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Lonesome HeroMemoir of a Korea War POW
By T.I. Han
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 T.I. Han
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDrafted to North Korean Army
1. The outbreak of Korean Conflict
It was a rainy Sunday on June 25, 1950. When I woke up in the morning, I heard Pyongyang radio broadcast announcing that the South Korean army launched a total attack on North Korea across the 38th parallel line and advanced 4 to 6 Km into the North Korean territory. At this time, most Korean people believed the news and took their word for it. On the other hand, anti-communist people including myself were implicitly pleased inward with the South Korean army invasion and wished to achieve unification under the control of President Rhee of the South Korean capitalistic democracy government.
However, later at noon time, the radio news announced that the North Korean People's Army started to repel the South Korean army's invasion and now was being advancing Southward across the 38th parallel. Three days later the North Korean radio news announced that the North Korean army liberated Seoul, the capital city of Korea. I was so shocked and stunned about the news and could not believe it. When I lived in the North Korea, I heard secretly from my friends that there was no comparison between the North Korea and the South Korean army that was armed and equipped with most advanced American weapons and military equipment supplied by the United States.
After the capture of Seoul, the North Korean forces suddenly stopped the offensive and wasted three days in Seoul and then started to advance again to South towards Suwon, Daejon, Daegu and Busan. Pyongyang radio broadcast the one-sided victory of the news in the triumphant mood along with army marching songs. North Korean communists were in a joyful mood of achieving Korean unification in their way, socialistic communism. However, it was revealed some time later that it was not the omen of Korean unification but was only the beginning of three years of the most tragic and bloody battles of the Korean War. Until recently,
Western scholars writing on the Korean Conflict did not have access to the archives and other records of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union. Thanks to the end of the Cold War and a growing exchange of historical information between Beijing, Moscow, and Washington. These records have become increasingly available to historians. The materials from Russia and China still have to be studied with considerable caution because they remain incomplete and biased. They do, however, provide essential information on the following questions upon which historians could only previously speculate. What role did Moscow and Beijing play in helping N. Korean leader Kim Il Sung invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950? Why did the PRC enter the war in late October 1950? And why did the PRC and North Korea agree to an Armistice in July 1953? With respect to the first question, it seems clear as shown by the Soviet secret letters that the Soviet Union and the PRC played a reluctant at first but, nevertheless, significant role in Kim Il-Sung's decision to invade South Korea. Without their assents, as we all knew, North Korea's attack on the South would have been almost impossible.
After the division of Korea at the 38th parallel, most Koreans, both North and South, fervently wanted the independence and unified one Korea. A nationalist South Koreans committed to the unification as well as a Communist North Koreans. In the mean time, as there was no visible demarcation line, it was a common practice that both side's security forces frequently had armed clashes at the 38th parallel, even before the Korean conflict. The Korean War was destined to break out at any time by either side, because there were two completely different ideological governments in the North and South Korea respectively. Both sides wanted to unify the Korean peninsula in their way and control. One was pro-American South Korean government and the other was a pro-Soviet North Korean regime.
2. Drafted to North Korean Army
In the outbreak of the Korean War, I was a Medical College student of the Hamheung medical college in Hamheung city, located on the east coast of North Korea. In mid-August, 1950, School authority called all the students to the college auditorium and held a meeting and the chairman of Student Union made the following speeches: "Our valiant People's Army had now liberated almost all of the South Korea except Daegu and Busan city. Now, it was almost the time to achieve our long cherished unification of the fatherland, which has been our nation's highest and heartiest desire. Under these circumstances, we should temporarily stop our studies and we all must voluntarily enlist in the people's army in order to meet the demands of the great feat of Korean unification." After his short speech, he distributed the Army enlistment application forms to every one of us and asked us to join the army. In this atmosphere, no one could dare to refuse it and we all had to sign the application form. We all knew that if anybody might oppose his demand, he would later have to confess his wrong doing of "self-critique" in front of the Union meeting and we all hated and feared that. I should say that it was a kind of forced enlistment, in the name of "voluntary enlistment," and we all formally became enlisted as so called army volunteers. These kinds of volunteers, to tell the truth, actually conscripted into military service. As matter of fact, until that time, we never expected they would call us to join the army, because we were helping to treat the wounded soldiers at the Army evacuation hospital in the city at that time. After we finished signing the applications, they kept us inside the school auditorium and were not allowed to go back to home and had even no chance to let our parents know of our army enlistment. At bout five o'clock in the afternoon, they escorted us directly from school to the Hamheung railway station where we waited for the night train bound for Pyongyang. At that time the US Air raids were so severe that all trains were operated in night time only to evade the American air attacks. That was the moment of my life that determined my destiny and I was destined to be separated from my family forever and never to meet them again in my life.
3. A Final farewell to my mother.
We arrived at HamHeung railroad station around 5 pm in the afternoon, under the direction of the North Korean People's Army officer. To avoid the US bombers which had continuously bombarded the city during the day, our group decided to wait for nightfall to take the night train. I was just settling in one corner of the station, looking around, and then a familiar figure suddenly appeared before me. It was my mother. At the time, no households or individuals had phones to keep in contact with their family so she would not have known where I was. Yet, somehow my mother heard the rumor and finally located me. She had walked a long distance to see her son one more time before he goes off to the battle-fields. Although I was glad to see her, I rudely blurted out in a thick Hamkyung province Korean accent, "Mother, why did you come all the way out here when I'll be back home in a month or two? Don't worry about anything and go back to home!" It was a blunt greeting from a foolish son who had little understanding of an anxious mother whose son is about to go to war. Without a response, my mother only blankly stared at me, her eyes full of worry and sorrow. Looking back, mother must have felt great anguish and deep sadness. Only mothers who have sent their sons off to war can truly understand what my mother must have felt that time. Somehow oblivious to her pain or sorrow, I didn't much pay attention to what she was saying.
To this day, 60 years later, I can still recall her sad, blank stare, now piercing my heart. She had a quiet way about her and even then, in silence she held my hand tightly and bid me farewell. I tried to reassure her not to worry. She could not erase the sad and concerned expression from her face as though she had some ominous premonition about her son's future. Usually my mother was the type of person who hardly showed her feelings, but I saw her tears welling up in her eyes. In silence, we stood there for awhile. Afterwards, she straightened up and wiped her tears. Then she took out a bundle of rice cakes she had prepared for me and said, "Eat some of this rice cake and eat them when you get hungry. Always be careful and come back home safely and healthy. I wonder when I could see you again." I could feel somewhat her motherly love for me. It was a tearful moment; yet I was indifferent. I was indifferent to my mother's tears, I was indifferent to the fact that I was about to go off to a war, I was indifferent to our separation. I was indifferent because naively, I firmly believed that I will return home in a couple of months. Holding her small hands, I promised her, "Why worry so much when I will be back home in two or three months. Mom, I will promise you that I'll be back home at longest within three months." It was a promise I knew I could keep as we all heard that the North Korean army was already advancing near Daegu and Busan of South Korea, so everyone was expecting this war to be a swift victory for the North. In reality, however, the North Korean army was then greatly struggling against the counter attack of the U.S. and South Korean army at the Busan perimeter. I realized much later that the North Korean Army was on the verge of a long retreat. Obviously back in Pyongyang, we did not receive this disastrous news which they never wanted us to know.
There was another reason that I responded the way I did with my mother. Being a country boy, I had never been on a long train trip and had never been to Pyongyang in my life. Like a boy going on a school field trip, I was actually a little bit cheered and excited to have the train trip to Pyongyang for a first time. In my foolish excitement, I couldn't really understand or sense my mother's heartache. I've Just tried to get her to stop worrying about me. I could only tell her not to worry about me. Then, mother finally spoke to me in a low and weak voice, "Ok, in three months ... I will see you in three months. Be safe. I know you could keep your promise, I will wait for you." Then she finally sobbed. Once again, I just stood there in silence. I could never realize then the sorrow of separation with my mother, which might be the eternal farewell, but I was indifferent with a serene state of my mind. After she calmed down, she took out a white handkerchief from her waist pocket and placed it in my hand, "Training will be hard, and you will sweat a lot. Use this handkerchief to wipe your sweat off." A bit embarrassed, I shoved the handkerchief back into her hand and told her I didn't need it. Yet, mother was insistent. She squeezed the hanky into my pants pocket and remarked, "You will need it more than me." I was then obliged to accept it. My mother must have some kind of her foresight on my destiny. It is not until later that I would come to realize how this small, frail mother's last act of love towards her son, would save my life later. This handkerchief was to be a fateful, lifesaving instrument on the fierce battlefield that I was supposed to face inevitable death. But I could not have known that or ever imagine that at the time. Mother, I just want to let you know that I was the only one who survived in that fierce battle field and all my medical college classmates died beside me. You and all mighty God saved my life. Dearest Mother! I want to tell you now after all these years, the handkerchief you handed to me at the HamHeung rail way station has saved my life. Dearest mother, somehow you must have known. And, perhaps the heavenly maker must have felt pity and saved my life because of you. Dearest mother, you gave me life twice. All I can say is, thank you. When I said good bye to you at the station, I never imagined the moment would be our final separation. Even more so, I never imagined the kind of dark disaster and hardship that would lie before me. Mother, this foolish son realized only later after my life had become a nightmare, that you were shedding tears knowing that our parting moment would be our final farewell.
From that moment of our final farewell, I have become an undutiful, disobedient, ungrateful, insolent son to you who gave life and raised me with love. Mother, I am grieving for all these years without being able to see you once again or for not being able to show love to you who loved me dearly, unconditionally. The ancient saying, "when a child finally understands the merits of his parents, the parents are already gone." refers to me. Although I am an 80-year-old man, still I am but a child in mourning of lost parents. When you said goodbye to me, I should have seen your pain and sorrow. I should have been kinder, more affectionate. I should have wiped your tears with my hands, and share the sorrow of our parting. Please forgive me this foolish son. And now I must live the rest of my life grieving. When I was a child, I know I was the hope of the family. I was dearer to both you and father above all my siblings. I was the third child but the first son you ever had. At the age of three, I started to learn thousand Chinese characters. At the age of five, when I read and understood meaning of thousand Chinese characters, your joy was beyond words. I still remember your proud smile as you always called me in front of your friends to read the thousand characters. I tried not to disappoint you in my studies during my school years, never missing a top spot for academic honors since elementary to university. But now, my guilt and anguish is even greater as I disappointed your hope for me. One of the Korean popular songs titled "This unfilial son is weeping", is the lyrics of this song refers to me. I pound my chest in regret and sorrow but what good does that do for now? I just lament it.
Like others, the Korean Conflict, brought me nothing but a pain. Moreover, I later learned that along with other anticommunist North Korean POWs who did not repatriate to north, were named the title of reactionary, and their parents received the death notification. My parents were also probably notified that I was killed in the battle field and they received a death notification also. I can't imagine the kind of grief and pain my parents must have suffered upon receiving that notification. For causing that pain, I cannot repay them forever. The promise I made to you that I will return in 3 months, I could not keep it. Mother! Who made me into such an insolent and unfilial son ? Dear mother, please pardon me for my undutifulness. You are not here though, but you are always with me in my heart. Mother, father, may you rest in peace in heaven.!
4. Admission to N. Korean Army Officers School.
All my classmates and I, left the Hamheung rail way station for Pyongyang, leaving my poor crying mother behind. The train went so slowly all night that we barely arrived at Pyongyang in the morning, but luckily there was no US air raid. It was the first time I had ever been in Pyongyang; traffic was very light. There wasn't much pedestrian traffic neither, it was one of the hot summer days. We were directed to one of the girl's high school in Pyongyang where we spent all day with routine physical exams required to enter the North Korean Army 1st Military Officers' School. All my classmates entered but one failed; and he was assigned to the regular army. But as soon as he was assigned, he was appointed a Second Lieutenant because he was a medical college student. At that time, there were very few college students, and few universities or colleges in North Korea. The army needed an officer to control soldiers as the UN forces advanced to the 38th parallel. He was later captured by UN forces and held as a POW, taken to the officers' camp at Koje-do. He was released - as was I — as an anticommunist POW by Korean President Rhee. He entered the South Korean army, where he retired as an ROK (Republic of Korea) Army Captain. Many other North Korean ex-POWs became ROK Army officers. This was possible because North and South Koreans was one country, share race, language, customs, and have been one nation for a long time. Upon completion of the physical examination, we were escorted to the First Peoples army Officers School which was located at Sadong, in Pyongyang. While in the school, we were completely isolated from the outside and just learning our hearts and souls into the military training, such as military tactics, use of various weapons and practice of shooting training for about two months. But they never appointed us as officers. I became to learn much later that they had no chance to appoint us to officers because the North Korean leaders had already fled and emptied Pyongyang on October 12, 1950.
Excerpted from Lonesome Hero by T.I. Han Copyright © 2011 by T.I. Han. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I Overview of the Korean War....................1
Part II Koje-do UN POW Camp....................7
Chapter I: Drafted to North Korean Army....................7
Chapter II: The Start of POW's Life....................25
Chapter III: The Truce Conference and the POW Camps....................41
Chapter IV: Interesting Stories in POW Camps....................57
Chapter V: Pro And Anti-Communist POW Camps....................67
Chapter VI: Repatriation of POWs....................91
Part III The origin of the Korean Conflict....................111
Chapter I, Historical background of Korean conflict....................111
Chapter II, North Korea Invaded South Korea....................163
Chapter III: The Outbreak of Korean War....................183
Chapter IV: The Chinese Intervention....................223
Chapter V: Armistice Talk....................261