By Army Staff Sgt. Heather Denby
35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade
PYEONGTAEK, South Korea, Jan. 5, 2015 – Sometimes the questions we ask lead us to answers we least expect.
For Army 2nd Lt. Jonathan Taylor, the choice to give back to his country by serving in the military brought the chance to meet the mother he never met and another mother he had always wanted.
Taylor joined the military in May 2013 after serving in the ROTC at the University of Hawaii, where he earned a degree in business management. His parents were proud of the son they had adopted, and Taylor was grateful for all they had done while caring for him over the past 15 years.
Barry and Cathy Taylor were unable to conceive a child of their own and decided to apply for an overseas adoption. They were approved by a Korean adoption agency, and 5-year-old Jonathan left his orphanage here to start a new life in Lowell, Massachusetts.
“My dad greeted me at the airport with a big hug,” Taylor said. “He gave me a banana and a stuffed animal — Mr. Bunny, I think. I still have that old thing.”
Memories of His Birth Mother
Despite having a loving new family, Taylor said, his mind often would drift to the few memories he still had of his birth mother and his short time living in South Korea.
“One of my earliest memories of my birth mother was when she would place me on her back while walking around town selling bubble gum,” he said. “We were poor. there were seven of us that would sleep on the floor of a small shack. Sometimes I would pick wild berries to help with the hunger pains in my stomach.
“On the day I went to the orphanage,” he continued, “I remember my grandmother crying as she waved goodbye to my mother and I on the bus. My mother placed me on the corner of a road and said she’d be right back. … She never came back.”
Taylor kept a small photograph of his mother hidden in the bunk bed at the orphanage until one day it, too, disappeared. And although he could no longer remember her face as he grew older, he said, he spoke of his mother and his life before America with his friends.
Taylor’s story spread through word of mouth, ultimately reaching a woman in South Korea.
Retracing the Adoption Process
Minhae Kim, a mother of two and a New York State University graduate, felt the need to help Taylor reunite with his birth mother and decided to retrace the administrative process of his adoption.
While researching his early childhood, she invited him to spend time with her family in Seoul, and Taylor agreed to pay the Kims a visit.
“I was so impressed with him,” Kim recalled. “I asked my son to email him and see what kind of things he would like to do during his visit to South Korea. Jonathan said he only wanted one thing: to try and find his birth mother. I told him that if you cannot find your mother, I’ll be your mother — your Korean mother.”
Taylor and the Kim family continued to visit each other, and finally Minhae had found what she was looking for.
Reunited at Last
She coordinated to meet Taylor at the orphanage he was sent to as a child to share the special news he had been hoping for.
“We went and saw the nursery room full of little babies, all waiting to be adopted,” the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade said. “And then [my birth mother] walked in. I couldn’t remember her face, but when we shared our first hug, it was like she had never left.”
His birth mother cried and apologized for leaving him years ago, he said. The two spent the day visiting tourist sites around Seoul and then said their goodbyes.
After being commissioned as an air defense artillery officer, Taylor said, he knew he wanted to be stationed in South Korea.
But it wasn’t to spend more time with his birth mother, he added. Though the reunion was exciting, he said, the excitement wore off and memories of abandonment lingered. Meanwhile, he added, his relationship with the Kim family blossomed, and he felt more at home in the Kim’s modest middle-class apartment than he had with his birth mother or in his own apartment in the Songtan district.
“We were so grateful for the chance to have met him,” Kim said. “He kind of enlightened my life, too. You know, we never appreciate our parents. Going through this experience with him made me realize how my own parents were just trying to do their best, even in the worst kind of situation.”
Learning From Good and Bad
Taylor said his introduction to Kim, his reunion with his birth mother and his military assignment to the city where he was born were much more than he could have ever expected.
“There were so many questions I had growing up, and answers I thought I had already figured out, but I wasn’t ready for any of it,” he said. “The lessons I learned from my adopted parents, from my educators, from the military — it all prepared me to embrace both the good and bad things that happen in life. The truth is: sometimes the answers we get just aren’t what we expect.”