Sarah Creviston Lee Interviews Pvt. Alex Moon from The War Between Us

The War Between Us FINAL COVERWe’re here with Pvt. Alex Moon, an enlisted engineer in the United States Army.

SCL: Would you please introduce yourself and tell us where and when were you born? What is your background?

AM: Yes, ma’am. My name is Alexander Yeung Su Moon. I was born in Los Angeles, California on March 18th, 1923. I’m a Korean American born to parents who immigrated from Korea to the United States as children. They met and married in California, though my father’s parents still live in Hawaii.

SCL: I understand you’re on a short leave before you’re to be sent overseas. I’m curious what your goals were before the war started?

AM: Well, before my father shipped me off to live with my uncle in Washington DC, I was working on getting my degree in Engineering from Stanford. I still hope to go back some day and finish, but for now I’m proud of my service as an army engineer and plan on sticking it out for the duration of the war.

SCL: I sense some tension there about your father. Would you mind elaborating?

AM: My father is a strict, but passionate man. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, nothing mattered to him more than the chance that Korea might be free from Japanese rule once the US entered the war. My older brother Henry happily obliged by joining up as soon as he possibly could. I didn’t feel the same way about things though. My best friend was Japanese American and suddenly he was my enemy? I couldn’t bring myself to fight for the same cause, so I refused to join up. Let’s just say my father was far from pleased. He felt my Uncle Harry, a strong fighter for Korean independence, would have better luck straightening me out, so he put me on a train and didn’t look back.

SCL: I can see how that would strain your relationship. Despite the difficulty with your father, do you think your upbringing has had an influence on who you are today?

AM: Most definitely. Being raised with all the Korean traditions mingled with American culture has made me who I am. I love my heritage, and it’s given me an incredible sense of strength to my identity. I didn’t always feel that way, though. I hate to admit that for awhile I was frustrated with who I was and how badly I was treated by strangers because they thought I was Japanese. I wanted the Korean side of myself to disappear so I could blend in for once. Being stranded and vulnerable in a Midwestern town was one of the hardest experiences of my life. But… because of the courage and love of an incredible woman, I’m able to sit here talking with you today.

SCL: There’s definitely a story there. What’s her name?

AM: Appalone. She goes by Lonnie though. And, uh… she was a Hamilton, but she’s a Moon now.

SCL: I see! You look really thrilled about that! Tell me about how you felt when you first met.

AM: Oh, I was angry. She came with her uncle, a local minister, to visit me in jail. She had this look of pity on her face that really got under my skin. It just added to my frustration of being held behind bars for being accused of something I didn’t do. I said some unkind things to her and made her mad. After I was released, I had another opportunity to meet her. We didn’t fare much better the second time either. She rubbed me the wrong way, so I couldn’t resist teasing her, which, of course, didn’t amuse her at all. It wasn’t the best first impression on either side, I can tell you!

SCL: It’s obvious both of your feelings changed, though I’m curious how that came about. You talked about the challenge of people thinking you were the enemy. How did you both overcome those obstacles between each other?

AM: It started with tentative, but genuine friendship. After we got over our initial impressions, there was a mutual curiosity and acceptance of who the other person was, which was a relief after all the prejudice I was facing. She was curious about my background, so I taught her about the Korean language and the culture which helped me heal and love my heritage again. She was my friend who didn’t give up on me no matter what other people said, even her own family and close friends. Our friendship slowly blossomed into love. I wish I could say that the rest is history, but even during our courtship and after our marriage, we’ve faced some pretty hefty difficulties with our families and community. I’m hoping that as time passes, they’ll come to accept us.

SCL: Considering everything you’ve shared so far, what things are you the most proud of in your life?

AM: There are a few things that I’m proud of actually. At one point, when I didn’t show up in Washington DC, my Uncle Harry came to fetch me. I almost left with him too, but I couldn’t abandon the life I’d made for myself in that little Indiana town, even with all the hatred aimed at me. The moment I refused to leave is the moment my life really began. It was my own to do with what I felt was right and not what my father or uncle dictated to me was right. It was the most liberating feeling I’ve ever had. The decision didn’t come without a cost, though, and that’s something I’m still working through.

I’m extremely proud of the work I do for the army too. Deciding to join up was a journey in and of itself, but I’m proud to be able to use my schooling for a cause I believe in and in fighting the real enemy. I work with a great group of guys who’ve come to respect me for what I can do and for who I am, not judging me by who they think I look like.

Finally, one of the most proud and terrifying moments of my life was when I asked Lonnie to marry me. I thought I was going to be sick.

SCL: Did she say yes right away? It sounds like with what you two would face together in society, it would take some serious thought.

AM: Oh yeah. She said yes right away. It was more like, ‘What took you so long?’! Haha! Here I was with a cracked rib, bruises all over me from a mob that had accused me of the worst crimes against her, and she couldn’t wait for me to ask. She’s really something else.

SCL: It sounds like you’ve found your perfect match.

AM: Yes, ma’am. I sure have.

SCL: I’d like to ask one last question. What’s your most treasured possession?

AM: Without a doubt… I’d have to say this short pair of ebony chopsticks. I keep them in my shirt pocket whenever I can, even out in the field. Lonnie gave them to me as a wedding present. When I left California I didn’t even bring a pair with me. She came to understand what a toll it took on me to be so cut off from what was familiar, even before I understood it myself. With the help of a Chinese friend, they gave me a New Year’s dinner that I’ll never forget. Picking up a pair of chopsticks again was like a lifeline to me. These remind me not only of how incredibly lucky I am to have Lonnie in my life, but to never forget who I am or where I come from.

SCL: What a wonderful story. Thank you so much, for sharing your experiences with us, Private. I wish you the best in your assignment overseas, and please give Lonnie my best.

AM: Thank you, I will. It’s been my pleasure.
The War Between Us FINAL COVERAlex Moon is not the enemy.
Six months after Pearl Harbor’s tragedy, Korean American Alex Moon is sent away from his home in California for refusing his father’s request to join the fight against the Japanese. On his journey, Alex is attacked and stranded in the small town of River Bluff, Indiana. To everyone else, he looks like the enemy.
Unexpectedly, Alex is befriended by a local girl, Lonnie Hamilton, who comes to his defense, saving him from doubt and despair while placing herself in the cross hairs of prejudice. Alex falls in love with his ally—a love that is clearly forbidden. Torn between his dual identities, Korean and American, and grappling with how everyone sees him, Alex must wage the war within himself—of defending who he is, resolving his tortured feelings about the war, and fighting for the woman he loves.

The War Between Us won the Editor’s Choice award from the Historical Novel Society.

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Sarah Lee