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Revisiting Korea a lifetime later

A Beacon Woods veteran carries grim war memories, but is eager to see the changes in the country.

Published July 27, 2003

Hanging on the wall in Jim Beggs' bedroom is a small picture frame with a blue velvet background. It holds an embroidered patch depicting an angel and globe. Fanning out in a V are the words, "That others may live."

"That was our motto," Beggs said, his voice heavy with pride. "It sums up our mission."

A member of the 36th Air Rescue Squadron, Beggs helped guide distressed planes to safety and pluck pilots from downed aircraft in the water.

His was a supporting role, far removed from the front lines. But 50 years later, Beggs has returned to one of the early battlegrounds of the Korean War.

On Tuesday, Beggs and his wife, Mary Ann, flew to Seoul, South Korea, to commemorate the signing of the 1953 armistice. Beggs was one of 400 veterans selected for a trip underwritten by the Federation of Korean Industries.

"I'm looking forward to see if there is anything there I remember, to see the upturn of the county and people," the 70-year-old Beggs said. "But I guess it can bring back some bad memories."

Such as when he landed at an airfield that doubled as a morgue. "It was the most putrid smell you ever smelled in your life."

When the war began in June 1950, Beggs was a 17-year-old clerk at Sanders Confectionary in Detroit. He enlisted in the Air Force the following August.

After scoring well on radio operations exams during basic training at Sampson Air Force Base in upstate New York, Beggs was assigned to the 36th Air Rescue Squadron.

In February 1953, Beggs headed overseas aboard the USS General A.W. Brewster. It was a hellish 14-day journey.

Men unaccustomed to the sea were vomiting constantly. They slept in cramped quarters.

The 36th Squadron was stationed at Johnson Air Base, 30 miles outside Tokyo. For two weeks every two months, Beggs' crew was dispatched to Seoul. They lived in tents and were to be ready for a rescue within five minutes of a call.

Beggs returned to Detroit after the war, attended college and took a job with General Motors. He worked in accounting and personnel for nearly 30 years and retired in 1986.

He moved to the Beacon Woods subdivision in Bayonet Point in 1990, adorning his new home with the memories of the past.

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