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Seoul City Sue - Anna Wallis-Suh

Seoul City Sue (real name - Anna Wallis Suh) became a staple during the war, reading the names off of the dogtags taken from dead American soldiers "in a gentle voice with a background of soft music". Her broadcasts involved mostly her taunting American soldiers with various unpleasant suggestions and criticisms of their situation. The strange thing about her was that she wasn't Korean -- she was a raised in Arkansas in a Christian American household.

Early life

Anna was born in Lawrence County, Arkansas, the youngest of six children. Anna's parents died when she was young; her mother died some time between the 1900 and 1910 Census, and her father in October, 1914. After her parents death, Anna relocated to Oklahoma to join a sister's family while she completed high school. She spent her early adult years as an office clerk and Sunday school teacher. Subsequently, she studied at the Southeastern State Teachers College, in Durant, and the Scarritt College for Christian Workers in Nashville, Tennessee, graduating in 1930 with a B.A. in ministry.

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A photo of young Anna Wallis

Anna spent the next eight years working as a member of the American Southern Methodist Episcopal Mission in Korea. As Japanese colonial authorities continued to restrict the activities of foreign missions, Anna joined the staff of Shanghai American School (SAS) in 1938. There she met and married fellow staff member Suh Kyoon Chul, thus losing her US citizenship. Late in World War II she was interned by the Japanese for two years with other ethnic Europeans at a camp in suburban Shanghai. After release, she resumed work at SAS for a year, before returning to Korea with her husband in 1946.

Korean mission and China

That same year, she was selected for a mission to Korea by the Southern Methodist Conference. There, she initially taught at a Methodist school. By the early 1930s, the Japanese colonial administration had largely banned foreigners from Christian proselytizing, and most Christian missions focused on education, medicine, and care for the indigent. She may have returned to the US in 1935 to visit a sister. In late 1936, she was appointed to serve at the Seoul Social Evangelistic Center, and in February 1937, visited Scarritt College during a missionary furlough.

In a move that may have reflected increasingly harsh Japanese measures against foreign missionaries in the late 30s, Anna relocated to China to join the staff of the Shanghai American School (SAS) in 1938. There she met Suh Kyoon Chul, who was hired to teach Korean and assist in school administration. She was dropped from the rolls of the missionary service and lost her United States citizenship after they married. She developed an interest in Korean politics, eventually taking up her husband's leftist views.The cosmopolitan Shanghai International Settlement and French Concession were likely a more accepting environment for the Suhs than homogeneous 1940s Korea would later prove to be, as suggested by the number of other Caucasian women on staff married to Asian men. In 1939, she visited San Francisco in an unsuccessful attempt to secure a US passport for her husband.

[Note: Based on US law through the 1930s, citizenship for a married woman was almost exclusively based on that of her husband, particularly if they lived in his native land. Therefore, Anna Wallis probably lost her US citizenship when she married Mr. Suh in China. Mr. Suh, as well as all other native residents of Korea and Taiwan, were nationals of the Empire of Japan, which recognized itself as a multi-ethnic state.  Anna may not have recognized her situation until the 1939 visit to San Francisco to secure a US passport for her husband. In addition to her status as a Japanese national, the US had almost completely frozen Asian immigration with the Immigration Act of 1924, which would likely have precluded his obtaining a passport.]

Sino-Japanese War

Americans in Shanghai began to depart that same year, slowly as tensions rose in the environs of the city, then en masse shortly before the US and Japan officially went to war. SAS remained open until February 1943, when the remaining foreign staff were forced into the Chapei Civilian Relocation Center, a short distance away in the northern suburbs. This internment camp, one of several in and around Shanghai, occupied a three story dormitory on the grounds of Great China University (now East China Normal University), most of which was damaged or destroyed during the 1937 Battle of Shanghai.

Whether as a part of the remaining school staff or on her own, Anna also entered the Chapei center at this time, while her husband may have remained free as a colonial subject of Japan. During the internment, the SAS staff and parents took advantage of the school's books that had followed them to organize classes for the children. Supplies with which to maintain the internees grew short towards the end of the war, and a number of women married to citizens of Axis powers or neutral countries were released in late 1944. It is possible that Anna was among these.

With Anna's formal release from detention at the end of World War II, she joined the staff of the reconstituted SAS for the 1945-46 school year.

[Note: arbitrary application of Japanese and US law may have dogged Anna over the following years. When the Japanese interned most ethnic Europeans within the Empire during World War II, it is not clear whether she was forced into the Chapei Relocation Center, or entered it willingly, since she was not a foreign national. Later, during the US military occupation of southern Korea, an attempt was made to restore her US citizenship, an effort which fell through for unknown reasons. It is possible that she became a national of South Korea as the wife of Mr. Suh. The Korean nationality that became reestablished between the end of World War II and the formal independence of the ROK in 1948 didn't distinguish between spouses. Although US forces sought her out after retaking Seoul in September, 1950, officials recognized that it was unlikely that Mrs. Suh could be charged with treason by the US.]

Korean War

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Anna (right-kneeling) wearing a traditional Korean honbok dress

Unable to continue earning a sufficient living in post-war Shanghai, she and her husband returned to liberated Korea, where she tutored children at the US Diplomatic Mission School in Seoul. Her employment was terminated in 1949 after her husband was investigated for participating in left wing political activities. They remained or were trapped in Seoul during the Northern army's invasion of South Korea in June 1950.

The Korean People's Army occupied Seoul three days after the start of hostilities. The speed of the advance caught the majority of residents by surprise and unprepared to evacuate, in part due to ROK radio propaganda rather at odds with the actual situation. Anna and her husband remained as well, perhaps because he was unwilling to abandon a school for indigent boys that he administered. During a July 10 meeting in Seoul that included 48 to 60 members of the ROK National Assembly, the couple pledged their loyalty to the North Korean regime.

Under Dr. Lee Soo, an English instructor from Seoul University, Anna began announcing a short English language program for North Korean "Radio Seoul" from the Korean Broadcasting System's HLKA studios, with daily programs from 9:30 to 10:15 PM local time, first heard as early as July 18. The Suhs had been relocated to a temporary home near the station. Suh's defenders gave the dull tone of her broadcasts as proof that she was being forced to make them. Click here for a sample of a Seoul City Sue broadcast.

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Cartoon drawing of "Seoul City Sue"

Her initial scripts suggested that American soldiers return to their corner ice cream stands, criticized the USAF bombing campaign, and reported names recovered from the dog tags of dead American soldiers to a background of soft music. The G.I.s gave her various nicknames, including Rice Ball or Rice Bowl Maggie, Rice Ball Kate, and Seoul City Sue. The latter name stuck, likely derived from "Sioux City Sue", the title of a song initially made popular by Zeke Manners from 1946. Through the rest of the summer of 1950, her reports would announce the names of recently captured US airmen, marines, and soldiers, threaten new units arriving in country, welcome warships by name as they arrived on station, or taunt African American soldiers regarding their limited civil rights at home. Her monotone on-air delivery and the lack of popular music programming evidently left Anna's broadcasts less enjoyable for her intended audience than German and Japanese English language radio shows during World War II.

UPI war correspondent H.D. Quigg wrote a scathing review in September of 1950,   stating:

She talks in a monotone. Her voice is icy. She exudes the passion of a well boiled vegetable. What in the name of Lenin she thinks she is going to accomplish and who in tarnation she expects to impress with her type of spiel beats the living daylights out of me....

She does not seem to have any American records to play.

She can't kid the GI. He's been kidded by experts in all sorts of propaganda since childhood. Also he's accustomed to getting some entertainment when he turns on the radio. Seoul City Sue gives him amateur kidding and no entertainment at all.

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U.S. Soldiers in Korea gather around a radio

The US Army reported that her delivery was "dry and monotonous".

The reaction of the GIs was "generally one of disgust and boredom".

[Note: Cynics might note that if soldiers found themselves fantasizing about the feminine voice on their radios, that detail would not necessarily make it into the American press. But boiled vegetable or not, it seems rather doubtful that Suh had much impact on the troops' morale. Even when she talked truthfully about how lousy life could be at the front, she wasn't telling her listeners anything they didn't already know.]

Nevertheless, Seoul City Sue earned her place as a character in the pop culture of modern war. There was even a song about her:

Seoul city Sue, Seoul city Sue
Your hair is black and your eyes are too
I’d swap my honey-cart for you

Seoul City Sue, Seoul City Sue
No one smells of kimchee
Like my sweet Seoul City Sue

Radio Seoul went off the air at the start of a "Sue" program during an August 13 air strike on communications and transportation facilities in the city, as a B-26 bomber dropped 200 lbs fragmentation bombs adjacent to the transmitter. The station came back on the air a week or two later.  The Suhs were evacuated north by truck as a part of the general withdrawal of North Korean forces after the Inchon landing on September 15, a few days before US forces entered the city. Mr. & Mrs. Suh joined the staff of Radio Pyongyang, a powerhouse of North Korean propaganda, where she continued English-language broadcasts to UN forces. They were temporarily reassigned to coduct political indoctrination of UN POWs at Camp 12 near Pyongyang by teaching classes on Marxism in February, 1951, after which the POWs were directed to continue indoctrinating each other, with Korean supervision. She also wrote demands and appeals such as “A surrender appeal to fellow fighting men.”

Post-War and Death

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Charles Robert Jenkins in 1965 and 2014

Charles Robert Jenkins, an American soldier who deserted/defected to North Korea in 1965 and left the country four decades later, writes in his memoir The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea, (co-authored with journalist Jim Frederick) that some time after the war, Anna Suh was put in charge of English language publications for the Korean Central News Agency. He reported that he encountered Suh shortly after he arrived in Pyongyang:

I met her in 1965 when I went to the "foreigners only" section of the No. 2 Department Store. I was by myself. (Our leader at the time had just said, "Yeah, go on; go ahead," when I asked to go to the store and let me go alone.) I recognized her from [a propaganda pamphlet], so I walked up to her and said, "Hello, Suhr Anna-senseng" (senseng is the Korean word for "teacher"). It was winter, and she was wearing a black leather overcoat, very put-together. She looked surprised and turned, looked at me, and said, "Oh, you must be the American who just came over." I said, "Uh-huh," but she was spooked. The second we met, she wanted to get the hell out of there. She excused herself, saying she really needed to be going, and was gone.

Jenkins also stated that he was told in 1972 that in 1969 the North Korean government had accused the former Seoul City Sue of spying for the South and had shot her. He reported:

I have no idea if any of this is true but that is what they told me, and we certainly never saw her again or heard from anyone who had.

[Note: Jenkins claims about meeting Anna and the circumstances of her death have not been independently verified].