May 26 • 04:46 PM

Korean vet contrasts then and now

Dryden's Jack Blair returns to S. Korea

November 03, 2010
DRYDEN — For John "Jack" Blair, nearly six decades have passed since his first visit to South Korea. The first came in late 1952, compliments of Uncle Sam.

Drafted in April of '52, Blair was part of a National Guard unit deployed to the Korean peninsula to help protect U.S. and United Nations' interests along the 38th Parallel.

Trained as a counter mortar radar specialist, Blair made the 21-day trip to Korea aboard a U.S. Navy ship. It was a memorable time in the young man's life.

"I remember how cold it was," said Blair. "The cold and dampness went right through you. Fortunately, we lived in bunkers which were actually quite warm.

"In the battle for White Horse Mountain," Blair continued, "we would sit there waiting for a blip on the radar, which let us know when the enemy shells were coming in.

"I could tell if it was a mortar or artillery, based on the arc," Blair said. "There were a lot of fierce battles fought there."

Blair said both sides were unwilling to relent, creating ongoing tensions at the 38th Parallel.

"You had two sides very well dug in and nobody was giving any ground," Blair recalled. "That led to regular skirmishes and the loss of a lot of lives.

"I think (former President Harry) Truman was intimidated and got scared about escalation. Once (President) Eisenhower got in, he let everyone know we were going to end it—one way or another. That was when the bargaining began that led to the armistice in July of 1953."

The father and son share a sobering moment at the 38th Parallel that separates the two Koreas.

Now 78, Blair made his second trip to South Korea just last month. This time he was accompanied by his son, Richard "Rick" Blair, president and CEO of Weider Global Nutritional, a company that sells and distributes vitamins and nutritional supplements worldwide.

"Rick travels to South Korea three or four times a year on business," the senior Blair said. "We traveled 'business first class' on Korean Airlines. It was a lot better ride than on that ship."

Once in South Korea, the pair was hosted by "Mr. Kim," a pharmaceutical distributor and business associate of Rick's.

Kim treated the father and son to a tour of the country that included visits to many modern facilities, as well as the infamous DMZ (demilitarized zone), the 2.5-mile wide buffer zone that separates North and South Korea politically, culturally and economically.

Blair noted there were many striking contrasts from the Korea he remembered. He cited the country's economic and physical development and cultural evolution.

"South Korea is very modern now, with skyscrapers, parks and even golf courses," said Blair. "The economy is booming over there. Seoul (the South Korean capitol) had two million people when the (Korean) war started. Now there are about 15 million.

"There's a lot of building going on and the country is a lot more westernized than most would realize," he said. "But the traffic is horrendous."

While South Korea's growth and physical changes are striking, Blair was most impressed with the country's people.

"They are very respectful, especially to the elderly," he said. "They tend to revere older people and are willing to take care of them.

"They also appreciate and respect our country's participation in the war," he continued. "They remember how our C-rations helped save many of their lives."

The nation's population now dines on a very healthy diet consisting of rice, chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables.

"The South Korean people are very health conscious," Blair noted. "They eat well and the obesity rate is only 3 percent over there. The people appear to be very happy and they're living well."

Blair's observations suggest there is also an absence of crime and violence in the country; an opinion supported by his son.

"Rick has been going over there for about 12 years now," said Blair. "He has never witnessed or experienced crime in all those years."

While hunting guns may be purchased and used for that purpose, Blair said, the government does not allow handguns.

"After you use a gun for hunting, it's taken to the local police station by the owner and kept there," he said. "Guns aren't allowed to be laying around the house.

"I came away from South Korea with the impression that they have learned to make democracy work for them," said Blair.

"I think they're doing a good job. They don't seem to have a lot of corruption over there. There appears to be a big difference between the two Koreas."

Blair is married to wife Barbara. They have three children, Cyndi Gray, Lynne Furgerson and Richard Blair; eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

After serving in the Korean War, Blair returned to the Tri-City area, where he worked various periods of time for Hurd Lock of Almont and Champion Home Builders of Dryden.

He also worked on a cattle farm for 18 years, was in the vending machine business and drilled wells for Metamora Well Drilling.

Later he repaired old barns with Dryden's Paul Hagemeister. He is a member of the Dryden Vets organization.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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