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Army Spc. David Lee Pelton and wife You-jin at their April wedding in South Korea.

Army Spc. David Lee Pelton and wife You-jin at their April wedding in South Korea. (Courtesy of David and You-jin Pelton)

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — He was a soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in Waegwan, one who hadn’t even wanted to come to South Korea when he heard the Army would send him.

She was a South Korean student attending Kyungbuk College of Science in Waegwan so she could learn English.

One day in September 2004, Camp Carroll hosted 45 students from the school for a tour of the post. When the Army asked for soldiers to escort the group, he, Spc. David Lee Pelton of Charleston, S.C., volunteered. He works as a battalion driver with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 16th Medical Logistics Battalion, part of the 18th Medical Command.

Pelton, then 25, soon found himself talking casually with one of the female students, Kim You-jin, then 26.

“I remember us talking about our age and things like that,” he said. “I thought, ‘She’s kind of cool. I like the way she expresses herself.’”

Also sparking his interest: “She was attractive.”

Then, when the tour ended, You-jin asked a South Korean soldier in the escort whether any U.S. soldier might be willing to help her with English.

The soldier knew Pelton and called him over. He and You-jin exchanged phone numbers.

He started calling right away. Soon they were talking almost daily. They began meeting, weekly at first, he helping her with her English homework. Soon they met regularly. He was in love and within a month told her so, saying he hoped she felt the same way.

But she and her family were among the many South Koreans who have heard stories — many from the Korean War and its aftermath — of Korean women who ended up unhappy in marriages to U.S. servicemembers.

“Very sorry,” she told Pelton. “I told him again and again, Korean people, we don’t. It’s very big problem. Please. I just want to learn English from you. … If I want to meet man, maybe I’m gonna meet Korean man, not you. … I told him, ‘Just a friend, or teacher.’”

But Pelton would not be deterred. And while You-jin was saying “no” to being boyfriend-girlfriend, she at least was saying “yes” to continuing to meet.

“I started giving her flowers and things like that,” he said. They went to movies, had dinner at Bennigan’s a few times and spent lots of time in Daegu’s intimate coffee shops.

But then, around Christmas 2004, she broke off contact.

“I love(d) him already,” she recalled. “But I was afraid, meeting American man, it’s really not normal. Really. … I was so scared. Maybe I’m not going to be happy or something.”

But that Christmas season, You-jin missed him.

That New Year’s Eve, Pelton was alone in his room when a cell-phone message came in from You-jin. It said simply, “Happy New Year.” He called her at once. They talked. Dating resumed.

By March 2005, she knew she’d marry him if he asked. In a few weeks, he showed up with a ring and proposed. She accepted.

A year later, this April 23, they were married.

He was just out of Army training in summer 2003 when he heard he’d be sent to South Korea.

“And I remember,” he said, “not wanting to go.… And then I met my wife. It’s almost totally opposite of what I thought. I didn’t think it was going to change my life.”

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