Talk on Shattered by the Wars
Shattered by the Wars is a story of my family during WWII under Japan and during the Korean War.
In a larger context, it is a story of a Christian minister’s family in an anti-Christian governments. It is a story of how wars and conflicts shatter the lives of happy families throughout the world by atrocities committed by groups such as ISIS in the middle east today.
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 where 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. 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.
“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 in his leather boots to Father’s room to check whether he was in bed. Then he marched out of 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.
After WWII, we had no way of knowing whether Hi-Seung 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.
After the war, the church doors were open again. Father started to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, Father had another son, Hi-Bum. Hi-Bum was 15 years older than I. He was the brightest in the family. 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 son, who doesn’t believe in God, 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.
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. 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.”
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.
Several weeks later Mother came to me in teary eyes and said, “We don’t have enough rice left.”
“I’m sorry,” I said feeling helpless while looking at her teary eyes.
She took a deep breath and said, “Even for people.”
Even for people, even for people, I repeated the words in my head. Then it hit me like a lightening that Mother meant that she could not feed my best friend of eight years.
The next day, a dog warden came, put a muzzle around my best friend, and lead him down the steps. Before they turned the corner, my dog turned her head and looked at me. The memory of her looking at me for the last time still aches my heart.
In September, 1950, the South Korean army with the support of the UN soldiers pushed back the Northern army and entered Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, and 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.
Originally, I wrote the story to honor my mother, but I now realize that this is a must-read story for many Americans to appreciate how fortunate they are to live in America where there are no foreign soldiers on the streets with bayonets on their shoulders, and tell them what god to worship, what language to speak, what flag to fly…
As one who lived through the two wars and lived under four political systems – Imperialist Japan, Democratic South Korea in its infancy, Communist North Korea, and the Unites States – I feel so fortunate and grateful to live in America. I pray that America stays to be the beacon for liberty and justice, not only for Americans but for all the people in the world.