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Finally, he seized on a last-ditch plan to escape service in South Korea: He joined the U. At least in the American army he would learn a skill that could lead to a career.At least there he would be able to speak the language. “I was almost certain I would be able to leave Korea,” says Chun. I got my orders, I got my ID card.” His planned escape took him to a small, nondescript airport an hour’s drive from Seoul.Anything to avoid the scornful gaze of Squad Leader Lee. He yelled for the recruits to assume the position for a static pushup.

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In the end, Chun became a victim of a collision between unforgiving bureaucracy and the meddling of an unknown family member thousands of miles away.He also suspects he was a casualty of bad timing: The year he arrived in South Korea, a famous Korean-American pop star caused a national scandal by renouncing his Korean citizenship to avoid military service.Like all able-bodied Korean men, Chun would be obligated to serve two years in the military. * * * Just months earlier, Chun could never have imagined such a bizarre set of circumstances. S., he had a typically American childhood; first in Chicago, where he cheered for the Bears in the NFL, and then, after his parents’ divorce, Seattle. It might also make him feel like less of a disappointment in the eyes of his hardworking single mom.“What else was there for a guy stuck in a dead-end job, slowly being crushed under the weight of credit card debt and school loans, but to run away to a foreign country to teach young, impressionable children? It was only when Chun went to apply for a visa open to ethnic Korean foreigners that he discovered he was a South Korean citizen.It was his draft notice for South Korea’s mandatory military service.

“It’s scary, and the same time it’s like, there’s no way this is true,” Chun says twelve years later, remembering the moment in 2003 that would seal his fate as an American citizen forcibly drafted into the South Korean military. Chun had only come to the country with the plan of teaching English for a year, a seemingly easy way of making a dent in his mounting credit card debt.

He rounded a corner, and finally saw why: immigration inspection.

“I kind of knew right away that it meant doom, you know?

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“Let your knees touch the floor,” Chun quotes him in his memoir, “and you’re gonna die.” After a few minutes, Chun’s body was on fire.