In another Butter Rum Cartoon post you can read more about the fascinating life of Linda Coil, my friend and author of the book, "Who's Watching You?" but the following segment of her life I just learned about. Coincidentally, Linda was in South Korea at the same time I was! But throughout my 13-month tour there I never saw an American woman. I never dreamed while I was having my adventures there, ten miles northeast of Taejon, that an American woman who would eventually be a good friend of mine was working about ninety miles to the north as a notorious international thief! Here is her story:
|Linda Coil at 18|
~ Linda Coil
My Dad was in the navy 11 years when he died. I imagine he might have been a lifer. He died when we went to the beach on May, Friday the 13th, 1959. He decided to go scuba diving for abalone that day. He loved it, was a Navy Frogman and knew what he was doing, but something went wrong and he drowned. To this day I am not sure what happened. I still get different stories from his brother, my Uncle Harry, and others. Anyone who might be able to tell me more are gone now. Because of computers I have found a few Navy friends of his, one whom he borrowed the tanks from that day, as he didn't bring his own along. Everyone gives me a different story, and nothing fits. So I just don't know what happened--only what I remember and that's a whole other story in itself. It's a big mystery and really strange.
I loved my Dad very much, and to this day am not really over his passing and always carry him with me (as well as my Mom). I am an only child as well. He used to, of course, travel to Asia a lot, and was in the Korean Conflict. He would tell me all about Japan, China and Korea, as well as other places. I wanted to go there when I grew up, so I could see for myself what he was talking about and to see what he saw. When I was 18, I did just that. Got me a visa for Korea, bought me a ticket and went all by myself.
I flew over on a plane with some of the 101st Airborne Division. They were headed on to Hong Kong and back to Viet Nam for the second tour. I still think and wonder about those men. The plane stopped in Japan before going on to Korea, and I stayed there for two days. The taxi ride to and from the airport was a riot, although a bit scary. They drive very fast in Japan, and obey no rules of the road. Tokyo was wonderful, bright lights and lots of excitement. I never ventured far from my hotel. In fact I stayed on the same block downtown, shopped in several stores and mostly watched it all from the window of my hotel room which was very high up. The bathtub in my room was like nothing I had ever seen before--square and deep, with a seat, and obviously made for much shorter people than myself. In the middle was a door that you opened to enter. You would close the door and then fill the tub. It was like a Jacuzzi before we had Jacuzzis. I had dinner in the hotel restaurant downstairs. I do not exaggerate when I say they brought me food enough for 10 people. There was no way I could eat it all, no way. The head waiter came to my table and in Japanese tried to ask me why I didn't finish the food. I didn't understand him and he didn't understand me as I could only keep shaking my head no and pointing to the food. He then brought the poor chef out to my table and yelled at him as the waiters took all the food away and brought me more! They apparently thought I didn't like any of it, or that there was something wrong with it. I finally had to sneak out and back up to my room. The next day I went on to Korea.
I went on to Inchon and stayed in a hotel until I found a place to rent, which only took a day or two. It was actually quite easy to find help. Being American, and the only female one around mind you, I got lots of attention and offers of help. I remember how I would always wind up with a group of giggling school girls following me everywhere I went. At first it was like being a celebrity and they were the paparazzi. Later I didn't mind and got a kick out of it.
|Linda with Young Lee|
I wanted to go and experience what my Dad experienced. It made me feel closer to him, and feel a part of his life in some way. I think I was always trying to find him and connect in as many ways as possible. One of the first things I did was go to the Port of Inchon and find the spot where General MacArthur stood when he first landed during the war and stepped onto Wal-Me-Do Island in Inchon. There is a plaque there that tells of the landing, and I stood where he stood. And as well as the General, I saluted my Dad.
I did get a severe case of diarrhea the first week I was there. I didn't drink the water, I drank Coca-Cola the whole time I was there, so it must have been from the water in the vegetables and other foods. I had to stay home for several days as I couldn't stay away from the toilet. It was bad. Most times I didn't even make it to the toilet. I think that kind of diarrhea would kill me nowadays. I was really glad when that was over.
I learned to eat and cook Korean food as well as how to shop for it--seaweed, rice, kimchi, bulgogi beef. I love the little, chewy, anchovy fishies. I didn't notice at first that they still had the heads on them until after I decided I already liked them.
I wasn't too sure about Korean food at first, and to this day I am not sure what half of what I ate was. There was some really strange fish to be had. Koreans ate a lot of fish. There would be fish for sale out in the open markets that were stuck on lines of barbed-wire fence. Very close to most of the corners at the markets were piles of sewer shit piled high waiting for a truck to come shovel it up and haul it away. Therefore the fish were always covered with flies. I never understood the sewer systems there and never did inquire as to how they worked. All I knew was that I was not going to buy the fish. I ate fish in restaurants or at a friend's house, and only hoped they got it somewhere else. But all-in-all I soon acquired a taste for most of the food. I had to eat it anyway! There were these great, little, chicken restaurants that served this delicious chicken and some kind of hard, crunchy, kimchi vegetables. I liked to go there for dinner sometimes, and of course dinner was very, very cheap, as was everything at that time.
To this day I cook and eat a lot of Korean food, as do my kids. My daughter makes great Korean food, and is also a third degree black belt in taekwondo. She is also an instructor. So Korea has followed me in many ways. There is a Korean grocery store in Edmonds, Washington. I go all the way there about once a month or so to buy Korean food to make. There is a little old lady there that makes the best homemade Kimchi. And I can get the little anchovy fishies there as well.
Shopping was an experience. Sometimes when I would go to pay they would shake their heads NO and wouldn't take my money. I would insist on paying but they would insist on giving it to me. I made a lot of friends.
While there I would sometimes rent a motor scooter. It was the funnest thing. You could have it all day for only $5. I would ride around the countryside to explore villages and just go everywhere, sometimes getting lost. I would just find someone and ask which way to Inchon, and always find my way back eventually. I loved those times. I felt very safe while there and was never bothered. Only one time did a young Korean boy of about 12 or 13 try to steal a ring I had on by grabbing my finger and not letting go. He gave quite a fight but I was taller and stronger so I won. Come to find out, he was only hungry, so I took him out to eat and we became friends. I would find him and take him to lunch every now and then.
On one of my motor scooter excursions I went up to the DMZ, the Demilitarized Zone---the border between North and South Korea. I went up there to check it out. That particular day I chose to go, a U.S. Army helicopter carrying several of our soldiers crashed on the North side of the fence in a large grassy area not far from the guard shack on our side. The fence at that time was a cheap wood-and-barbed-wire thing and our soldiers cut down part of this fence and ran through to rescue the crew of the chopper. In the end, two men died from the crash and the others were injured and quickly rushed away for treatment. The chopper was immediately hauled over to our side and everyone, including me, was told to hush up and no one saw anything. I later heard the families of the two men that died were not told exactly what happened to their loved ones--that it was a helicopter crash of course, but not where it took place. (In those days, and maybe today as well, we never set foot onto the North Korean side nor do we ever spy on them.) While everyone was involved and busy with the cover-up and no one was paying the least bit of attention to me, I walked over to where the fence was still down and I'm not sure what came over me...but I just had to...I slipped through the fence, walked just a little ways in and stomped my feet on North Korean soil. I raised my arms, looked up over into their tree line and yelled, "Take that, you commie bastards!" I then turned and ran back through the fence. Feeling proud that I had crossed the line, so to speak, I jumped on my motor scooter and began to ride away. While I did, I looked again over toward the tree line and stopped short. Standing there by one of the trees was a North Korean soldier, he was carrying a gun, a gun that did not look like a regular rifle but more like a machine gun of sorts. He saw me watching and simply waved at me, in a friendly gesture at that. He seemed to be smiling. While we stared at each other, two more soldiers stepped out from the trees holding similar weapons. To this day I have to wonder why they let me do what I did. Did they think I was cute? or just plain stupid? Because of the chopper crash were they told to stand down? I will never know. I only know that if something like this was to occur today, the outcome would be much different. I must admit however that to this day I do enjoy the thought that I stood on North Korean soil, yelled obscenities and got away with it! To others I say, "Do not try this!" I was a stupid kid.
One day while walking to town, I saw my first dead body, besides my family that passed away, that is. And this one was not a pretty sight, not at all. Several people were looking at something lying near the railroad tracks, and looking with disgust and covering their mouths and running away. So being young and curious, of course I had to know what they were looking at, and went over to see. It was a young man who obviously had been hit by the train. He was twisted and mangled and cut up pretty badly. I had to turn away myself. Now in those days there was a law in Korea, that if you find a body, if someone is hit by a car, or a train, or otherwise found dead, whoever touches that body becomes responsible for it and has to pay for funeral costs and all that. So I knew not to touch it or even get too close, something I wouldn't have done anyway! For a couple of weeks everyday when I went to town this poor young man was still there lying alongside the tracks where he landed. No family had come to claim the body, and no one, including the police, bothered to move him. I kept trying to find someone to do something; this is how I learned the full impact of this law. One day as I walked by he was finally gone. I never found out who claimed the poor boy.
While there I had the strangest feelings, pretty much every day that I was there, that I had been there before. I could be walking somewhere in Inchon, pass a bombed-out or bomb-riddled building, of which they still had many there at the time, and I would KNOW what was around the corner before I turned it. Very strange. A lot of déjà vu. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, which I tend to believe there is, then I have once been to or lived in Korea in some capacity.
I liked the country so much that I stayed longer than my 3 month visa. In fact I stayed a couple of years and never did renew my visa at the Embassy, and got into trouble for that. But I was to get into more trouble than just that.
Cho-do was a small orphanage with mostly older children. The youngest, a girl, was maybe two. With these children I would play ball, sing songs and hand out treats. I became very close to one little girl in particular, Kim Chung Sook (Koreans use last names first). I later named her Kimra Lynn.
While on a tour of the Army facility at the Port of Wal-Me-Do Island Army base, they had stockpiled in several warehouses, all the way to the ceiling, all kinds of things from the 1950's till then--blankets, canned food, powered milk, Levi jeans and jackets, soap, toilet paper, vitamins and medicines such as penicillin and polio vaccines. These things were never used, or even touched, as they continued to ship in fresh supplies to stockpile. There was more than enough for the military that they would never use. In the medical supplies section there were enough polio vaccines to vaccinate every orphan in Korea. I asked the higher-ups if any of these things could be used for the orphans, and the answer was a flat NO! I saw many children crippled from the effects of polio, many children who received only one meal a day which consisted of a bowl of rice. Only on special occasions would they sometimes get anything more, such as chicken as a special treat. I saw so many sick children with simple illnesses such as an ear infection that, when left untreated, got so much worse and lead to deafness--small children in pain with nothing to help make them better. Neither the government there nor our military would do anything to help. I was appalled to say the least, especially when most of these innocent children were half American, and were there because of our military.
So I became a thief, a major thief. I found I could sneak on base, and with the help of a couple of stoner soldiers could gain access to the warehouse. They would just ignore me and let me pass, as did the MP's at the gate. And making a very long portion of the story short, before I left Korea I had gotten away with an unknown and outrageous amount of cases of blankets, soap, vitamins, penicillin, polio vaccines, powered milk and food, as well as two jeeps, two transport trucks, and a forklift. These I drove right out the front gate, loaded with supplies, and was never stopped. The jeeps were for the doctor, so he could transport the medicines to orphanages all over. Those Koreans had the vehicles stripped down and painted overnight. The trucks were to transport the orphans to a Christmas party and other places they needed to go. The forklift was to help build a new and better Cho-Do orphanage.
Towards the end I had the Korean police, the Army, the CIA, and the General all looking for me. I hid in a locker once when the General showed up (I was very skinny at the time). I watched him through the vents in the locker and could see his legs as he paced back and forth yelling that he wanted me found! He was one scary guy that general.
After about a year I was captured by two Korean policemen, on a corner of downtown Inchon. They took me to the station, but no one there could speak English. I spoke a little Korean but did not let on. They literally sat me in a chair and put me under a hanging light, just like you used to see on TV. They sat in chairs around me and interrogated me in Korean, accusing me of being a north Korean spy of all things! This much I understood. They wanted to know if I was giving these things I took to the North Koreans! I was a little scared for a while there, thinking I am in big trouble. After a few hours a translator from Seoul finally showed up. After checking me out through the FBI in the States, Seattle Washington, and of course the Embassy, they decided I wasn't a spy. Thank God. They also decided that I was going home first thing. I had spent most all of my money on the orphans and didn't have a ticket home. They said the Embassy was going to take care of that. They had a jeep take me home to pack and said another jeep would be by first thing in the morning to take me to the airport. That was their first and biggest mistake.
I was not finished with my work. I had much yet to do. So soon as I got home and they left, I packed my things and moved to the other side of town where I had some friends and rented another place, where I stayed and got away with everything for another year. Korea was filled with a lot of people and even though I was white, finding me was like finding a needle in a haystack. And not meaning to brag about thieving in those days, I was very good at what I did!
The only things I stole for myself were an occasional case of toilet paper, bars of soap, chocolate Hershey bars, and red licorice. Some were for myself, some I gave as gifts, but most to black market for money. Rich Koreans would pay outrageous amounts for these items, especially the chocolate. I know, shame on me, but I had to live too.
One day, while walking to town along a deserted dirt road (well, all the roads were dirt at that time), there was nothing there but a huge coal factory, and nowhere to hide and nowhere to run. A big, black, American car came along with a flag flying from it. It slowed down along side of me, the window was down and a man in a suit and sun glasses was driving--you know, the man in black! He flashed a CIA badge and asked if I was Linda. I took off running, but he chased me down. Like I said, there was nowhere to run. He stopped and said, "Its okay, I just want to talk to you." I stopped but without getting too close to the car. He asked if I was Linda. I said yes. He said, "Hey, I promise I'm not going to arrest you or anything, I just want to ask you a few questions." He proceeded to ask if I was the one who was stealing the things from the government. And he had one question to ask: he wanted to know WHY I was doing this. So I told him, "It's for the orphans." He slapped the steering wheel and said, "I knew it!" He told me it was okay and he was going to let me go, and he even said he was going to see about offering me a job when this was all over. He said, "We could use someone like you!" He also said he was going to let me go because he wanted to see just how long I was going to get away with all of this. And as far as I know, he never told anyone he saw me.
I got away with it for another year when they caught me again. This time they took me away to the station in handcuffs, no interpretation or interrogations this time. They escorted me straight to my home to pack, waiting for me, and not taking their eyes off of me. They then drove me straight to the airport. They even skipped immigrations as my plane was taxiing out on the airstrip. They radioed the plane to stop and ran one of those stair step things across the strip and up to the plane and put me on it. Not until I was at the top of the stairs and the door of the plane did they take the cuffs off. I turned around, put one hand and finger up in the air, as I had heard MacArthur once did, and announced, "I shall return!"
I flew on one of the first 747's that came out. I remember how big it was. It stopped in Hawaii on the way back. While alone at the airport I escaped and took off on a bus. I had a bathing suit and I wanted to see Hawaii! AND I was going to find a way to get back to Korea. But they stopped the bus, and took me back to the airport. They made sure I made it all the way back to Seattle after that.
I never made it back to Korea, and I have so wanted to go. But I had children of my own. I did send for and brought over Kimra Lynn. She lived with me for a while in Korea, and I had her for several years over here as well. I wasn't able to adopt her--another long story there--but she was adopted by a great family and now lives in Bellingham, Washington.
So that, in a nut shell, is most of my story. There is more that happened on a day-to-day basis of course. One time I was chased by a North Korean Helicopter! Just a quick event, they spotted me and followed me, until they were threatened to be shot down by the military and they scrammed.
I am not nearly as adventurous now. I am older, not necessarily wiser, but just don't have the energy or the guts for such adventures now. My body would never keep up with what my mind would love to do. I barely leave the house these days. I was young, stupid and crazy, but not at all sorry for what I did, what I experienced and what I learned. I'm glad I did it. Can't say my Dad would have been as proud of me. I am sure if he was watching he just shook his head and thought, "What have I created?" But like I said, I am very glad I went and did what I did. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, and do it even better now!
So there you go. I was a professional international thief! and on the military's most wanted list! Oh I never thought of that...I wonder if I was!
My dear friend, Linda Coil, passed away Saturday morning, October 1, 2016. Her daughter Amanda writes that upon arriving at the hospital just after Linda died, "I felt a peace run through me knowing that she has been set free and the suffering is over. She is now reunited with her parents whom she lost way too soon."
For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.