Life during Korean War
was in 9th grade when the Korean War broke out. On Sunday
morning, June 25, 1950, I went to the main street with the street car and
felt something was wrong. Military polices were stopping every soldier on
the street, putting them in trucks and sending them over the Miari hill to
the north. Curious of what was going on, I came home and turned on the
radio. It announced that the North Korean Army had invaded early that
morning crossing 38th. parallel which was the border line of North and South Korea
before the war and the war had started. President Sung-Man Rhee¡¯s American
accented voice was broadcasted, assuring civilians that they didn¡¯t need
to worry about the incident because the Korean Army was defeating the North
news about the war was available only from KBS radio broadcasting. The
government operated HLKA of KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) was the only
broadcasting station in South Korea
back then and it was all we could listen to. We guessed that there were
battles going on around the 38th parallel, and that was why all
the soldiers on the street were dispatched to the war front.
was on the 27th when we started to take the war seriously. The
broadcast continued to say the Korean Army was defeating the north on every
battlefield and marching to north at some areas. But all of sudden, we heard
shells screeching overhead. When we heard about ten shells, we started
getting scared. Since Miari is the route to
from the north, it would be very dangerous for us to stay in the middle of
the battlefield. We decided to take refuge in Nam-Hyuk¡¯s house at
Sajikdong at northwestern part of Seoul, and evacuated empty handed. I do not remember whether we went to his house
on foot or by street car. I think the street car was still operating.
stayed up all night. Early next morning, my elder cousin Dong-Kun who was a
reporter, came to us and said that he saw a North Korean flag hoisted on
Joongangchung, the Capital
Building. His house was close to Joongangchung and I guessed it was his professional
instinct to check that early in the morning. We had breakfast at
Nam-Hyuk¡¯s house in Sajikdong and came back home all the way on foot
because the street car was out of service already.
street was full of North Korean Army soldiers who looked so unfamiliar to
me. People with red armbands on their left arm were running wild here and
there. On the way home, I still remember a Korean Army soldier with a
gunshot wound was lying in front of Hwashin department store at 1st street
of Jongro. He was bleeding and moving his arm but no one dared help him.
It¡¯s pitiful but even I had to pretend not to see him.
difference in military capacity of North and South Korea
was so great at the time. The Soviet Union had powerful army and the U. S.
had a formidable Air force and Navy. South Korea had nothing to defend
themselves against the North, who were supported by the Soviet Army with
tanks. The South Korean Army was equipped with M1 rifles given to them by
the U. S.
but there was no tank. It was useless to fight against the impregnable
Soviet tanks with our rifles and grenades only. The Air Force of the South
had ten light aircrafts, called Keonkookho which meant National Foundation,
at Youido airport. They were contributed by citizens just to train Air Force
pilots to fly, not for fighting. These aircrafts were singly propelled and
were very similar to private Cessna airplanes you can see at
local airports now, which were absolutely no match for Russian made Yak
All of these Keonkookhos were completely destroyed in the 1st
North Korean air raid. Whoever said the South Korea
was the one to start the war must be insane. It is definitely out of of the
this surprise attack, three months under communism and a extremely hard time
for Korea including myself have started. The early force came to Seoul
was called Palrogoon who used to be a part of the Red Chinese Army and were
well trained soldiers (perhaps the best of the North Korean Army). They were
also very kind to citizens. I saw a soldier whose North Korean bill was not
accepted at a store but did not complain. I saw another soldier helping an
old lady who couldn¡¯t walk very well.
the North entered Seoul, one of the first change that took place was keeping walking people to the
right side of the road instead of to the left. For some time, soldiers on
the sidewalk forced people to keep to the right. It was a one-way single
file rule. If you passed the spot that you were going to, you had to cross
the wide automobile street to the other side, walk back, and cross the
street back to the first sidewalk again.
was a rumor that the purpose to send the gentle Palrogoon initially was to
give a good impression of North Korea
on South Korean civilians, planned by Il-Sung Kim. When they left for south
to the front line, more North Korean soldiers came to Seoul. They were totally different guys and executed many acts of brutality by
using organizations which used to be underground organizations until that
time, including members of the South Korean Labor Party, the Democratic
Young Men¡¯s Union, and Women¡¯s Union.
these underground people had to suffer a lot hiding out, they would be
grateful for a world like this. The brutality of the North was greater in
rural districts. Rich landlords were accused as ¡°vestiges of the
bourgeoisie¡± or ¡°reactionary elements who squeezed people,¡± and were
put on trial. Once on trial so called as ¡°People¡¯s Court¡±, there was
no way out but instant execution. However, within a month, as the North
Korean Labor Party members followed the Red Army took power in South Korea,
almost all of these men of the South Korean Labor Party and Democratic Young
Men¡¯s Union were unwillingly drafted as North Korean soldiers and most of
them were killed at the Nakdong River war front. I know it very well as my
elder brother, Dong-Han was one of them.
wonder now how we managed to live on. My father was unemployed for years
since we left Chungsan. I guess we lived off the money he got from selling
his land in Chungsan. Before long, since he could not sell the land or he
did not have any more land to sell, we were eating barley soup. I¡¯ve hated
barley ever since.
this difficult time, my elder sister Dong-Sun was infected with intestinal
tuberculosis. The only cure for this disease was an injection of
streptomycin, which was very expensive and hard to get. Fortunately, my
uncle (my father¡¯s younger brother), who managed bee farming, left twenty
large cans (5 gallons can) of honey. So, we sold them and paid for the
medicine and some rice for my sister. Without the honey, my sister probably
would have died. I envyed my sister for having white rice.
2nd. sister, Dong-Soon, was well off because her husband was a
manager of the Board of Trade in the Department of Foreign Affairs of the
. She lived at the house at the other side of main street in Donamdong and I
used to visit her house and ate my fill. The school was closed and I stayed
home as the summer vacation started soon. To make money, I sold Chapsalduk
(rice cake). I wandered around the town yelling ¡°Chap – sal -
duk.¡± My sister would often buy some to help my business but I also ate
them often whenever I was hungry. Without making money, I quit this business
in less than a month.
progress of the battle started to bog down at
war front. The supply route for the North Korean Army got longer and longer
and the number of those killed at the war front became greater and greater
because of the air raid by the U. S.. North Korea
needed more soldiers and recklessly took any young man who happened to be on
the street and named them a volunteer soldier. With very limited military
training on the way to Nakdong
River, most of them got killed.
One day, on the way home from my sister¡¯s house, I was crossing the
main street at Donamdong, when a Kyungdong High School
12th grader called me. He wore a red armband on his left arm,
pulled up his left sleeve and
showed me a red square stamp on his arm.
Without any further explanation, he said, ¡°President Il-Sung Kim wants you
to join the Red Army.¡± I was not old enough for the military service at
the time. However I was the tallest in my class and there was no way to
convince him of my age because I had no ID. I thought it would be better to
show willingness to make him trust me so that I could run away whenever I
got the chance, so I said OK and just followed him.
told me that he needed more people. I followed him to the Dongdo Theater at Donam
Bridge, where a Soviet movie¡° Seokhwa (Stone Flower)¡± was playing. I saw a
free movie but I couldn¡¯t remember a single scene afterwards because I was
looking for a chance to run away.
the movie was over, he took five of us he captured to the Donam
where the physical examination for the volunteer soldier was being done. All
of sudden, the air raid alarm sounded on the way and I saw a low flying L-19
light aircraft passing over me. By this time, the U. S.
Air Force was controlling the air totally and North Korea
Air Force had no chance to show up. L-19
was more formidable than any
fighter or bomber because of its ability to fly low to detect enemies to
battle ships anchored at Inchon
harbor. The Naval Battle
Ship guns could hit the target accurately. The L-19 scared all of us off and
I ran away. It was so close. Without the L-19, I would have disappeared at Nakdong
and there would be no more old stories of mine.
that time, I was so afraid that I stayed home. The house at Donamdong had a
basement under the living room where the preowner of the house hid rice from
the occupied Japanese government. The entrance was so small that a sack of
rice could barely make it through and was covered by a board. I stayed in
the dark basement all the time except when I ate. Since it was summer, it
was not cold but was too damp for me to stay.
a month of living in the basement, I felt safe to come out and started
staying in my room. One early morning around 2 o¡¯clock, somebody yelled
and pounded on the door. When I opened the door, several Democratic Young
Men Union guys and a soldier rushed in and fumbled around all the rooms.
They told me I should join the volunteer soldier. All this happened in such
a short time that I didn¡¯t have a chance to hide away.
was taken to a building which used to be a church and forced to listen to
lectures mostly praising the general Il-Sung Kim. Then they said, ¡°If
anybody does not want to join volunteer soldier, raise your hand.¡± In such
a warlike atmosphere, who would dare to raise their hand? So, they
proclaimed saying ¡°The decision was made unanimously.¡± This frantic way
was the usual platitude of the communists. One of my elder sisters,
Dong-Hyun was also taken to the Women
and forced to listen to the praising Il-Sung Kim lecture. After the lecture,
she asked a couple of question and they said ¡°Comrade, you know too
much.¡± What a nonsense! I hate this stupid communist.
Elementary School, under strict guard, they taught us how to sing the national anthem of the
People¡¯s Republic, a praising song for the general Il-Sung Kim and ¡°The
song of Partisan¡± before the physical examination. The physical
examination was so perfunctory that a doctor just asked several question and
did not perform any medical examination. I heard he kept mentioning formula
606, which was well known as to cure every disease without exception, like
¡°Formula 606 will do it. Pass¡± for every patient who suffered
tuberculosis, hemorrhoid, etc.,. What a panacea the formula 606 was! I
figured out there would be no excuse with any sickness.
careful observation of examiner for a quite a time, I have noticed one magic
word - revolutionist bereaved family. The communists think highly of
revolutionists such that they regarded Il-Sung Kim as the highest
revolutionist. So revolutionist bereaved family could be the special case. I
thought to myself, ¡°That¡¯s it.¡± When it¡¯s my turn, the doctor asked
me, ¡°Any sickness with you?¡± I answered ¡°No.¡± He said, ¡°Then you
have no problem joining volunteer soldier.¡± I bravely answered, ¡°I
can't.¡± When he asked me why, I answered ¡°I have two elder brothers. The
eldest one was a revolutionist under Japanese occupation, involved in
anti-Japanese movement of
incident, imprisoned at West Gate Jail and passed away. The other joined to
volunteer soldier and got killed. So I am the only one left in my family.
Without me, the genealogy of my family would be discontinued.¡± Then he
kept staring me for a while. I was not sure that my brother could be on the
same rank with those revolutionists that this guy would show some respect.
However, I knew that
was a big shot among the communists in North Korea
even though purged and executed later. I could speak up gallantly since they
were somehow true and there were no times for them to verify them. They
bought what I said. After staring me for a while, he told me to go home.
Hence I escaped from one crisis by good luck and another by wit and
were really narrow escapes from death. Nevertheless, I still had some guts
crawling to the top of the big tree on my yard to see the
jet aircraft bombing Seoul
every day. My father hated me doing this and scolded me. The main fighters
of the U. S.
Air Force were P-51 Mustang propeller fighters and F-86 Saver jet fighters.
F-86, the early day jet fighters, had wings extended square and fuel tanks
at each end of the wings that looked quite different from today¡¯s models.
This model was the first jet fighter the Korean people had ever seen and
they called this jet fighter ¡°Hojookee¡± which meant Australian airplane.
The reason was that the people believed the rumor that
sent the airplanes to help Korean president Sung-Man Rhee, since he was
married to an Austrian lady and
was mistaken as Australia
had been reclaimed from North Korea
and the communist rule was over. I am not a military expert, but I think the
Landing Operation officially, by the command of General McArthur was a
better designed tactic than the Normandy
invasion. While the
invasion killed so many soldiers, the Inchon
invasion cost relatively few lives and was effective in blocking the North
Korean supply route in the middle of the Korean peninsula. Hence most of the
North Korean Army that was stationed at the south end of the Korean
peninsula were isolated and not many enemy soldiers were left in the North,
the U. S. and Korean Army could progress northward up to the Yalu River very
fast and easily. This is why I think the
invasion was a much better tactic than the
without any supplies or escape routes, the isolated North Korean Army had no
choice but to hide in the forests of Jirisan mountains. Since they were
brainwashed so strongly as communists, they did not attempt to yield and
they protested there as guerillas for years. During these days, the people
in the villages around Jirisan were ruled by Korean Government during the
day and ruled by partisan guerillas at night. It took years to terminate all
of these partisans and cost so many innocent civilian lives.
was peaceful for
only three months until Red
joined the war to help
and marched to south successfully winning over the
and Korean Army. Since China¡¯s huge population was their main resource, they used human wave tactics.
They attacked in overwhelming numbers, playing drums, gongs and trumpets.
and the U. S.
had no choice but to retreat back to the 38th parallel.
were disagreements between General McArthur and President Truman on one big
issue. General McArthur suggested to bomb Manchuria in order to stop the Red
Army from entering the Korean peninsula while President Truman rejected it
because he only cared for his political reputation. George W. Bush would
have bombed Manchuria, if he would have been a president at that time. The
Manchuria bombardment did not happen and Red China¡¯s Army advanced south, sweeping all before them.
now, fear of communists was great and everyone hurried to evacuate
southward. My family also joined the evacuation and this was called ¡°1-4
Retreat¡± (Red China
on January 4th.).
second sister Dong-Soon¡¯s husband arranged a train from Seoul
to Daejon to go to my eldest sister Dong-Hye¡¯s house in Daejon with his
family. Dong-Soon¡¯s husband was supposed to come to join the family later
in Daejon if necessary depending on the situation. Therefore, my family and
my sister¡¯s family took the train to Daejon first at
we took a train, we discovered it wasn¡¯t a passenger train but a freight
train without a roof, overflowing with people. It was bitterly cold with
heavy snowfalls. The train stopped for hours at every station. It was a
miracle that nobody froze to death. It took more than 24 hours from
to Daejon compared to 3-4 hours usually on normal days. We covered ourselves
with the blankets we brought. When we got to my eldest sister¡¯s house, we
could relax finally. Still, since a lot of other people had to evacuate on
foot, we were lucky to have a train.
10 days later after we arrived my eldest sister¡¯s house, my mother and two
sisters cooked some Kimbap (Norimaki Sushi) and my youngest sister Dong-Hyun
and I sold them at the Daejon station. But there was news that the Red China
and North Korean Army were coming closer. We were afraid another
war might happen again and we decided to go to Pusan, the 2nd. largest port city at the southeast corner of Korea. My eldest sister¡¯s brother in law, who was a director at Daejon railway
station, arranged a freight train for us to Pusan and asked us if we would
like to go to Pusan.
a transportation to
is available, we decided to go to Pusan, packed and went to Daejon station. We were a big group with many baggage
and prepared food for all members for many days. I went in to the train and
loaded what my sister was handing over. We were almost done when, all of
sudden, the train started moving.
were all surprised and my youngest sister jumped into the train while all
the others were about to follow. However a station employee told us not to
worry about it because it was just switching to another rail. While we were
wondering what to do, the train left Daejon station leaving all other family
in the station separating my sister and me from our family. Fortunately, the
freight train we rode had a roof and we had enough foods to survive for a
while. However, my sister and I were so anxious to see our family again.
had no choice but to ride the train to Pusan. The cold froze our meals but that also helped keep them fresh. Again, the
train stopped at every station while we shivered for hours. The train could
not proceed normally because too many trains were heading for Pusan
at same time. It was like a traffic jam on a holiday expressway in Korea
now. Several days later, the train arrived at Milyang station, where U. S. Military Police stopped all the people on the train and told them to go
back. For us, it was impossible to go back.
the circumstances, somebody got a good idea to lock the door inside and
remain quiet, pretending it is an empty car. It worked for a while until a
baby started crying which made a MP to find us. We had to open the door and
got out of the train.
most people were sent back by MP, my sister had a government officer ID as
she was working at the Insurance Department of the Ministry of
Communication. She showed her ID to the MP, introduced herself as a
government employee and explained that she and I were going to Pusan
to join the government. The MP allowed us to keep going. What a lucky guy I
ate frozen hard rice balls for a week until we arrived at Pusan. We had never been there before and we had no idea what to do. My sister
went to the temporary office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to hear
about our brother-in-law while I was keeping all the baggage in the train.
And, what a surprise!! She found our brother-in-law already there.
heard later that he rented a truck, came to Daejon as the Ministry had
and found my family were separated. He thought the only way to see us again
was to come to Pusan
with the rest of the family and beat the train. He rented a house at
Choryang close to the Pusan
railroad station. We met again one week after we separated and our parents
had been very anxious to see us again. I knew I was a very lucky guy.
started as refugees in Pusan. Nam-Hyuk¡¯s family, my eldest uncle's family, also came to Pusan
and settled down at Daeshindong. I decided not to go to school but to start
a business selling some snacks on a board at the intersection in front of
the house we lived, which was close to main street where a lot of people
were crossing the intersection. I imitated the business as many other guys
with the board of about 3¡¯x 5¡¯. on which we sold cigarettes, chewing
gums, candy bars, etc. etc.. But I didn¡¯t make much money again because I
ate a lot of the stuff, as having food in front of me while I was so hungry
was too irresistible. One day, my friend and I went to Seomyon and bought
some goods to sell, among which we had a bacon can. It was twice as big as
regular cans. We ate all of it on the way back to Choryang and it was very
salty but very enjoyable as we were so hungry.
quit the business and joined the dockers. At the
port, there were several docks where many ships bringing military supplies
everyday which required a lot of workers to unload them. Because a foreman
at every dock would hire twenty people a day, it was easy to get a job.
On-board teams in a ship loaded stuff onto the crane, which took them to
ground team who carried them to the warehouse team and they stored them in
team had its own pros or cons. On-board teams worked in the ship and the
supervision was not tight. They could take long breaks after each loading
but they had no choice of food. Since they were all so hungry, the ship
loaded with food supplies called C-ration was the most popular one to all
workers. Each ration pack had 6 cans as a one day food supply for U. S.
soldiers, consisting of a beef can, a chicken can, a bean can and a can with
a pack of cigarettes, a chewing gum and a candy bar. When the supervision of
military was away, we used to take the beef can out of a C-ration and ate
it. I wonder how the soldier who received the C-ration box without beef can
would feel at combat.
day, a guys was caught eating onions by an American military police. MP told
him he would be forgiven if he would eat a whole box of onions. He tried to
eat whole box but there was no way to eat all of them. Since the MP was a
good guy, he was released after having his cheek slapped a couple of times.
Other workers were caught once eating raw eggs and ended up getting pelted
the other hand, the ground team had a lot more choices. Whatever they were
handling, they could easily find C-rations piled up near by. The workers who
stacked them always prepared a deep space at the center of the pile so that
somebody could eat there without getting seen from the ground.
mostly worked the graveyard shift, which lasted for eight hours. (It was 3
shifts operation of 8 hours.) Once the eight hours were up, we got paid and
searched for hidden supplies. There were many women waiting at the entrance
to buy whatever we had stolen. I saw a guy who stole one pound of sugar and
wondered how he could pass the body search with it. There was no way to stop
the stealing. Though the work was pretty hard for me, it was not too bad
because I could eat and be paid at the same time.
the first couple of months at
Pusan, I spent time like this without attending school. One day, I saw a notice
on the newspaper that the students of
were to register at
Normal School. Since so many students registered, we had to study in tent class rooms on
the school ground. When the time came, I was given a diploma and I graduated
enjoyed life at Pusan, even though it was hard. To be frank, my main purpose of working at the
port was more to eat the C-rations rather than making money to help family.
I also still miss the taste of fried squid I ate at the carriage store on
street. I was a mere middle school boy who thought more of me than of my
family. Though my sisters, Dong-Sun and Dong-Hyun, worked and got paid, it
was not enough to support the whole family and I guess we got a lot of help
of my brother-in-law, Dong-Soon¡¯s husband, who supported our family quite
half a year of living in Pusan, my father went to Chungju to meet his
younger brother, who was a dean of the
Agricultural College. In Chungju, he was so glad to meet the former first principal of Chungsan
Middle School unexpectedly, which he founded when he was working as the
advisor to the U. S. Military Government right after the WW-II as he was one
of very few who could speak English at that time. He was the principal of Chungju
Commercial High School
one morning, my father went to
Chungju Commercial High School
to see him who asked my father to join to the morning gathering as it was
the time for morning gathering of the day. Suddenly, he announced to whole
students ¡°Let me introduce your new English teacher.¡± He knew my father
very well who would never work under someone else and made this announcement
without any prediscussion with my father, as he knew it was the only way to
make him to work for the school. This way, by another person¡¯s will, he
became an English teacher which was his first job in his whole life. From
that time on, my family could live on a fixed income.
the summer vacation began and we moved to Chungju where I lived in for two
and half years ending our refugee life in Pusan. There, I graduated
and was admitted to the
University. Because the first day of school year was changed from September to
that time, I lost six months of high school days. (It was changed from March
to September when U.S.
Military government started and I was at elementary school, forcing us to
extend 6 more months of elementary school.)
is all I can remember about the Korean War. The Chinese Army invasion was
stopped at little south of
and pushed back to north of Seoul in a few months. Thereafter, the front line was stabilized at where the
current DMZ, Demilitarized Zone, which is the current boarder of North and
South Koreas, for a few years just pushing and pulling back and forth little
here and there, until Cease Fire Agreement was signed in 1954 finally
between North Korea and United States. (South Korean government didn't sign
the treaty and
South Korea claims they are still in war state technically as they didn't sign the
was a tragedy that took hundreds of thousands of Korean lives as well as
American lives away and caused utter destruction in the Korean peninsula.
But it brought a couple of good things to us too. First, it separated
communists and anti-communists into North and South respectively, cleaning
up the confusions and serious problems in both sides and stabilizing both
societies. (I am sure Il-Sung Kim was much easier to establish his kingdom
North Korea.) Second, it was a good opportunity to overcome the cultural gap between
regions. Before the war, there were communication and understanding problems
between regions due to different dialects of the Korean language and poor
transportation and communication means. The war brought more opportunity to
understand people each other and make friends in different regions. But the
cost was still too high.
a member of the generation who experienced the tragedy of the Korean War and
the oppressive rule of communism, I am anxious to see recent trends moving
to the left of Korea. I know that the North Korean communists have best knowledge brainwashing
people in the world. They know how to make people believe. I know that
Korean people are trying to help the North Korean people because they are of
the same blood. However, it is the government, not the people of North Korea
that is taking advantage of the South¡¯s support. I am surprised to see
that so many South Koreans want to help the North without understanding they
are actually helping very small group fo guys in North Korean government,
not people in North Korea. I don¡¯t understand why the people don¡¯t realize that they are being
deceived. I realize again how formidable and cunning the communists¡¯ ways
of brainwashing are. It seems the former president of
Korea, Dae-Joong Kim, who was too eager after the Nobel peace prize, has actually
started what is happening in Korea now.