15834: Family Ostrum – Korea

Sixty Year Old Photograph provides a trip back to South Korea

Once upon a time in South Korea, there was a very young U.S. Army Soldier who hailed from Emporium, PA.  His name was/is Kenneth Ostrum.  This soldier worked, during wartime and a short time after, to train South Korean troops and help build an orphanage.  He worked with the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) division and while he was there, a picture was taken with his slide camera.  Sixty years later, that picture was submitted into a competition and it won first place in the National South Korean Health Association contest.  First place was a trip back to South Korea.  What an opportunity of a lifetime.  The videos embedded below were filmed during that trip in 2013.

Ken Ostrum and Miss Chung with orphans in 1953 – 1954

Award winning picture taken with a 35mm camera in 1952-53

Reprinted from:  Reminisce Xtra – July 2006


“As You Were

Was That Fair”?


I was going through Basic Training at Fort Belvoir, VA in 1952 during the Korean War. I had been taught during my short life of 20 years that if you did something, do it well.

You know, “It’s easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.” I tried doing that throughout training and all went quite well.

Then came Bivouac Training.

We marched out 25 miles to A. P. Hill and spent a long day in special training that was intended to turn us into elite Combat Engineers.  Toward late evening the company was divided into platoons and sent to various parts of the woods.

There we buddied up, two guys to a team, each carrying one half of a Pup Tent.  We were told to set up our tents for the night, and got no advice from the cadre on how to do it.

Turns out my buddy and I had both been long-time Boy Scouts and had done a lot of tenting. We knew what to do, searched around till we found the right spot and pitched our little tent.

A lot of the other soldiers in the platoon pitched their tents wherever they could and crawled in.  My buddy and I took the time to find some pine tree limbs for bedding and dug a trench around the tent to keep out water in the event it rained, even though it didn’t look like rain was imminent.

We crawled into bed, dead-tired, fell asleep, and, sure enough, around midnight, it started to rain.

We both woke up, knew we were glad we had taken the time to put down bedding and dig that trench, and went back to sleep.

We were snug as a bug in a rug.

A couple hours later one of the Sergeants woke us up to ask how we were doing.  “Fine, Sarge, we’re high and dry,” We said.   He looked in and around our tent and said, “You guys sure did a good job in setting up.  Congratulations!”

A half hour later he came back and told us to put on our ponchos and report for guard duty.

Now, first of all, guard duty had been assigned the night before, and it wasn’t us.

Secondly, our poncho, for each of us, was one half of our tent.  That meant we had to tear down our tent to put on our ponchos.

Sarge explained that because of the rain, all the rest of the platoon, including those who had originally been chosen for guard duty on this shift, had water in their tents and had to spend some time to find another spot to see what they could do to have a dry place to at least get some sleep.

If we wouldn’t have been in the Army, I’m sure our next comment would have been, “Are you kidding me?” Needless to say, we didn’t say it.

The whole thing sure didn’t make sense to us but it was one of the first in a long line of events over the next two years that showed the Army is not always fair. We finished our basic training at Ft. Belvoir.  I went on to Electrical training with my final destination, Korea, where I was a member of the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) Engineering Section, involved in training Republic of Korea Army troops.

When I saw the ROKA conditions for training, and the conditions our own troops had to put up with on the line, the little episode on AP Hill at Fort Belvoir seemed very trivial.

Kenny Ostrum was that Boy Scout, turned Soldier

Leaving for San Fran

That Boy Scout, turned US Army Soldier, in the article above, was my Dad, Ken Ostrum.  Our ancestors settled in Emporium, Cameron County, Pennsylvania, and that is how I started to call Emporium, my hometown.

Full disclosure:  This post is very biased.  I’ve written other biographies but I definately have THE best Dad and mentor in the whole world.

He and my Mom are a big reason that I had passion for Emporium, enough to start the Hometown Mentors Non-profit Charity.  So, that said, this is story of the highlights of Dad’s Korean War time and what happened sixty years later.

At this writing, it is Seventy Years since the beginning of the Korean War in 1950.

Kenneth Lee Ostrum is the “Boy from West Crick”, as says the title of his autobiography, written around 2011.  He was the youngest son of J. Fred and Violet Barr Ostrum and had six brother’s and sisters.

He was born on a very cold January day in 1932, at home on the hill up West Creek.  His Grandmother swaddled him and laid him close to the wood stove in the parlor to keep him warm.

Being the youngest child, you would think that he might be spoiled, but he says, “No”.  However, if his older siblings were still alive to tell the tale, they may have a different account.

Kenny was taught to milk the cow, weed the garden, not point a gun at any living thing and to love Family, Country and God.

He had to go to the lilac tree in the front yard, to cut a switch or two in his growing up years.  But only when Grandma needed to apply some discipline to the seat of his understanding.

He played up and down West Creek with Robert Rossetti, and rolled in poison ivy once too many times.  He had a dog named Bumpy and went to church at the First Baptist Church where he met my Mother, Mary Jane Kinley, at a youth group event.

As the story goes, she was not real “keen” on him, but I guess, just like moss on the north side of a tree, he just grew on her.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to date a boy who cruised in a 1933 Ford Truck around Emporium?

Kenny learned to sing in school and church choirs.  He continues to sing solos and to sing in groups whenever he can.

Let’s see, other people who started singing in church were Elvis, Pat Boone and…. oh, so many others.  I could have been like Debbie Boone if Dad would have gone professional.  But, oh no, he just sang for weddings, for local Emporium events and to God’s Glory.  I guess that’s ok with me.

Kenny went to Plank Road Hollow one room school house and graduated from Emporium High School in 1950 (The same year and same day that the Korean War started). He went to work at Sylvania and he and Mary Jane were married on February 23, 1952.

Having been drafted into the Army shortly after marriage, he left for a tour of duty in Korea at the end of February 1953, where he trained South Korean Soldiers.  The South Koreans are still grateful to the U.S. Army for the work and rebuilding they did during the war.  They treat Veterans like royalty in their country.

Following are some videos that will tell some memories of Kenny’s time in the Korean War.

The whole story of his 2013 visit back to Korea, his search to find the orphanage he helped build and his search to find his old friend, Miss Chung, can be seen in this 48 minute documentary that is available only on YouTube.com  (CLICK HERE)

There is also a gallery of family pictures following the videos.

Still not the end.

The 15834: Family Ostrum story is to be continued.  In the meantime, enjoy these professionally produced videos of Ken’s trip to Korea in 2013, made by Arirang TV.