I was born in Hamheung, in the north east corner of what is now North Korea. In 1943 our family left Korea in opposition to the Japanese occupation, and moved to Shanghai, China.
My earliest connection with war was – mercifully -- not about bombs, guns, or soldiers wounded and dying in battle. It was about the day a large group of men and women crowded into our home, arms raised and shouting “mansei!!” at the top of their lungs. Tears of joy streamed down their faces as they danced and jumped about, hugging friends and strangers alike. I was five years old, and I felt the excitement.
That day was when Japan surrendered, finally bringing World War II to an end -- of exhaustion, dehumanization, and devastation. To the people who came to our house that day it meant even more. Korea was finally liberated – free from a generation of brutal colonization, suppression, and exploitation. Of course, I could not comprehend any of this at the time, only that something very important had happened.
The events following that exciting day are etched in my memory. My father scoured the Chinese countryside searching for the young men and boys conscripted by the Japanese military to work in their war camps, who were then hastily abandoned as they hastily retreated in defeat. My mother instantly composed “haebang eh noreh” (Song of Liberation) which became famous among Koreans everywhere. Then she helped feed, bathe, and de-louse these starving boys. Friends came over to sew small Korean flags. My father went on “Voice of America” to announce to the families back home each boy’s age, hometown, and the names of his parents who, until that moment, had no idea that their son was alive. Then one glorious day, all the boys boarded a big steamship bound for home, each one clutching a small Korean flag. The people seeing them off were sad, but also very happy as they imagined the incredible joy of the families in Korea welcoming home their precious, long-lost sons.
That was 75 years ago. Much has happened since then. Korea went on to suffer the horrors of another war that killed over 4 million people, tore families apart, scorched the entire peninsula and left it divided, with no peace in sight. Today, 70 years later, hostilities still continue as the war never ended. We must end this war, declare peace, and find the path to reconciliation and unity.
I have lived abroad most of my life, but peace in my homeland is a goal I will pursue until I run out of breath. I work for peace in Korea, because this is very personal to me.