Oral History of Chaplain Major Daniel Sang Hoon Oh

At the conclusion of World War II, the Soviet Union and the United States of America eyed one another’s technology suspiciously and viewed differing governmental ideals, communism and democracy, with hatred. As each country attempted to overtake the other in terms of greatness, a space race and arms race ferociously began. While knowledge and exploration increased as man entered space and eventually walked upon the moon’s surface, crisis also arose amid missile intimidations and the risk of detonation. The United States attempted to gain a hold over the spread of communism through interaction in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War, with mixed results, while the Soviet Union would build the Berlin War in Germany and impose an Iron Curtain across Europe. During the decades of the tense period that threatened world annihilation, the Cold War era produced countless military servicemen willing to undergo dangerous situations in order to defend America’s beliefs.

Daniel Sang Hoon Oh was born in February 1961 in a small city in Suwon, Korea where news spread fast, everyone knew one another, and caring was abundant. Despite the comforts of a close-knit community, Oh was encouraged by his mother and two younger half-brothers, whose father was a German-American, to leave his birth country and forge a home in America in hopes of better opportunities. In 1980 he immigrated to the United States as a teenager and formed a positive first impression of the young country with a vast land. In the land of dreams, Oh reached towards the summit of higher knowledge through college and spiritual fulfillment through seminaries. These goals were accomplished with an education at the University of California, Berkeley where he studied mechanical engineering, and his attendance at Westminster Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to study religion and theology. In 1986 Oh continued to strive for a broader view of the world by joining the United States Army, for the first time, as an enlisted man. His decision was made with the knowledge of full family support, as the choice to join the service and answer a noble calling was respected.

During his first service in the United States Army from 1986 to 1989, Daniel Oh attained the rank Specialist (E-4) and served during the Cold War era. He was stationed in Hanau, Germany, and his duty was to supply adequate electricity to the Patriot Missile and maintain its proper operation as a 150 Watt Turbine Engine Driven Generator Technician. This role was quite significant to the success of the American involvement in Germany as the Patriot Missile was a U.S. missile system formed to protect German airspace by destroying enemy airplanes and missiles. In addition, his unit was constantly deployed in the field and went through countless Field Training Exercises (FTX) around the Fulda Gap. These exercises were imperative as this area was ideal for the Soviets to attack West Germany, and the American soldiers’ orders were to protect Western Europe from Soviet aggression. In the field environment, his unit played war games for training, used a variety of weapon systems, and had to constantly guard personal generators to ensure their operation at an optimum level.

Within the unit itself, the servicemen formed a strong relationship as they tried to work together physically as well as mentally. A prime example of the basic knowledge used to better their success was the idea to raise geese by digging several water ponds along a wired fence in order to better protect the Patriot Missile site. The men had learned that geese made loud quacking sounds upon the entry of unauthorized intruders, and they encompassed this seemingly simple knowledge in order to increase the safety level of the missile site. Despite the positive aspects of using geese as guard watchmen, hardships occurred as constant feeding and care was required even throughout the cold German winter. In the middle of the bitter nights, the ponds surrounding the fence still needed their ice to be broken in order for the geese to enjoy their leisure-time swimming. Luckily, throughout the service and despite the ever-needed care of the geese, the servicemen were still able to raise their patriotic spirit by forming a sense of camaraderie through drinking beer and singing German folksongs.

In 1995 Oh rejoined the Army as an officer and chaplain in order to help young soldiers spiritually and psychologically grow during their service. His current involvement in the military has earned him the rank of Major and his duties involve serving as an Army chaplain. Through the role of a Christian minister, he mainly teaches Ethics to Army captains who are completing their advanced officer training and is also able to share the gospel message through a variety of means including chapel worship services, counseling, and Bible studies. In about three years Major Oh will be eligible for retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Since his service during the Cold War era, Major Oh has been stationed in many different places such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Camp Humphreys in Korea, Fort Jackson in South Carolina, and Fort Lewis in the state of Washington. He was also deployed to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, lived one year in Boston to study Ethics, and is currently stationed at Fort Lee in Virginia. As a result, Major Oh was able to establish a broad perspective on the world and was, in his opinion, one of the lucky few allowed the privilege to see the whole world. However, moving was very difficult on his family, especially his two daughters. With every move, the children had to change their schools and consequently risk losing their close friends. In the spirit of family, though, they faced this hardship bravely and, with the current technology, friends are never far from reach.

Throughout his service, Major Oh also found a deep commitment to his family which began with a meeting in Germany and a marriage in 1988 in Denmark to Grace Suniem Oh. In 1989 their family grew with the birth of Gloria Joo Young Oh in Germany, and in 1991 their family was completed with the birth of Joyce Ha Young Oh in Seattle, Washington. For now Chaplain Major Daniel Sang Hoon Oh enjoys the educational and spiritual effects which he has on young soldiers and finds the extra time to pursue vigorous reading, running, traveling, and of course being a wonderful father.

Research by Sarah Lilly
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School

Kennedy, David M., Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Bailey. The American Pageant. 13th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. 868 – 901.

Oh, Daniel. E-mail interview. 15 May 2008.

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