June 21, 2021

Grant County Herald

Community news from the prairie to the lakes

Got to ‘know’ South Korean President

George Kruize and Sam Coleman in South Korea.

ot to ‘know’ South Korean President

Sam Coleman was a close personal friend of South Korean President Syngman Rhee… well kind of… more on that later.

Coleman was born and raised on a farm south of Elbow Lake and graduated from Elbow Lake High School in 1950. He was drafted into the Army and following basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, was shipped out to the war in Korea. 

“The cease fire was signed right before I got there,” he said.

Still, he served in the country for over a year, as an engineer in the 839th EAB Company at an Air Force Base near the city of Osana, living in a canvas tent the whole time. The weather was much like Minnesota, hot and humid in the summer, cold and snowy in the winter. Coleman and crew maintained the roads around the base, which were usually in terrible shape.

Elbow Lake friend George Kruize was stationed with him and the two got together about once a week to talk about home.

“There were a lot of Grant County people in Korea,” he said.

One day, while with a group of three other engineers, grading a road on the perimeter of the base, a convoy of five official-looking cars came along. The engineers halted as the convoy also came to a stop. They were asked to get out of their machines and stand in front of them. A short, old man got out from the car in the middle and came up to meet them. They were told he was South Korean President Syngman Rhee. President Rhee wanted to thank them for their service to his country, he shook each of their hands and asked which state they were from. He was told Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Minnesota.

About a month later the same thing happened. This time, when President Rhee came up to Coleman, he shook his hand and said, “You that man from Minnesota.”

Coleman was amazed the President remembered him.

Sam Coleman was shipped back to the states with five months left to serve, which he did at Ft. Leonard Wood. One day, while maintaining the road around Ft. Leonard Wood, an official-looking car with flags all over it came by. It stopped and out came President Syngman Rhee.

“Minnesota GI,” the President said to Coleman, shaking his hand for the third time, “You come back with me?”

Coleman answered, “No way sir.”

When Coleman got back to Minnesota, he farmed with his dad for awhile and then, using his experience in South Korea, began a 45 year career as a heavy equipment operator for local road contractors. He married DeMaris in 1957 and the couple had four boys and one girl. Currently, Coleman has 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

He helped build many of the roads in west central Minnesota, and was very involved in constructing the I-94 Interstate system, working on the stretch from Minnesota to Bismarck, ND.

Coleman participated in the annual reunion of the SCAREWAF Engineers who all served in South Korea, until 2012 when they quit having reunions,  and he is a member of the Elbow Lake American Legion. He is also a member of the Disabled American Veterans, having lost 70 percent of his hearing from driving loud heavy machinery… without ear protection. He now has hearing aids in both ears and admits he would not be able to hear anything without them.

DeMaris passed away eight years ago, and a couple of years later, Coleman became reacquainted with an Elbow Lake High School classmate of his, Gwendolyn Braun Haack, whose husband had recently passed away. She invited Colemen to come to Hoffman to play Bingo. He tried it and enjoyed himself so much, he was soon playing Bingo at least once a week in Hoffman, with Gwenolyn.

“She liked to play Bingo and would play four or five times a week,” Coleman said.

Gwendolyn passed away in 2018.

Coleman enjoys visiting his grandchildren and great grandchildren and feels lucky almost all of them live close enough so he can see them. He also tries to get to the Hoffman Senior Citizens Center once a week for Bingo.