Korean War bride telling story at East Franklin church

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Ock Soon Lee — who later became Pega Crimbchin through marriage — was an orphan in Korea, enduring slavery and surviving war before marrying an American soldier and making a new life in the Pittsburgh area.

Now, the 80-year-old woman's memoir, written by her daughter Katie Schell, has been published, and both mother and daughter will be speaking about Ock Soon's story at Walkchalk Salem Baptist Church in East Franklin on Sunday evening.

While Schell was growing up, her mother, who was illiterate and didn't have many friends, began sharing her story.

“When I was about 12, she started telling me about her life,” Schell said.

And about 40 years ago, Ock Soon recorded her story onto cassette tape to give to her daughter.

But it wasn't until two years ago, following the death of her father, Frank Crimbchin, that Schell decided to sit down and listen to the tapes so she could finally write the story.

“She grew up a slave, was sexually molested and beaten,” Schell said.

Ock Soon was living in Seoul in 1950 when the war began. Communists captured and later released her. She hid under a porch during the Second Battle of Seoul when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur sent troops in to recapture the city.

She survived the war that killed more than a million South Korean civilians.

“One of the most heartbreaking parts of her story was when she walked over 100 miles to escape the Chinese and North Korean soldiers,” Schell said. “Mothers would wrap their babies and lay them in the snow because they couldn't carry them anymore.”

Schell's father was a soldier stationed in Korea at that time. He and Ock Soon met and fell in love, but the two were at first prevented from marrying because it was against Army regulations. It was also against U.S. immigration law in the early 1950s for Koreans to move to the United States.

Eventually, Crimbchin was able to bring Ock Soon to America. She was one of the first 240 Korean War brides to come to the United States. The two settled in McKees Rocks in 1954 and later moved to Moon Township.

“And her journey continues,” Schell said of her mother, who visits area libraries, veterans organizations, schools and churches to share her story.

A portion of proceeds from the book, “Love Beyond Measure: Memoirs of a Korean War Bride,” go to support the nonprofit organization, Women of the Wells, which builds water wells in developing countries.

“It takes $1,800 to drill a well in Africa and Asia,” Schell said.

Her mother wanted to help support those projects because she had to carry water as a slave girl and knows how crucial fresh, clean water is to survival. So far, Ock Soon's story has funded three wells.

Schell notes in literature about her mother's story that the Korean War is often called the Forgotten War.

But, she said: “It is not the forgotten war. It is the war that is buried in the hearts and souls of those who fought there and the civilians who survived.”

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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