Shattered by the Was – Story of my family
A talk given at a church
It was February 3rd, 1953 at Busan Harbor, the southern-most port of South Korea. I was a sixteen year old boy standing on the deck of Sea Serpent, a freighter, heading for the United States of America. I looked down on my fifty eight year old mother looking up at me from the dock. The Korean War was still raging in the north.
“Will I ever get to see Mother again?” I wondered. “Or will she get killed in the war and I will never get to see her?”
I wanted to run down the ramp and join my mother, but the ramp was up and the boat was about to depart.
I mustered enough courage and shouted at her, “Mother, please take good care of yourself until I return.”
The night before my departure, Mother held my hand and told me to trust in God always. She told me to rush to Him with any problem, not matter how great or how small. She said that God would give me strength to rise above any worldly problems. I knew, that was how she had overcome many problems in her life. I would try to do the same.
That was more than sixty years ago. Since 1953, my journey through America took me to Flushing, NY, Stony Brook, LI, Austin, TX, Columbus, OH, Andover and Boston, MA, Endicott and Binghamton, NY, and finally San Jose, CA.
During my journey, I fell in love with an Ohio State University coed from Canton Ohio and got married in 1963; received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and joined IBM; brought two wonderful people into this world. David and Julie; took an early retirement from IBM and went to teach at San Jose State University in 1987.
Then one day in 1989, I was walking on the hill next to our house feeling grateful that I had survived the two wars in Korea. I had survived the first seven lonely years in America without a penny from home, trying to become familiar with American ways, trying to educate myself with poor command of English… Now I did not have to struggle any longer. God had blessed me with a wonderful family, wonderful friends, a wonderful job, a wonderful health, and the wonderful place to live. ‘What more can a person expect from life?’ I asked myself, feeling thankful and content.
Strangely, soon afterwards, a major depression struck me with a mighty fury. This depression took me to the brink of no return. I went to see a therapist for help. Then in 1990, half a year through the therapy, I experienced God’s amazing grace—the inner peace and freedom that I had never thought possible to experience in this world. These inner peace and freedom are still with me to this day, 2014.
With these new-found freedom and peace, I retired in 2002 from teaching and decided to be a writer and share my varied life experiences with the world. Since then, My Truest Hope, a story around my depression and God’s amazing grace, was published in Guideposts magazine in 2012. In November 2013, last year, Inspiring Voices of Guideposts Magazine published Shattered by the Wars But Sustained by Love.
Initially, I wrote Shattered by the Wars to honor my mother. But now I realize that this is a book that many Americans should read to appreciate how fortunate they are to live in the United States, where no foreign soldiers walk the streets and tell them what god to worship, what language to speak, what flag to fly… Americans are truly blessed indeed. Shielded by the Pacific Ocean in the west and the Atlantic Ocean in the east, no aggressors – Japan and Germany in particular—could plant their feet on the American soil. Also thanks to the founding fathers who set up a checks-and-balances system of government where no one person could wield an absolute power like Hitler of Germany and Tojo of Japan. Such was not the case in Korea where I grew up.
Shattered by the Wars is a story of a Christian family in an anti-Christian world. It is a story of my father, a Christian minster, who held on to his faith in God of Jesus Christ and was willing to risk his life during WWII under Japan and during the Korean War. It is a story of my brother who gave his life to save his father and get him released from the Japanese prison. It is a story of my mother, who through her trials and tribulations led us onward with love and grace and absolute faith in God.
My childhood was a very happy one. I lived in a seminary compound where my father taught and preached. It was a fenced-in compound built by American missionaries. There were a lot of persimmon trees, forsythia shrubs and cherry trees that graced the compound with their beautiful flowers. There were a plenty of bushes where I could explore, looking for frogs, snakes and other crawling creatures to catch. I had a brother, Hi-Seung, who was nine years older, and who loved me dearly. He taught me how to use sling shots, how to climb trees, how to throw a ball high in the air, and how to knock down a bully with my fists and feet.
I also had a tolerant parents who let me explore the world around me even if it meant that I could be bitten by a snake, or fall and get hurt climbing a tree, or bruised pushing through a bush. So with the tolerant parents and the loving brother, I looked forward to every tomorrow to explore the world around me and to play with Hi-Seung and my friends.
Then the war came. Not only one war but two wars. The garden of happiness which was my home was totally shattered by WWII and the Korean War.
WWII under Japan
During WWII starting in 1942, the Japanese forbade Christians to worship in their churches by closing all the church doors. Instead, they ordered all Koreans to walk up to the Shinto temple and bow down to the picture of their emperor. They expected my father to do the same.
“Are they out of their minds, expecting me to go up to the Shinto Temple, and bow down to the picture of their emperor? No way,” was my father’s response. “My God is the God of Jesus Christ.”
“Do you want to end up in prison?”
“Yes, I am willing to die for my God.”
The Japanese police took my father to prison.
A few weeks after Father was taken away, my 15 year old brother, Hi-Seung, came to Mother who was sitting by the window in the living room and sewing my torn pants.
“Mother, I will be leaving for Japan in a week.”
“What?” Mother said dumbfounded. “Go to Japan?”
“Yes, Mother,” Hi-Seung said. “I volunteered to join the Japanese army.”
“Why?” Mother asked.
“So that Father may come home from the prison,” was his response.
“Why didn’t you tell me before ?”
“Because you would say, ‘No’.”
I remember tears falling down my mother’s cheeks. Tears of gratitude for having such a son who would risk his life to save his father, and the tears of helplessness seeing her 15 year old son about to leave for Japan.
After Hi-Seung left for Japan, Father was brought home on a stretcher. He had a stroke in prison, and the prison did not have a medical facility to care for the sick prisoners. He was brought home under house arrest.
Under house arrest meant that the police would check on him anytime of the day or the night. The police came unannounced and banged on the door. Mother rushed out to open the door. The policeman marched up the stairway in his leather boots to check whether Father was in bed. Then he marched down the stairway and left the house. It was really scary when we heard a loud bang at night when we were sound asleep. In the dark of the night Mother got out and rushed to the door to let the police in and stayed there until the police left the house. At that time she developed a shaking spell that lasted for years. Whenever she heard a loud noise, her eyes turned round and she started to shake. I, a child, sat next to her holding her shaking hands until she calmed down.
August, 1945. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan: one, named Little Boy over Hiroshima and three days later the second, named Fat Man over Nagasaki. The two bombs instantly killed over 100,000 people (about 70,000 in Hiroshima and 40,000 in Nagasaki). I was taught that the Japanese were fierce warriors, and they would never surrender; they would fight until the last man alive. But a few days later, I heard the emperor of Japan speak through the radio:
To our good and loyal subjects: After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining to Our Empire today, we have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure. We have ordered Our government to communicate to the government of the United States, Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration…
It is according to the dictate of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable…
The war came to an end in August 15, 1945. The Japanese left Korea. Our young men forcefully conscripted to fight the Americans came home with a loud welcome. Our young girls who were forcefully taken to the front lines to serve their Japanese masters came home – quietly, without public notice.
Did my father do the right thing standing up for his god and going to prison, thus making his family suffer?
What would you do when you have to make a decision between your principle and the safety of your family?
It was an anxious time for us. Mother and I went to the train station to see Brother Hi-Seung walking down the steps of the train. He did not come in the first week. He did not come in the first month. After weeks of going to the station Mother said, “What’s the use of going. Let’s just stay home, pray and wait.”
We had no way of knowing whether he was alive or dead. We just prayed and waited, hoping for the best. Then in the third month, there was a knock on the door. I went and opened. In front of me stood a man. He was my brother. He held me in a warm embrace. Tears rolled down my cheeks. But I felt that he was not well. He did not have the strength in his voice and in his arms that I had remembered. My brother left home as a carefree vibrant 15 year old boy. He returned home as an injured 18 year old man. He died a year later from his injury.
Before he left for Japan, Hi-Seung was a disgrace to the minister’s family. While Father’s other children brought home A’s and B’s from school, Hi-Seung brought home mostly C’s. He mingled with the bullies in our neighborhood. He made catcalls at the girls walking by. He tried to mount a he-dog on top of a she-dog and sometimes got bitten by the she-dog. He got into fights with boys and came home with a bloody nose.
But after he returned from Japan, he was an inspiration to all those around him. He was such a changed person. Complaining had been his forte, but now there was not a hint of displeasure. There was not a trace of anger toward anyone in his voice, even when he talked about the Japanese soldiers who had mistreated him. All was gratitude. Life was a gift. He had seen the darkness. He had endured the loneliness. He had experienced the cruelty of men. Now back at home, he was determined to be in the light.
After the war, the church doors were open again. Father started to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes him would not perish, but have everlasting life,” Father recited the Bible. “Come my people. Let us give thanks to our God, who sent his son to die on the cross for our sins and who raised him from the dead for our salvation.”
Unfortunately, Father had another son, Hi-Bum. Hi-Bum was 15 years older than I. He was the brightest in the family and an envy of our neighborhood parents. Unfortunately, he refused to attend the church, saying that the church was a place to escape for the weaklings who did not want to face life’s many challenges. He also became a communist in the democratic South Korea. The police took him to prison. And some of Father’s church members scoffed at Father.
“How can a minister with a communist, non-Christian son preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to us?” Some church members snickered “He is also a communist in a preacher’s garb.”
It was a difficult period for Father. He felt hurt. But he never lost faith in God. He continued to preach. With his shoulders straight, with his voice clear, he recited the Bible:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,…? ….For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor thing to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What is the difference between my brother Hi-Bum who stood for his political belief and my father who stood for his religious belief? Both gave their family pain and suffering?
The Korean War
June 24, 1950, five years after the end of WWII. The North Korean army with the support of Russian arms broke through the 38th parallel line, that divided the North from the South. Within days, the Northern army entered Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. For ninety days, we lived under North Korean control. All the church doors were closed. North Korean officers started to arrest Christian leaders in Seoul.
Relatives and friends urged Father to go into hiding, but Father refused, saying,
“I have served my God of Jesus Christ all my life. I will not run away. My life is in God’s hands.”
As a child I wondered, How come is Father thinking only of God? What about us, his children? What about Mother? Is it OK for his family suffer because of his faith in God?
Another part of me was very proud of him, Will I be able to risk my life for my God or the cause that I believe in, when I grow up? Like Father? I wasn’t sure.
I still remember Father singing his favorite hymn
I’m pressing on the upward way, New Heights I’m gaining everyday,
Still praying as I’m onward bound, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
Lord, lift me up and let me stand. By faith on Heaven’s tableland
A higher plane than I have found; Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
One morning Father and I went out to the community garden near our house to pull weeds and water the lettuce and radishes. As we walked back to the house, we saw two young men talking to Mother at the gate. When they saw us coming, they approached Father,bowed respectfully, and asked Father to attend a Christian minister’s meeting to discuss church-related matters.
“So early in the morning?” Father questioned.
“It will be a short one,” one man said.
“Then let me go in and change into a more formal outfit,” Father said.
“It will not be necessary,” the man snapped.
Then Father looked at Mother and me, and walked away between the two men. He never came back home since that day.
Whatever might have happened to Father, I am sure that he was at peace in his heart, picturing God planting his feet on Higher Ground.
In September, 1950, the South Korean army with the support of the UN soldiers pushed back the Northern army and entered Seoul. The pictures of North Korea’s great leader, Kim Il-Sung, hanging on every street corner were torn down. Our church doors were open for worship. We could visit our friends without permits. Meanwhile, the South Korean and UN soldiers continued to push the northern army toward the Manchurian border that separated North Korea from China. Many Koreans expected that two Koreas would soon be one nation under the flag of South Korea.
Unfortunately, in October, 1950, the Red Chinese army entered into the war to support the retreating North Korean soldiers. Unable to counter the massive Red army, the UN soldiers were in full retreat. In December, 1950, Mother and I fled to the south. Without Father, we survived as best we could for two long years. Then in February 3rd, 1953. Mother put me, a 16 year old boy, on Sea Serpent, a freighter, heading for the United States of America where I would be safe and get a good education.
Why do we believe in God?
I thought, as a child, that God rewarded those who followed him and punished those who denied him. What I experienced was the opposite. Those who followed him suffered while those who denied him prospered. What is the true message of Jesus Christ?
I wrote the story, Shattered by the Wars, to honor my mother. During WWII, I saw Mother coming home with tears in her eyes and with her leg bruised from the beating she received by a Japanese soldier on a street in broad daylight in front of a crowd. Mother was tormented by the Japanese police because of her husband was a Christian minister and an educator. She was tormented by the South Korean police because her son, Hi-Bum, was a communist in the democratic South. She was tormented by the North Korean communists because her husband was a Christian minister and an anti-communist. There were tension, frustration, fear, and sorrow in our family during those periods. Under such conditions, a mere mortal would have been crushed, ending up in a mental hospital or turning into a bitter person, angry at God, angry at the world, and angry at people. But Mother did not buckle. She marched on and led us onward with love and grace.
Mother gave thanks to God when everything around us was darkness and gloom. She gave thanks to God for His love for us while I saw no love, only hatred and killing. She prayed for the well-being of others, even when our own well-being was at stake. She shared with our neighbor when we did not have enough food left even for us. During the refugee period, she fed me while she went hungry.
Throughout my growing years, I marveled at the strength of her character, which came from her absolute faith in God. But often, I wondered, how she could praise Him when suffering was all around her. I wondered, how she could thank Him when there was nothing to be thankful for. I wondered, how she could sing about God’s wondrous creation when all I saw around me was destruction, scorched hills by the bombs from the sky, corpses on the roadways piled up like trash, and children roaming the streets without their parents.
I have tried to follow Mother’s ways: To give thanks. To give praise. In spite of sickness and death of our loved ones. In spite of the darkness and gloom all around us. Believing that God is with us in our journey, not only through verdant meadows, but also through the dark tunnels of despair where the only things that we can feel are pain and anguish.
I am seventy seven years old and am still trying.