Major Tim Walker won’t forget the day he made a 1-star South Korean Navy Admiral and an Army Special Forces Colonel dissolve into tears. It was 2004 and Walker, then a U.S. Navy Lieutenant officer, was stationed in Seoul. As a Korean-American wearing a U.S. military uniform, he was a curiosity among the Korean officers he worked with. After he became friends with a Navy Admiral and an Army Colonel, Walker’s Korean counterparts grew curious about his American last name.
“Many of the Koreans I worked with knew adoptees existed but probably had never met one before me,” Walker said. “When I told these guys how I was born in Korea, abandoned shortly after birth and adopted by an American family, these full-grown men were in tears by the end of my story because they felt so bad about what had happened.”
Moved by Walker’s desire to search for his birth parents, the Korean Navy Admiral called a friend at one of Korea’s national TV networks, KBS. The network offered to help Walker search for his birth parents by nationally airing his story on the nightly news.
During its research, KBS was able to find the orphanage Walker stayed at as a newborn. As part of the news segment, Walker visited the orphanage and met with a case worker who had his original paperwork. What he read in those papers both surprised and angered him.
“For 32 years I had been told that I was abandoned on a bench at a children’s hospital in Seoul,” he said. “But I read in my records that I was really found under a bridge on the banks of the Han River and taken to the police station across the street before going to the orphanage.”
It is not uncommon for Korean adoptees to be told a sanitized story about their origins only to discover during a search for birth parents that everything they had been told about their beginnings was a fabricated lie. There are speculated reasons for falsified histories, one being that orphanages feared no foreign family would adopt a baby with an “ugly” story.
Walker’s search then took him to the bridge he had been left under and to the police station the person who found him had taken him to. It was there that he saw the original police log recording his abandonment.
When his story aired on national TV, several people came forth claiming to be Walker’s birth parents. Not one single caller, however, was willing to take a DNA test, and every single one asked if money was involved for claiming him as their son.
With the TV segment bringing up no leads, Walker next turned to a DNA matching service offered by the Korean adoptee NGO, Global Overseas Adoption Link (G.O.A.L.). But no matches registered.
He then left Korea, transitioned from the Navy to the Army and was deployed to Iraq as part of the war’s military surge.
Following a lengthy tour there, Walker returned to Korea in 2010, this time wearing a U.S. Army uniform.
While back in Seoul, he became friends with an officer working at Korea’s National Intelligence Service and gave him copies of his papers and information which he had gleaned from his search with KBS. “I had him do a search on any new information on me,” Walker said. “But the only new piece of information I got was a description of the person who brought me into the police station.”
Walker’s story is a frustrating tale of how one can have all the best resources at hand and still not find what he is looking for. Still, he has not given up his search.
“Why do I continue searching? I’ve been thinking about this for 41 years,” he told me during our interview. “We [adoptees] all have to ask the question ‘why?’ Why was I abandoned? What was wrong with me?”
Walker’s latest hope lies in a global DNA matching service called 23andMe. At the time of our interview he had not yet submitted his DNA sample, but intended to do so.
“What happens,” I asked him, “if you never find your birth parents? Can you be at peace?”
Walker believes he can. He is now married (his wife is also Korean) and has a child of his own.
“Until my son was born, I had never known what it’s like to be a blood relative and to have someone in my life who looked like me,” he said. “I can now be at peace because even if I never find my birth parents, I can start a new branch on the family tree. How cool is it have a 100% Korean family with the last name Walker? It will be talked about for generations.”
Photo #1: Walker at 6 months of age.
Photo #2: Walker with his adoptive family.
Photo #3: Walker with his newborn son.
Photo #4: The new family tree branch – the Walker family.