Memories of dead children sustain old man in quest for No Gun Ri truth

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Memories of dead children sustain old man in quest for No Gun Ri truth

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Doc: 00020712

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Sang-Hun Choe (Associated Press Writer)

Date Created

1999-10-06

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Copyright 1999 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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NO GUN RI, South Korea (AP) _ It was July 1950. Rumbles of the Korean War were approaching his village, and Chung Eun-young was deeply worried.
Chung, then 28, was a former policeman. Word spread quickly among streams of refugees from the north that advancing communist troops were singling out policemen for execution. His wife urged him to flee. "The kids and I will be OK," she said.
As Chung left the mountainous village of Chu Gok Ri, his tearful, 5-year-old son bolted toward him. "Daddy, please take me with you, please!" His wife, Park Sun-yong, held back the boy.
The scene haunted Chung for the next 49 years.
Two days after he fled, Chung said, his son and 2-year-old daughter, along with hundreds of other helpless refugees, were killed by American soldiers while sheltering under a railroad bridge in the nearby South Korean hamlet of No Gun Ri. His wife was seriously injured.
After months of research and interviews, The Associated Press reported last week that a dozen ex-GIs, supporting Korean survivors' accounts, said their battalion machine-gunned those refugees in late July 1950.
The veterans told the AP that U.S. troops feared enemy North Korean soldiers were hidden among the refugees as they fled south with retreating U.S. and South Korean forces.
"I was a cowardly father ... I left my family to the killers," Chung said in an interview with AP. "Bringing the truth about their unjust death to light is the last thing I can do for my children and other victims."
Chung's lonely quest began in 1960 when he sent a claim to a U.S. military petitions office, but missed an application deadline. Then he painstakingly researched the case, but largely kept quiet until the 1990s because he feared reprisals from successive military-led governments with close ties to the United States.
During that time, Chung was respected by authorities because of his police career and membership in a semiofficial, anti-communist group. Still, his frustration was overwhelming.
"No Gun Ri never escaped my mind one single day," said Chung, a slender 77-year-old with deep wrinkles who once ran a small bottle-manufacturing factory and is now retired.
In the 1970s, local police warned some villagers to stop talking about No Gun Ri. Survivor Yang Hae-chan said he was summoned to a police station and quoted an officer as saying: "If you continue to talk about No Gun Ri, you and your children will be branded as communists."
Chung, meanwhile, went to libraries and sympathetic historians. He found nothing about No Gun Ri, but he reconstructed and drew maps of U.S. military maneuvers during the war. He neatly filed his research and, in later years, showed it to anyone who would listen.
"He was looking for anything, just anything. He was collecting data like a magpie," said Yang Young-jo, a researcher at Seoul's Korea Institute for Military History.
Chung went to a Presbyterian church for spiritual sustenance and then wrote a book about No Gun Ri.
He took the manuscript to a dozen publishers, but was turned down. Some told him the content was too controversial. At that time, there were curbs on free expression in authoritarian South Korea.
Entitled "Do You Know Our Heartbreaks?", the book was finally printed by an obscure publisher in 1994 after democratic reforms had taken hold.
Several No Gun Ri survivors came to Chung with their own stories and support.
Chung formed a group of 30 survivors and victims' relatives and sent petitions to the U.S. and South Korean governments.
At first, Washington did not answer. Finally, in 1997, it said there was no evidence to support Chung's claim. After the release of the AP report last week, the U.S. and South Korean governments promised full investigations.
Chung had also filed a claim with a South Korean state compensations panel, which can forward cases to the U.S. military. It was rejected last year under a five-year statute of limitations.
During the long ordeal, Chung risked estranging his three sons, who urged their father to forget the past.
"We were worried about his health. We did not like father sticking to what seemed to us a futile attempt," said 44-year-old Koo-do, Chung's eldest son. "But I could understand dad when at night, I heard mother having nightmares, shouting the names of my dead brother and sister."
Chung often thought about giving up his quest. But when an AP reporter called him in April last year, he said: "I always believed there was someone who would listen to my story. Where do you want to begin?"

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Sang-Hun Choe (Associated Press Writer), “Memories of dead children sustain old man in quest for No Gun Ri truth ,” No Gun Ri Digital Archives, accessed March 26, 2019, http://nogunri.rit.albany.edu/omeka/items/show/57.