Does anyone know which American may have received the greatest welcome of any American ever to visit to Korea? Well I can’t say for sure, but in all my research I have concluded an American has never received the welcome in Korea that can compare to the one President Lyndon B. Johnson received during his visit to Seoul in 1966. Yes, President Johnson is probably the most popular American to ever visit Korea which seems hard to believe considering how President Johnson is remembered today in the United States.
President Johnson visited South Korea on October 31, 1966. I have tried to confirm, but according to my research Lyndon Johnson was the first American President to visit South Korea. I could find no information whether President Harry Truman ever visited South Korea which I doubt he did considering the Korean War was still on going during his time in office. President Dwight Eisenhower ran a campaign in 1952 centered around the promise he would go to Korea and end the war. After winning the election, Eisenhower did go to Korea, but only as the President-Elect. I could find no information that President John F. Kennedy ever visited Korea either. I assume he hasn’t because I’m sure such an event would have drawn just as much media attention that Johnson visited did. So that leaves LBJ as the likely the first US President to ever visit South Korea and the welcome he received demonstrates that.
The Stars & Stripes newspaper listed the crowd that greeted Lyndon Johnson from when he landed at Kimpo Airport, along the streets of Seoul watching his motorcade, and at his final destination at Seoul City Hall at 2 million people:
President and Mrs. Johnson got a rousing Texas-style welcome here Monday.
They were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd estimated at 2 million as they flew to the Republic of Korea on the last leg of a 7-nation trip.
Officials traveling with the presidential party called the welcome the largest and most enthusiastic of the trip. [Stars & Stripes]
TIME Magazine listed the Korean crowd that gathered to greet the “Texas Grandpa” at 1 million people:
The President got the tonic he really needed in South Korea, where joun son means “good guest.” At Seoul, more than 1,000,000 people —more than half of them schoolchildren—lined his 17-mile motorcade route, strewing it with thousands of chrysanthemums and a ton and a half of confetti. A forest of welcoming signs rose above their heads, many bearing bizarre, if well-intended, portraits of a green-faced, Oriental-eyed Lyndon Johnson with an outsized nose like Charles de Gaulle’s. The slogans were on the inscrutable side. WELCOME TEXAS GRANDPA, said one. Another somewhat ambiguously proclaimed: TEXAS
BULL-WE LIKE. [TIME Magazine]
Well considering the recent mad cow nonsense Texas Bull’s are out of style now a days in Korea. However the people welcoming this Texas Bull back then acted like mad cow protesters of now with their rush to see the US president:
At times, the ecstasy almost resulted in tragedy.
Frenzied crowds estimated at 250,000 at Seoul’s City Hall Plaza roared approval at the sight of Johnson so loud and long that the speech of Korean President Chung Hee Park was drowned in the din.
The mob also overran a 2,000-member girls’ chorus near the presidential stand, trampling some of the girls underfoot, and at one time threatened to break Secret Service lines and overflow onto the speaker’s stand.
One 57-year-old Seoul woman was hospitalized with serious injuries after being trampled and 12 persons were treated for minor injuries.
Well at least they didn’t trample anyone to death unlike Christmas shopping stampeders at Wal-mart in the US.
The crowds only stopped their mob rush when the Deputy Prime Minister of South Korea Key Young Chang took control of the police frontlines and asked the crowd to remain calm.
So people amazed by the frenzied mobs that can form in Seoul today can now see there is a historical precedent that goes decades back. The security for Johnson’s visit was to keep the crowds at bay and the US President safe, was unprecedented in Korean history as thousands of soldiers and policemen were mobilized in the effort:
Here is what President Johnson had to say to the excited Korean crowd that had gathered to see him:
Johnson told the city hall crowd that Koreans should be “rightly proud” of the rebuilding job they have done after the Korean War leveled the nation, and suggested that Asia was experiencing “a new spirit of cooperation.
“That spirit of cooperation in this part of the world was shared by the seven nations who met at Manila last week.
“That historic meeting, which you first suggested … affirmed the broad partnership and the common purpose of free Pacific nations — a partnership that will endure long after the communist aggression is ended in Vietnam,” Johnson said in his speech.
(“Here in Korea, our fighting men stand with your own along the Demilitarized Zone, and we shall come once again to your defense if aggression — God forbid — should occur here again,” he added, AP said.)
(“To an American, the free soil of Korea is hallowed ground,” Johnson told the throng police estimated at some 350,000.)
(“More than 54,000 Americans died in the bitter 1950-53 battle to save this mountainous peninsula country from communist invaders from the north. Today South Korea has around 45,000 soldiers helping the allied cause in South Vietnam.”) [Stars & Stripes]
Here is what Korean President Park Chung-hee said after the address given by President Johnson:
Park said Korea had “undiminished appreciation” for the help the United States has given it during the past quarter-century.
“We have been much indebted to you as comrades-in-arms,” he said.
“Please be assured that ours is not a nation which will indefinitely continue to be indebted to others, but rather is a nation which knows how to requite its obligations, which has a keen sense of responsibility, and which abides by good faith.” [Stars & Stripes]
Following the speeches at City Hall, President Johnson and his wife we honored with a state dinner at the National Capitol. After dinner they attended an art festival at Seoul’s Citizen Hall.
The next day Presidents Johnson and Park would have a private meeting together before Johnson took a helicopter to Camp Stanley to visit soldiers of the 26th Infantry Division and the 36th Engineer Group. This is what President Johnson had to say to these soldiers:
Lunching with American servicemen just 15 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone the next day, he lauded them in grisly language as “the boys that are willing to go and die and leave their arms and legs and their eyes all over the world. Except for you and your brothers who came here ahead of you, Korea would now be under the master’s heel.” Caught up in the tide of his own oratory, he recalle’d that his great-greatgrandfather had died at the Alamo, adding a previously unrecorded chapter to the family’s martial annals.
“Your parents and your dependents may not see some of you again,” the President wound up, “but they will always be mighty proud that you came this way, and so am I.” [TIME Magazine]
Johnson’s words came true that night when a North Korean team ambushed and killed six US soldiers and one KATUSA on patrol along the Korean DMZ. I have no doubt that this ambush was pre-planned to correspond with President Johnson’s trip to Korea. Just another in a long line of similar provocations from the North Koreans during this time period.
After visiting US troops Johnson then traveled by helicopter to Suwon to see an agricultural display put on by Korean farmers and get this, he tried on a hanbok:
From Camp Stanley, the President helicoptered to an agricultural demonstration area south of Seoul. He viewed the painstakingly cultivated land, tried on a flowing blue-and-white Korean farmer’s robe and stovepipe hat, then invited Village Elder Si Jong Choe, 65, for a helicopter ride. After 10 minutes aloft, Choe exclaimed: “It’s like going to heaven.” [TIME Magazine]
So having foreigners wearing hanboks is not a new tradition in Korea. Now a days, it is pretty much standard practice for famous foreigners visiting Korea to be pictured in a Korean hanbok. Well now we know this tradition at least stretches back to 1966 when President Johnson visited Korea. I looked all over for a photograph of Lyndon Johnson in the hanbok, but could not find one. If anyone knows where to find this photograph please send me a link because I would love to see it.
The next day President Johnson would wake up to the news of the DMZ attack that killed the six Americans and one Korean soldier. I’m sure Johnson was none to pleased by this news but he continued on with his itinerary that day to give a speech at the Korean National Assembly:
Here is an excerpt of the opening of President Johnson’s speech to the Korean National Assembly:
Mr. Speaker, Members of the Assembly:
Sixteen years ago an event occurred in Korea that changed the shape of Asia and the world.
On a June morning in 1950, we woke up to learn that a Communist army had smashed into the Republic of Korea without warning or provocation.
Many Americans at that time could not locate Korea on the map. We were concerned mainly with the Communist threat to Europe and the rebuilding of that continent. Asia seemed remote and beyond the pale of our interest.
But President Truman acted quickly. American forces went to the aid of our Korean friends. The United Nations was called into emergency session and a majority resolved to meet the aggression.
There were those who condemned us for trying to play “world policeman.” We were told that there would be no successful outcome to a “dirty little war” in Asia. [American Presidency Project]
It is amazing that the above statement is actually something stilled often times thrown around today in regards to the US’s involvement in the world. Make sure to read the rest of the speech because it is interesting to read what Johnson wanted historians to write about South Korea. I can’t imagine President Johnson could have ever imagined the historical revisionism going on right now to shame the US for its involvement in Korea.
After the trip President Johnson and his wife flew back to the United States after a extremely successful visit to South Korea. However, the success of the visit would be overshadowed by the headlines back in the US of the deadly DMZ ambush. North Korea effectively played spoiler to what should have been remembered as the greatest welcome any American has ever received in Korea.