then again he repeated "if you hear anything from your government, please let us know" and we went back, we went back and when we got to.. (interruption)
INT: Can I just interrupt you there... can you remember what Dean Rusk was wearing and what he had been doing?
HPW: Interesting. All of them.. there was Norris Bond, there was a.. Alexis Johnson, who was leader of.. (unintelligible) Norris Bond, there was John Hickinson who was the Assistant Secretary of State for the United Nations and Dean Rusk and then Ambassador Philip Jessop who was the Ambassador at Large, and they all had black tie. Obviously they had been to a dinner party and suddenly called in, to come to the State Department. Later I found out that one of them was having a.. wedding anniversary dinner and they all attended and I don't think they finished the dinner.
INT: Can you tell me about the telephone call that you took later that evening from Syngman Rhee...
HPW: (overlap) Well, then, yes, I was about to do that. We got to the Ambassador's residence.. quite late and then we sat there for a little while and about midnight there was a call from that.. President Syngman Rhee. I took the receiver and he recognised my voice and he always called me Philip and he said that the North Koreans are invading us but our troops are fighting valiantly, our people appear to have very grim determination to resist it, but please ask American government to rush necessary help as fast as you can. And I heard lot of noise while I was listening to the telephone call and my guess was that they were having an emergency session in the presidential mansion and that obviously was about the war itself.
INT: Can you then, again very briefly, just describe for me the second meeting, back in the State Department?
HPW: So, you see, as I agreed, as we agreed earlier, I called the State Department. It was Norris Bond who answered my telephone call as far as my recollection is correct and Norris Bond told me if you had heard from your government, please come right away. That's what they said. So Ambassador Chong and mrushed to the State Department and when we arrived there, there were the same people who were there earlier. They still there and of course Mr Rusk greeted us and immediately invited us to his anteroom and when we were at the anteroom, he did say, first of all we said we had a letter from our president and we told Mr Rusk precisely what President Syngman Rhee had asked us to do. To that, Mr Rusk again did not say one way or the other, but he was ready with an answer. He said that we felt -- if I quote him -- we felt that this is a matter America alone cannot be concerned with. It is a matter the world has to be concerned, and with that judgement, we have decided to summon the Security Council for an emergency session and I am, he said, I am instructing Ambassador Ernie Cross who was the number two Ambassador of the USA at the UN. At that time, their chief delegate was.. Warren Austin, he was not there. And he said that he had asked.. Ernest Cross to alert the Secretary General to relay to summon the Security Council.. for an emergency session. He said that he was doing it and.. he urged us to get ready to go to the session in the event. They were going to provide a military plane for us. It was Sunday morning now, you see, 25th, and we came back to the residence and then I went back home and I packed and then again I met the Ambassador and we.. left.. to the airport, which was about 30, 40 minutes away from Washington DC.. about 8 o'clock and we landed in New York, La Guardia Airport, about (unintelligible) after 1 hour and 15 minutes or so and as you may know, the.. United Nations was meeting at the [Lake Success] at the time and we were there and there were many people, all the delegates were there, but we discovered that.. the meeting was to be postponed until 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The reason was that some of the members in the Security Council needed more time to get in touch with their governments. They said that they lacked the information or instruction.. so it was postponed and actually it was met a little after 3 o'clock in the afternoon.