It was a gold medal he won. Not the Olympic one, mind you, but colored gold anyway hanging on the long ribbon the Korean magistrate put around his neck.
Back in 1972, Dan was a sturdy built, dark-haired man that women found handsome. The kind who never knew jovial flirtatious could mean a harassment case. Not that it would matter to him. Dan thought he was above the law. Motorcycle racing or dirt biking in Korea was an outlet for his risk-taking personality. Just like him. But it didn’t start that way.
“I need a motorcycle to drive back and forth to work.” Dan told his young wife. “You can ride behind me and the two kids between us. It’ll be safe. There are no rules here like in the US. Don’t even need helmets.”
She acquiesced, knowing it wouldn’t matter if she didn’t.
A motorcycle attracts similar motorcycles, and soon the Harley attracted a small group of fellow riders, high-energy military men ready for some excitement. They called themselves the “Dirt Diggers” and had uniforms made with their emblem on them. Tailored clothes in rural Korea cost pennies because so many peasants clamored for the business.
The motorcyclists’ enthusiasm skyrocketed when they found out that Korea had their formal competition racing on the oval flat track. Teams from all over the country competed to go to the finals in Taijon, a little town north near the DMZ zone.
The team entered, traveling from the east to west towns in Korea, near rice patties, grass huts and Buddha temples. Dan’s wife, one of few American woman at the Air Force Base among tens of thousands of GI’s, went along. Unable to go with the motorcyclists because of their two children, she traveled by bus, crowded buses smelling of hot kimchi and bulgogi. At last the day came when the only American team, Dan’s team, made it to the finals. Using military trucks to carry the men and motorcycles, Korean girlfriends, and Dan’s wife and children, the convoy traveled over the mountainous dirt roads toward the dangerous border of North and South Korea. All for a chance to show the Koreans that Americans too, could win a trophy.
They didn’t expect what they found. The stadium was jam-packed with black -aired, dark-eyed people inspecting them. The wall of movement grew. The American team set up camp in the middle of the flat track and suddenly realized there may be more at stake than winning a gold medal.
ps. This is the beginning of a story. A true one.