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5. Great Escape

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My Story

2020. 12. 4.

At the university hospital in Seoul, they found out I had poliomyelitis. It is an infectious viral disease that affects the central nervous system and can cause temporary or permanent paralysis. In Korea, mostly, the kids under five got this disease. In the United States, the adults, housewives and working men, were infected by this disease in 1940s. In Korea, it was most common during 50-60s. Therefore, the majority of polio survivors are my age group.

 

My upper body recovered, but the lower extremities never recovered. I still have the aftermath of polio in my arm, too. My left thumb has limited mobility. 

 

While we were living in Kwan Hoon Dong, my father continued to stay in Jin Hae and Po Hang. My grandmother carried me on her back to Seoul train station and saw him off. I used to get scared and cry when the huge dark monster train blew the horn and spit the white smoke. 

 

After my father’s visit to his home town, North Korean army came back. His speech, the North started the war and soon the South would defeat the communist, caused troubles for the family. His family was known as anti-communist. To ease the tension and save the family, my uncle, the second son, joined the North Korean Army. He was sent to the front. They watched him closely. They knew his older brother was an officer for the UN coalition force.

 

There was a rumor that the war would end soon. There were other rumors, once the war was over, there would be a major purge to sweep anti-communists. After the war, my father’s family was removed from home town and sent to the miner’s town. My uncles were forced to work in the mines and no one from the family ever allowed to join the communist party. 

 

Uncle’s unit was facing Korean army in the front. One day, he decided to escape and took off. After running away for a half day, he got lost and caught.

 

They suspected he deserted his post. They were trying to reach the headquarters, but the phone lines were down. He was taken to a tent and a soldier with a gun stayed with him. After a while, the soldier started to nod. He was tired from long hours of battle and poor diet. Uncle did not want to miss this opportunity. He took the gun from the soldier and hit his head with the barrel. He ran out of the tent. Hearing the soldier’s scream, few men came out and started to follow him shooting bullets. A few minutes later, they stopped.

 

He walked for a half day and finally reached the South Korean territory and surrendered. A soldier took him to the platoon leader’s tent. The lieutenant was out and there was a tray of food at the corner. He had not eaten for a whole day. He asked the soldier for the food. The soldier told him there was no food other than the tray saved for his boss. If his boss did not want it upon his return, he could have them.

 

The lieutenant came back and said he already ate the dinner. The tray of food became his. My uncle still says that was the most delicious meal in his whole life.

 

He was sent to the prisoner camp. He asked the officials to find his brother who was an officer for UN force. The answer came back. They could not find his brother. He refreshed his memory and explained his brother’s visit to home with his men. They finally figured out his brother was in Korean Marines. After a few months, my father got the news his brother was in the prisoner camp. He came for his brother.

 

The war destroyed the market economy. But the military was overflowing with supplies. American government provided plenty of supplies including trucks and oil to Korean military. Korean military provided them to the market for money in the name of ‘Civilian Welfare Campaign.’ People tried to reach out to the high rank officers for these supplies and civilian contract work. Father made extra money from these deals. 

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