☷At the gates of Camp Henry a mother s sacrifice and a son s journey home
U.S. Army ( By Press Release office)
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Lt . Col . Jun Yi , 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command , stands near the spot where in 1973 , as a baby , he and his sister were given to a Military Policeman in front of Camp Henry by their mother . Yi ' s father was stationed on Camp Henry at the time and could not care for the children . Nearly 20 years later , he and his sister were reunited with their mother . Listen to Lt . Col . Jun Yi talk about his inspiring life story on the Every Soldier Counts Podcast . CAMP HENRY , Republic of Korea – For the hundreds of Soldiers and civilians who work on Camp Henry , entering through the security checkpoint at the installation’s main gate is a routine action , rarely given a second thought . But for Lt . Col . Jun Yi of 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command , it can often be an emotional experience . “My heart still thumps once in awhile coming through the gates , ” said Yi . These heart thumps are the result of Yi’s unique and sometimes traumatic upbringing , which left him with painful memories but also helped forge a successful military career . It was at the front gates of Camp Henry in 1973 when a military policeman guarding the post’s entrance was approached by a Korean woman carrying a bassinet . The woman placed the bassinet in the MP’s arms and quickly ran back across the street . Inside the bassinet were two babies – Yi and his older sister . The woman was Yi’s mother . Yi’s mother had once hoped to marry Womack and emigrate to the United States , but their relationship had recently fractured . She was also haunted by her own painful memories of growing up in Korea , and didn’t want her own children to experience a similar childhood . “My mother was born in 1951 , she was born to an African American father and a Korean mother , and raised in Korea as an Amerasian , ” said Yi , whose maternal grandfather served with the U . S . Army during the Korean War . “Which was difficult at that time because there wasn’t a lot of ( bi - racial ) African American and Korean people at that time . She had a rough life . ” It would be nearly two decades until the children , born Lynda and Raymond Womack , Jr . , would see their mother again . “The reason she had to make that sacrifice , is she understood the pain she went through being raised in Korea as an Amerasian… and she didn’t want us to bear that pain , ” said Yi . “She took a risk and was hoping my father would follow through and do the right thing . ” Sadly , as a young Soldier living in the barracks , Womack Sr . was unable to care for the children either , and took them to a local Daegu orphanage , where they were admitted and given Korean names . Although he has no memory of his days in the orphanage , the events that led to the exodus of Yi and his sister from the orphanage loom large in his life and would ultimately affect his decision to join the Army . When Womack Sr . ’s superior officer at what was then known as 19th General Support Command heard there were dependents living in a nearby orphanage , he called the Soldier into his office and ordered him to find a way to take care of his children - - or face the consequences . “That commander was my guardian angel , ” said Yi , who has been unable to identify the Army captain who counseled his father . “My father was given two choices – stay in the military or get chaptered out . My father only had a 5th grade education , so he didn’t have a lot of options . ” Womack Sr . ’s commander and first sergeant accompanied him to the orphanage , where the children were picked up and later put in the custody of a Korean caretaker . Yi’s father paid the woman to watch over the children in her house , while he fulfilled his military duties . Lt . Col . Jun Yi stands in Seoul in 2006 with his sister Lynda Womack ( middle ) and step - sisters Barbara Wilcox ( left ) and Sandra Womack ( right ) . Courtesy photo But life outside the orphanage wasn’t much easier for Yi and his sister - - because of their bi - racial appearance , the children were never enrolled in a Korean school . Instead , much of their childhood was spent carrying out illegal tasks within the Daegu black market . “The thing I remember from those days was the Sugar Daddy candy , that was my incentive , ” said Yi of the once popular American candy . “So basically I would deliver the goods to a location , and if I returned we received the candy as incentive for coming back . ” Yi would see his father sporadically over the years , as he traveled back to Korea after being re - stationed in the United States . His home life in Daegu included living with the adult daughter of the Korean caretaker , and her bi - racial daughter who was close to Yi’s age . As an adolescent , Yi learned to speak Korean but was illiterate from the lack of schooling . A major change in Yi’s childhood happened in the late 1970s , when his father received orders to be stationed in Camp Hialeah in Busan . After arriving in Korea , Womack Sr . married the caretaker’s daughter , and moved the entire family with him to Busan , and later to Seoul after receiving orders to work on U . S . Army Garrison Yongsan . By the mid - 80s , his father was nearing 20 years of service and told an 11 - year - old Yi about their next destination as a family: Tacoma , Wash . , where his father would retire at nearby Fort Lewis . But moving to the U . S . and starting a new life in America presented a new problem: there was no record of Yi’s birth since he was not born in a hospital , and he had not attended one day of school . After arriving at McChord Air Force Base on a military flight from Korea , Yi was enrolled in public school as Raymond Womack , Jr . “I was the oldest kindergartener in history , ” said Yi jokingly . “It wasn’t fun , because I had a speech impediment . I stuttered every word . ” Yi found hope in how he excelled at math , and he rapidly advanced through grade levels . But his life at home was still turbulent , as the caretaker and her extended family also moved with the Womacks to Tacoma . A particularly traumatic moment occurred when his sister was briefly taken away from the family by child protective services . “She’s my heartbeat , she’s been there with me since the beginning , ” Yi said of Lynda . Yi found a powerful advocate for his education at Baker Middle School , where an English teacher helped him master his language skills for the first time . “Ms . Swan , she invested a lot of time in me . I will never forget her , ” said Yi . “She saw something in me . Stayed after school and worked with me , worked with me . ‘Ray , you got this . ’ Instilled that confidence , which I never had that . ” But it was a newly - discovered skill that would put his life on a different track in high school . “I tried football , which I had never played , ” said Yi , who remembers tackling the quarterback on his first play – after being handed the ball as a running back . “I kinda figured out the game , and I excelled . ” At Tacoma’s Lincoln High School , Yi was teammates with future NFL stars Lawyer Milloy and Jon Kitna , and soon colleges started to take notice of his abilities . Rated as one of the top players in the state in 1992 by the Tacoma News Tribune , newspaper accounts of the speedy 6 - foot , two - inch defensive back and wide receiver lauded his “sticky hands” but never mentioned his unique upbringing . “I didn’t really share any of that with anybody , none of my friends knew , ” said Yi . Yi had football scholarship offers from many colleges , and ultimately chose to attend Washington State University . The child who once toiled on the streets of Daegu for candy and spoke no English , was now a key contributor for a WSU Cougars team that produced its best season since 1930 , with a win in the 1994 Alamo Bowl . But a call from his father put in motion one of the most consequential moments of his life , one that would lead to him giving up football for a new purpose . “He called and said ‘I found your mother , ’” said Yi . Womack Sr . had felt a new urgency to reconnect his children with their mother , and hired a private detective in Seoul . From this effort came a phone number , and when Lynda started to dial it she realized it was a local number . Then - Capt . Jun Yi , pictured in 2006 with members of his company on Hill 303 near Camp Carroll , Republic of Korea . Courtesy photo “We lived on 96th street , she lived on 56th street ( in Tacoma ) , ” Yi said . “She got married , had a son , and came to the states . Her intent was always to find us . ” She was working at Fort Lewis at the time , and arranged a meeting on the installation with Yi and Lynda . Though he had never seen his mother , Yi recognized Sui Ki Kim immediately from a distance , and the two had an emotional embrace . Being able to talk to his mother brought the events of his early life into clearer focus for him . “She’s my best friend . I understand why she did what she did . She did what she had to do , if it wasn’t for that …” said Yi , struggling to find the right words . “That’s very brave , that’s a sacrifice a lot of people can’t make . I applaud her for doing what she did . ” Learning more about the early years of his family , and reflecting on how differently his life could have played out led Yi to dramatically change his life path . “For me the biggest impact was that company commander , that’s the reason I came into the military , ” said Yi . “I thought about staying in and playing football , but when I met my mother , the one thing I could think of was that company commander at the time … that HHC commander changed the direction of our lives . If it wasn’t for him to tell my father to take care of those kids , my sister and I would have had a different life . ” With a new purpose in his life , Yi left football behind and entered the Reserve Officer Training Corps ( ROTC ) at WSU . Before he commissioned as an armor officer , it was brought to Yi’s attention that he had no official documentation with his American name ( Raymond Womack , Jr . ) on it . The closest he had to a birth certificate was the adoption information from the Daegu orphanage in 1973 , thus in 1998 he was commissioned as 2nd Lt . Jun Yi . “It threw a lot of my friends for a loop , ” Yi said of the name change . “It was difficult at first . ” Being in the Army allowed Yi the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of his earlier life , first as a company commander stationed at Camp Carroll in 2007 . Korea is a place of rapid change , where neighborhoods can be replaced by modern buildings in quick succession , but Yi was able to find one of his childhood homes in the Itaewon neighborhood of Seoul where he lived while his father was stationed at Yongsan . “I felt really blessed that I was able to get out of that situation and achieve what I did , ” said Yi . “And amazingly , a month after I visited the whole place was demolished . ” Yi’s sister Lynda came back to Korea in the early 2000s as an English teacher and eventually becoming the head project director for American Insurance Group ( AIG ) in Seoul . His sister also experienced a similar connection to her past . Their mother , Kim , continued working on what is now Joint Base Lewis - McChord and is now the western manager for Vanguard , which supplies uniforms , medals and other accessories to the U . S . military . “Her story is more amazing than my story , ” Yi adds . Yi wanted to close his military story at Camp Henry , the site of his mother’s fateful sacrifice . After initially being slated for a posting at the Pentagon , Yi is now the senior military intelligence officer for 19th ESC , working in the city of his birth for the organization that helped steer his life toward a more promising path . The 19th ESC assignment will be the last of his Army career , but he continues working on his ability to read and write Hangul so he may someday fulfill his next dream of becoming the U . S . ambassador to the Republic of Korea . “I have a love for this country ( Korea ) , and a love for the U . S . Army because they gave me a chance and opportunity to be what I am today , ” said Yi . “Coming here has been a tremendous opportunity . ”
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