On The War Memorial Trail….. Part 2 – Charlie Choi’s Childhood Memories of the Korean War

We meet with retired engineer Charlie (Chi-Yong) Choi and his wife Susan.  (Photo courtesy of Valkenburg Family)

October 1, 2021. In Part 1 of the childhood wartime memories of Charlie Choi, who was 4 years old when the Korean War started in June 1950, his father had disappeared, leaving his mother to cope with 3 pre-schoolers and their maid.  As the situation worsened, his mother made the difficult decision to leave Seoul and seek safety at the farm owned by her parents-in-law in Onyang, south of Seoul.  (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/09/30/on-the-war-memorial-trail-part-1-charlie-chois-childhood-memories-of-the-korean-war/)

At the southern edge of Seoul, they ran into their first obstacle – a bridge over the Han River that had been destroyed in an attempt to stop the southern advance of the North Korean Army.  The river had to be crossed in order to get to the farm, and Charlie’s mother had to find a solution if they were to reach safety…..

… A farmer helped them cross the river and continue their journey….

Luckily, Charlie’s mother was able to keep a cool head.  “…In order to cross the river we literally ran for our lives under continual bombing.  We ran on the hot sandy river banks, searching for a way to cross the river.  Mother managed to get us all safely across by negotiating with a local melon farmer who had a small row boat and a cart for his melons.  The farmer was traveling with his young son.  The farmer and his son could no longer make a living by selling melons.  Mother negotiated with them to help us get to my grandfather’s farm….

The most harrowing part of the journey was just beginning. “….It took us 3 days and 2 nights to get to the farm.  We walked through mountain paths, bombed and damaged dirt roads, and narrow rice paddy banks.  We slept for a few hours when we were able to take shelter in a bomb-damaged shack that we ran into along the way….

… ‘I saw people getting shot’….

The journey got harder.  “… For the first time I saw people getting shot and killed, and for the first time I saw humans of a different race other than my own black haired Asians.  I saw blond and brown haired Americans during this journey.  We had two very close calls on the way to the farm.  One was on a flat stretch of dirt road….” 

 …All of a sudden two fighter jets, Mustangs, appeared from nowhere and started shooting at people heading south.  My mother and the maid, with my baby sister, ran and took cover inside the road drain pipe.  The farmer and his son who pushed and pulled the cart that my brother and I were riding in also ran to take cover, leaving us in the cart.  I was able to get out of the cart but my brother was unable to get out.  We were crying for help.  I was trying to get him out but was unable to….

… ‘Mustang pilots spared my brother and me’….

That might have been the end of Charlie’s story, but then, “…the Mustang pilots saw two young boys struggling, crying, and scared to death.  They circled and came down very low many times to assess the situation and then finally flew away.  They circled around us so low that I could see their faces and they were not black haired Koreans….

Charlie later found out how lucky he and his brother were that the pilots didn’t see any adults by the cart.  “…. Much later we learned that the fighter jet pilots were ordered to shoot people dressed as civilians who were heading south, because the North Korean Army was infiltrating the south, disguised as civilians….” 

It was a challenge for UN pilots to distinguish friend from foe in these situations, and unfortunately there was collateral damage.  “…The other close call was near the final stretch to the farm.  The road split, onto a regular dirt road where the cart could go, but it was a longer distance.  The other route was a shortcut through rice paddy banks that were not wide enough for the cart.  Mother decided to take the shortcut with us only and told the farmer and his son to take the regular road and rejoin us where the two roads meet near the farm….

… Not all refugees were spared….

Disaster struck.  “…We were on our way through the banks of the rice paddy when we heard bicycle bells from behind.  5 or 6 men on bikes told my mother to take cover, yelling ‘here come the Mustangs’ as they were passing by us.  Sure enough, very soon we heard the Mustangs………..pop pop pop pop…….all the cyclists were shot and fell like dominoes into the rice fields….

….My mother was very calm.  She held our hands and said ‘this is it’, ‘don’t cry or be scared’, ‘just stay calm’ and then she closed her eyes and appeared to be praying.  Two Mustangs circled us a few times at a very low elevation, and once again they spared us and flew away….

The family finally made it to the farm “…in the late afternoon in early August 1950.  My grandparents, their maid and the farm workers, were so relieved to see us since there wasn’t any way to communicate during the war.  My grandfather thanked the melon farmer and his son and made the payment my mother had negotiated with them.  They stayed overnight and left the farm the next day.  We do not know what happened to them….

… ‘We were on the North Korean Army’s execution list’….

Unfortunately, the family’s safety was soon compromised.  “…Our joyful life at the farm did not last long.  The North Korean Army captured this area about 2 or 3 weeks after we arrived.  One rainy day in the early morning in August 1950 a truckload of North Korean soldiers came and ordered us to line up in the courtyard of the farm house…. 

…The Captain had a list of all our family members who were at the farm house.  He told us we were on the list of the shooting squad. When the names were read out, the list even included my baby sister….” 21 members of Charlie’s family were on the North Korean Army’s execution list. 

In Part 3, Charlie’s story continues as the family members await their fate….. 

Thank you to Charlie Choi for his courage in relating his childhood experience in wartime Korea.  If you have a story to share, please email us at dariadv@yahoo.ca, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.  

…..Want to follow our research?….

If you are reading this posting, but aren’t following the blog, you are welcome to do so.  See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com or email me at dariadv@yahoo.ca and ask for an invitation to the blog. 

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© Daria Valkenburg

4 thoughts on “On The War Memorial Trail….. Part 2 – Charlie Choi’s Childhood Memories of the Korean War

  1. Pingback: On The War Memorial Trail….. Part 3 – Charlie Choi’s Childhood Memories of the Korean War | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

  2. Pingback: We Hear From Readers About ‘No Soldier Buried Overseas Should Ever Be Forgotten’ | On The War Memorial Trail Research Project…….. with Pieter and Daria Valkenburg

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