27 February 2012

Oh Han Kook

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
February 2012

When we begin a genealogy quest we concentrate on the individual, then the family unit.  When researching census records we concentrate on the family unit and are introduced to the residents and neighbors that live in close proximity.  As we delve into court records we are introduced to more people that have interacted with our subject through court proceedings. Some of these people may be related, some may be friends and a few may be foes.  Finally, if we are lucky enough, we gaze with delight at photographs that give a glance into the every day life of our subject and usually shrug when we run across one of unrelated people that have been tossed into the mixture.

Among that ever growing multitude of people there may be one special person that played a significant role in your subject's life.  There may also be stories handed down about these people. I wonder how many researchers take time to include that person with their genealogical data?  How many try to validate all or part of the stories they may have heard about these unrelated people that held a close relationship with our subject?

This is the story, as I know it, of Oh Han Kook who played a role in the lives of three generations in my maternal family.  Luckily I knew and loved him as a part of our family.  From the time I could toddle my grandfather and parents told me the extraordinary story of Kook. By the time of his first visit I ran into his arms and delighted in the twinkle of his eyes and his soft voice as he called me "missy".

The family story tells of Oh Han Kook's birth in Korea [giving his birth as 1 January 1887 on legal documents].  From August 1910 until August 1945 Korea was occupied by Japan and to escape the situation, Oh Han Kook stowed away on a cargo ship only to find out it was destined for Japan.  He again stowed away and eventually reached Hawaii.

The story continues that in due time he was befriended by Howard Clayton Feyler [my grandfather], Captain in the United States Dental Corps who trained him to be an orderly.  He served at Schofield Barracks under Feyler until the family left the island and returned to the mainland.  When the ship landed, Oh Han Kook had once again stowed away, this time to be with Captain Feyler and his family, who he considered his adopted family. The story, told and retold, said my grandfather managed to have Kook enlisted in the US Army.

Kook was stationed in San Antonio, Texas and I looked forward to letters and small gifts as I grew up. He gave me my first watch with a blue wrist band and when I was twelve he gave me my first radio. It was a big cream colored plastic desk radio that picked up several stations.  When I turned 14 he provided me with my first portable radio.  Over the years I realized that he called all of us -my grandmother, mother and aunt-"missy".

Letters were addressed to Sgt. Kook and I never gave a thought to the sequence of the story I had been told.    I went off to college and on 10 January 1968 my family called to tell me he had died peacefully and would be buried in the National Cemetery in San Antonio.   Among our many moves I have always carried a picture of Oh Han Kook with me.

The same picture hung in my grandmother's home and to this day hangs in my mother's home.  When one of my dearest friend's moved to San Antonio I asked her if she would locate his grave in the National Cemetery.   Not only did Denise locate the grave and photograph it for me, she honored him by placing flowers there.

Ft. Sam Houston Cemetery, Section X site 2595

I decided it was time to try and fill in a few of the gaps about Kook.  Dr. Howard C. Feyler married Katherine Marie Halderman 30 November 1918 in Portsmouth, Scioto County, Ohio just after the close of the war.  My grandfather had made 1st Lt. in the US Army Dental Corp in January 1918.  They were married shortly before leaving for duty in Honolulu. Many of his military records have been lost so the exact date that he and his wife left for Hawaii is unknown.  But prior to their move to Hawaii Oh Han Kook was already in Honolulu living on Incen Street as a cook for A. Vincent. On the 31st of July 1817 he filled out a World War I draft Registration card stating he was an alien from Chung Yang [as spelled on document], Korea. He was single and said he had 2 sisters and 1 brother.

From family stories, I knew that Kook was already in the household when my aunt was born in Honolulu 12 October 1919.  He adored and  tried to spoil her.  On 10 April 1919  Kook became a naturalized citizen of the United States [Petition 938M, Vol M-4, certificate 1171340] while Hawaii was still a territory. Persons born in Hawaii after 30 April 1900 were native-born citizens of the United States. 

On December 27, 1919 Katherine Halderman Feyler's parents, Dr. Stephen S. and Anna Gorath Halderman sailed on the SS Sachem    to meet their baby granddaughter and were introduced to Oh Han Kook. They returned to the mainland in February 1920 on the SS  Lurine.  In June Feyler received his Captain's certificate.

My grandparents soon returned from Hawaii with toddler Betty in tow and settled back into life in Portsmouth, Ohio. 

By 1930 Oh Han Kook was listed at Kelly Field in Texas. Texas became his home.  His military headstone shows that he served our country in both World War I and World War II.  

Kook re-enlisted several times during his career.  NARA has created an "Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File ca. 1938-1946", Record Group 64 [AAD]which shows Kook's enlistment as Kelly Field in 1940.  This would be a re-enlistment showing him still in the Dental Corp.

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There is always more to a story.  By definition an  orderly is an attendant working in a hospital and can also be a soldier assigned to perform tasks for his superior officer.  World War I was officially over in November 1918.  His tombstone clearly states he served in World War I.  Finally the juridical definition of a stowaway is an alien coming to the United States by plane or vessel without legal status.   Kook was a citizen of the United States when he came to the mainland.    My childhood memory is intact and I like the aura of mystery that still surrounds our unofficial family member.  I am extremely proud of him and know his love of our family is undeniable. May his memory and his story remain with my family for many more generations.

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