Hill Rescue Inspired Soldier
Forget the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. Think instead the hills of Korea to the walls of Antiquified. That is the journey traveled by two portraits of a Korean couple who risked their lives to save U.S. Marine Lieutenant John Montgomery. Behind their faces lies a story of courage.
Montgomery is dead now; he died in 2003. The keeper of his memory is Bev Sweeny, his partner for 17 years. Shortly after graduating from St. Paul's Harding High School in 1950, Montgomery was drafted into the Korean War. He joined the Marines and served at Hill 255, better known as Pork Chop Hill, one of several battles fought along a combat line north of the 38th parallel in the "Battle for the Hills." A Korean couple found Montgomery wounded on the battle field, picked him
up, and placed him in a honey cart.
In their hut-like home, they concealed him
in a dugout similar to a root cellar, and covered it
with a rug. Through a peep hole, Montgomery received
broth with noodles every day for 10 days.
Then the soldier climbed out of the hole, his hands
and feet frozen from 10 days in a cellar. He sat outside
by the couple's home and was soon airlifted from the
area by a US helicopter.
In 1961 Montgomery asked Mr. S. Leung, a one-handed
artist from Stillwater, to paint pictures from two small
photos the Korean couple had given him. In the few days
he had known them, John had grown close to the couple.
He even called them Mom and Pop. The artist said he
would do his best to paint in the colors Montgomery
remembered, but it would take a little while to do it
The photos are now lost, but the paintings remain,
a memorial to the courageous couple the Korean vet prayed
for every night until he died. In the paintings neither
the man nor the woman is facing the artist. Instead,
the white-haired man seems preoccupied with putting
tobacco in his pipe. Smoke comes from his mouth almost
to the top of the painting, adding a dream-like quality.
His white beard blends into cornflower, cerulean, and
sky blue tones in his white-cuffed jacket. He seems
Topped by a coolie straw hat, laughing at someone
or something in the distance, the woman's face lights
up like a Kincaid painting. She has a gold earring in
her ear and deep lines on her forehead. Chestnut, dark
mahogany, sepia, burnt and raw sienna, amber, and olive
brown tones combine to give the painting an earthy feeling.
Pine crate wood frames complement the paintings.
"The artist captured their character and personality
in their faces," said Julie Gubbin, owner of Antiquified,
where the paintings are for sale. "It's amazing, but
a blessing, that this couple would risk their lives
to rescue someone who was considered the enemy or intruder."
Montgomery once said he thought the paintings would
be worthless to anyone but him. Yet it's not hard to
imagine, as do Sweeny and Gubbin, that Americans who
value his story will also value the paintings he so
Lieutenant Montgomery in Korea
treasured Memory of Korean "Mom and Pop"
Bev Sweeny and Julie Gubbin
(owner of Antiquified) hold up the paintings that were recently
purchased by an art
collector in California.