Monday, April 17, 2017

Pence's emotional trip to South Korea




It wasn't even an hour after we took off for South Korea on Air Force Two after a refueling stop in Alaska that a few of the vice president's aides came back to the press cabin to tell us what was probably inevitable: North Korea had just tried to launch a rocket.
The press does not have Internet access on Air Force Two (which is secretly kind of liberating), so we didn't know, but of course the VP and his team have high-tech, secure communications capability. Pence was notified right away about the test, that it failed after four or five seconds, and, most importantly, it was not believed to be a nuclear test or an ICBM.
    A White House foreign policy adviser on board immediately tried to downplay the significance, making clear it wasn't a matter of if, but when, the North Koreans would try to flex their military might again. Still, it was a reminder that we were 30,000 feet in the air heading toward a Korean Peninsula that is even more tense than usual.
    As for the vice president himself, this first trip to South Korea is not just a big responsibility at a critical time -- it is also an emotional trip personally for him.
    We learned on his plane coming over that Pence's father, 2nd Lt. Edward J. Pence, Jr., served in the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. In fact, Pence has the medal framed in his White House office.
    This trip is coming almost exactly 64 years to the day since Pence's father was awarded that medal -- a remarkable fact, especially as the war remains unresolved.
    Reflecting on his dad on his first day in South Korea, Pence said, "I think about what Dad would be thinking about and is thinking about as he looks down -- at this third son -- to return to the place he came so many years ago and the commitment that endures here that has resulted in a free and prosperous South Korea."
    Day one, Easter Sunday, was largely ceremonial for Pence: laying a wreath at a South Korean national cemetery, church and holiday dinner with military members and their families.
    After a day that only furthered the growing tension over North Korea -- and the tumult of finding out about the missile launch en route -- Pence's presence here on the ground in Seoul seemed to take on a stronger significance.
    "Our commitment to this historic alliance to the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger," Pence said remarks before troops at an Easter dinner.
    As for the small band of reporters covering the vice president, being up close and personal to see the events is quite different, as it usually is, than when traveling with the President. These trips are generally special, and this one is already shaping up to be just that.
    After all, how often does one land in South Korea, immediately board a military helicopter and fly over Seoul to get to a destination?