Society

From Sands Of Normandy, A Long Journey Home For American GI's Lost Dog Tag

Occasionally, D-Day artifacts still wash up on the beaches of Normandy. But these days, it is rare for someone in France to be able to trace them back to America's Greatest Generation.

James Kelson and his long-lost dog tag
James Kelson and his long-lost dog tag
Benoît Hopquin

SAINTE-MERE-EGLISE - The sand on a beach is sometimes like a memory – one day, things that you thought were buried forever surface again, and you don’t know why.

Last September, Stéphane Lamache, director of the Airborne Museum of Sainte-Mère-Eglise, in Normandy, in northern France, was taking a walk on the dunes of Agon-Coutainville with friends. It was a cloudless day. A small piece of metal was sticking out from the surface of the sand.

The historian immediately recognized that it was a dog tag, the metal identification worn around the neck by American soldiers on D-day.

On it were engraved the soldier's name – James Kelson -- his blood type, religion, and next of kin: Elsie Kelson, as well as an address in Washington DC.

This kind of discovery isn’t unheard of in Normandy, where more than 160,000 Allied soldiers landed on D-Day – June 6, 1944 – to liberate Europe from the Nazis. But when locals stumble upon a World War II relic, they usually just put it on a shelf or in a drawer and forget about it.

But being a D-Day historian, Lamache decided to search for Kelson in U.S. military archives and was able to retrieve a partial biography of the soldier.

James Kelson was born in 1921. He was African-American -- a negro citizen as they were called at the time. He worked small jobs in restaurants, trains and steamboats. He was drafted on Dec 2, 1942, and sent to Fort Myer, Virginia before being sent to England and eventually landing in Omaha Beach, Normandy, in June 1944.

Like many African-American soldiers during the years of segregation, he was not in a combat unit, but in supplies – laundry.

A few words of French

The archives gave information on Kelson’s life but nothing on the circumstances of his death. When he searched death records and burial registers, Lamache found no mention of a James Kelson. He contacted a genealogist network in the U.S., who discovered a daughter, named Joan.

“And then, she told us that her father was still alive,” says Lamache. The 91-year-old veteran lives in a retirement home in Washington DC.

Antonin Dehays, a historian from the Airborne Museum who was in the U.S. for a research project, was able to meet with him in Washington. “I met a lot of French people, good people,” says Kelson. After being stationed in Normandy – in the cities of Cherbourg and Valognes – he was sent to patrol the Franco-Belgian border in late 1944, and then to Japan. He returned to the U.S. in 1946, and found work in construction.

He still remembers a few words of French, like the expression “comme ci, comme ça” (“so-so”).

What about the dog tag? Kelson has no memory of losing it, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Last Friday, the veteran was given his dog tag back in a small ceremony -- nearly 70 years after it was forgotten in the sand of a Normandy beach.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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