October 2, 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, the family left Seoul for 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/)
In Part 2, after a harrowing journey, they safely reached the farm. A few weeks later, however, soldiers from the North Korean Army arrived at the farm and announced that 21 members of the family were to be executed, including Charlie’s baby sister. (See https://bordencarletonresearchproject.wordpress.com/2021/10/01/on-the-war-memorial-trail-part-2-charlie-chois-childhood-memories-of-the-korean-war/)
Now for the conclusion to Charlie Choi’s story….
… ‘Mr. Kim and the villagers decided our fate’ ….
It’s funny how you remember the smallest details in times of great stress. Charlie recalled that it “… was drizzling and we were all getting wet. I was standing right next to my grandfather in front of the North Korean firing squad, waiting to be executed. Their purpose was to kill large landowners and their families and then take over their assets. The Captain asked my grandfather if there was anything that he wanted to say before the execution. My grandfather saw Mr. Kim standing behind the Captain.…”
Charlie explained that “…Mr. Kim’s family had been long time farm caretakers on my grandfather’s farm. Mr. Kim was the supervisor of all the farm caretakers and was a very knowledgeable man in many aspects of this region. He was hired by the North Korean Army as an informer/advisor and he joined the Communist party…”
The story continued. “… ‘Yes, Captain’ my grandfather replied. ‘I would like to have a few minutes with your Mr. Kim who is standing behind you.’ The Captain told Mr. Kim to hear what my grandfather wanted to say….
…My grandfather said to Mr. Kim ‘we took care of you and your family for many years. You know that we shared our crops with the village people. Ask the Captain to have us go through a ‘village trial’. Let the people decide if we should be executed.’ Mr. Kim conveyed my grandfather’s wish to the Captain and he agreed. The Captain ordered his soldiers to gather all the villagers in the front yard outside the farm gate house. About 200 people gathered.
The Captain announced the purpose of the gathering and gave the people 3 choices:
- Execute all the family members on their list (total 21) and divide their entire assets among the village people.
- Let them live and keep this farm house only, dividing their other assets among the village people.
- Leave them alone…”
I was surprised that the tribunal was allowed and that the villagers were allowed to decide the fate of the Chois. Charlie continued. “…They all clapped very loudly as the Captain was announcing the third option. We were saved, thanks to Mr. Kim and the people of the village. The North Korean soldiers withdrew completely from the farm right away. However, the Captain returned several hours later with 4 empty trucks and asked my grandfather for rice, wheat, corn, soap and some cash…..etc. …”
… ‘Mother no longer felt safe at the farm’ ….
The family was spared but who knew how long before something else happened? “…My mother no longer felt safe at the farm since the North Korean Army was further into the south. She wanted everyone to flee the area further into the south. My grandparents wanted to stay put on their farm. My mother decided to move us to Daejun City, just south of the farm. It did not quite work out there either and we finally moved to Daegu City, the temporary location of the Central Government Center. We were able to rent a small four room shack just across the street from the UN Military Headquarters in Daegu City….”
Throughout their journey, Charlie’s father was missing, his whereabouts unknown. “… We still did not have any information about my father. He had told my mother to go to my grandfather’s farm when he fled our house in Seoul. He probably was searching for us and wondering what happened to us. My mother finally got a break through the UN headquarters in Daegu City. They conveyed our relevant information to the Korean military headquarters. It took some time but somehow it got to my father….”
… ‘My father is found’ ….
Charlie’s father found them. “…One cold afternoon (probably early spring of 1951) a jeep with a trailer pulled up the very small and narrow alley where our rental shack was located. A uniformed jeep driver asked me for my name and for my mother’s name, and then he went back to the jeep. My father came out of the jeep and we were finally reunited. He brought a trailer full of food items like K-rations, canned spam, canned beans, and Vienna sausage….etc. I still love these foods to this day….”
At last the family found out what had happened to Charlie’s father. “… When my father fled our home in June 1950 he joined a team of government officials to be trained in an accelerated program by the US Air Force to become Korean Air Force Officers.….”
… What goes around comes around ….
Charlie’s family was spared, but his story had another chapter after South Korea was recaptured by Allied Forces. “…Our Mr. Kim was one of the informers to be prosecuted. Needless to say, my family came to his aid because of what he did to save the 21 members of my family at my grandfather’s farm in August 1950. He was saved and continued to work for my grandfather and later for my father. He had a long and good life. This story of Mr. Kim always reminds me of my grandfather’s favorite saying ‘What goes around comes around’. My grandfather always told us: be creditable, share your fortune, and always be fair. I still miss him greatly….”
… Traumatic childhood experiences stay forever in the mind ….
Charlie’s childhood experience was seared into his memory, and even at his very young age. Susan explained that “…Charlie has experienced triggers which produce stress/anxiety since the war. The sound of low flying planes and even the hum of lawn mowers and sometimes other similar noises could produce the feeling he had as a child of bombings and danger. He also found the sound of crying babies another trigger. It always reminded him of the bomb shelters, where, of course, the babies cried as the bombs fell. These triggers have never gone away but have only recently eased slightly as a 75 year old man….” As someone whose father lived through World War Two as a child, I know that the trauma experienced never fully goes away.
Charlie ended his account by saying that “…I will be forever grateful to the Allied forces for their help and sacrifices. As regrettable as the war and the division of Korea has been, I’m so glad that the south was aligned with the US led UN forces. The help of these nations and the wartime sacrifices made it possible to lay the foundation for the ‘Miracle of the Han River’ which led to today’s Republic of Korea (South Korea)….”
Charlie immigrated to the USA, where he became an engineer, and met his wife Susan. It was not easy for him to relive his childhood experience in wartime Korea, and we thank him for doing so.
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