Messiah - My Testimony to
by Bo Hi Pak
Chapter Four - A Bolt Out of the Blue
We concluded our course of study in the United States in September 1952 and returned to Korea. The war was still raging.
On our return, we were given orders that came as a complete surprise. I was prepared to he assigned to my former unit. I wanted to quickly rejoin my surviving compatriots on the frontline and help fight the holy war to defend our country. Army headquarters, however, had other plans. All of us were appointed to he instructors at the army infantry school in Kwangju in the extreme southwest of the peninsula.
The army's decision was understandable. They were simply saying: "You have been taught the most up-to-date material in military science, so now we want you to pass this information on to your fellow officers." The Kwangju infantry school was not just turning out young officers. It was also involved in retraining veteran officers. It was the Korean version of the U.S. Army Infantry School.
We were given a week's leave before we had to report to our new assignment. I headed straight for home. As I approached the village, I came to the summit of a small hill, where I could see Mount Do-Go rising up in front of me. The tall fir tree about midway up the slope was still there, and it seemed to welcome me home. "I'm back," I told the tree in my mind. "You seem to have been waiting for me to return." The majestic fir looked just as it had when I last saw it, its beautiful green boughs towering above all the other trees around it.
I had often dreamed of the moment when I would be reunited with my parents, and the dream finally became reality. It was our first meeting since I left home in May 1950. For a time after we set eyes on each other, we couldn't even speak. There was just no stopping the flood of tears. They were tears of joy.
Father's hair had turned completely white. Mother's face had become covered with deep wrinkles, testaments to the pain she had experienced from war and backbreaking work in the fields. I could tell from her face that her health was declining. After the joy of reunion, the next emotion I experienced was an ache that seemed to rip my heart to shreds. Father and Mother had aged tremendously since I had last seen them, and there was nothing I could do to make their lives more comfortable. There was no one to stay at home and help them. My younger brother was only eleven years old.
But just having a chance to be with each other again was a tremendous blessing. I had been gone two years and five months. I had experienced both the hell of war and an almost heavenly America. My parents had been through the terror of communist occupation, where they braved many tragic situations. Because their son was an officer in the Republic of Korea army, the communist occupiers had treated them brutally. God, however, had helped them survive.
This is surely God's grace," I told myself. "The war has torn so many people's families apart. Even among the officers who were with me in America, there are some who will never experience the joy of seeing their parents again."
Once Father had regained control of his emotions, the first words he said to me were, "I still have some of that bicarbonate of soda you sent me. I've always been grateful for that." Mother's first words were, "Now that I've seen how successful you've become, there's nothing more for me to hope for. Have you been wearing your socks every day?" Apparently she still felt sorry that I had to go without socks that one winter.
"Mother," I said, "I'm a first lieutenant in the army now. Let me give you a salute."
I raised my hand and saluted Mother, just as I had promised when I left home to attend the academy. As she watched, another tear rolled down her cheek.
I showed Mother some cloth that I had bought for her in America. I wanted so much to give my parents some nice clothes.
"Mother, please use this cloth to make yourself a china chogori.' Then, let's go have our picture taken together."
"I'm always doing farm work. What would I do with such nice clothing? I'll put this away for now and wear it on a special day." She smiled as she said this. The words "special day" seemed to have some special significance. I knew instinctively that she planned to wear the clothing made from this cloth on my wedding day. I changed out of my uniform and hurried off to the fields. I was a farmer again.
The week went by before I knew it. I had to answer my country's call and leave my home and my parents behind. They told me not to worry about them. "We're not going to die." they said. "Well get by somehow, so you just do your best for our country. Your new assignment is in the rear, so you will be able to come home from time to time, won't you?" "Of course," I said. "When I get settled in Kwangju, I'll invite [you to visit.]
My parents were getting on in years. It was particularly difficult for me to leave my Mother, because she didn't look well at all. As I left my home, she stood at the gate and kept waving until I was out of sight. I didn't realize then that this would be my last time to see her alive.
At the army infantry school in Kwangju, I was assigned to the small arms department and became an instructor on the M-1 rifle. It was my responsibility to train students in the mechanics of the M-1, a rather tedious subject. I put a lot of effort into finding ways to make this subject more interesting to the students. Soon the normally dull M-1 mechanical training became one of the most popular subjects, and I came to be known as one of the more popular instructors.
All cadets. enlisted personnel, and officers were required to take this course immediately after arriving at the infantry school. This meant I was one of their first instructors and therefore had a lot to do with their first impressions of the school.
I put my whole heart into teaching each class. The four-hour training course on the mechanics of the M-1 would be over before I knew it. Some students would even say that it was the most interesting class during their entire time at the school. I was promoted to the rank of captain. I had no way of knowing, though, that being assigned to teach the M-1 would later lead to yet another major change in my life course.
Soon, it was 1953. Six months had passed since I became an instructor, and I had grown accustomed to my life in Kwangju. I was just beginning to think it was time for me to invite my parents to visit me. Then, one day I received a telegram. "Mother deceased," it said.
It was a bolt out of the blue. At first, I couldn't believe my eves. I didn't want to believe that the telegram I held in my hands was really intended for me. I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked at the address again. There was no mistake. It was addressed to "Capt. Bo Hi Pak."
"What could have happened," I thought. I felt dizzy and thought I might black out. "No. This can't be happening. This can't he true. There must be some mistake."
I hurried over to the railway station in Songjung Ri and boarded a train heading up the I Ionam line to Seoul. The first train to come along was a freight train, but I wasn't going to wait around for a passenger train. As the train moved through the station, I jumped onto a car loaded with some sort of grain and sat down on top of the load.
Tears flowed from my eyes like a river. There was no one to see me, so I didn't even try to control them. I cried aloud like a little boy. I must have sounded like a baby who hadn't even been weaned from his mother's breast.
I had a notebook with me, and I began writing a letter to Mother.
"Mother, why have you done this? Why have you closed your eyes and left me? Didn't you tell me that you would make a dress out of the cloth I bought for you in America and wear it on my wedding day? Where have you gone, without even seeing me get married?"
"I am still just a child. I can't go on living without you, Mother. I feel like the sky has fallen in on me. Mother, this has to he just a bad dream. I want to wake up from this dream."
"I can't go on living without you, Mother."
"Why do you say that you are leaving me?"
I would write a line, stop to cry, write another line, and stop to cry again. One after another, the tears kept falling onto the paper, turning the words I had written into black smudges of ink.
"Mother," I wrote, "this can't be true. Someone must be playing a trick on me. There's no way that this can be happening. Your son has been so unfilial. Now, finally, I'm just beginning to understand what I need to do. I'm just now ready to begin being a filial son to you. Mother. Oh, why have you gone away and left me just at this moment?"
To he honest, even as I approached the gate to our home, I had some small hope that the telegram would he a lie. But it wasn't just a bad dream.
Mother had been working in the courtyard the previous day, using a heavy grinder to grind some grain into flour. Suddenly, she said she felt dizzy. She let go of the grinder, stood up, and walked over to the raised patio along the side of the house. Just as she sat down, she collapsed and fell to the ground. They said she had had a stroke. I was told that, as she was about to take her last breath, she whispered: "Don't call the doctor."
These were her last words. Our family was poor, and Mother didn't want to place an additional burden on the family by having a doctor cone treat her. When I heard about this, it made me feel even sadder. She had passed away without being given so much as a single dose of medicine. What a poor son I had been to her! Mother had worked so hard that the fatigue just kept building up to the point that she finally had a stroke and died. How much she must have wanted to see her son before she died! She had been so busy that she hardly had time to rest. And now, finally, she had gone to her eternal rest.
I sat down beside Mother's body and gently placed her cold hand in mine. I looked into her face. She seemed to be in a deep and restful sleep. Her lips looked as though they would part at any moment and say the words: "Bo Hi, I'm glad you came." But the lips were silent. I placed my cheek against her lace, then lay down beside her. I held her body tightly against me and cried.
"Mother, Mother, it's Bo Hi. I'm here. Mother, please forgive me. I wasn't able to come; I wasn't a good son to you. Mother, I brought this on you. Mother, please forgive me."
Then I sat up and read the letter I had written to her while I was on the freight train. I believed that wherever she was now, she must certainly be able to hear me.
This is how I lost my mother. Up to this moment, my entire life had revolved around my mother. It was only in the context of Mother's love that life had any meaning for me. At the time of her death, she was only forty-nine years old. On the fifteenth day of the second lunar month, she left everything behind and passed into heaven.
I never imagined that the cloth I bought for her in America would become her burial shroud. I felt as though it was all my responsibility. My mother had been a great woman. She was the greatest mother in all the world. She was a model to be emulated by all other mothers. Even now, when I am far older than she was at the time of her death, I get a lump in my throat and a tear rolls down my cheek every time I think of her.
One major reason that I became a member of the Unification Church is that it gives me a way to express filial piety toward my parents. I have learned that my parents, now in the spiritual world, can receive some of the merit from my good actions on earth. Since I was not able to be a good son to my parents while they were alive, I am saved from my regret by the understanding taught by the Unification Church that I can express filial piety to my parents even after they have died.
After Mother's burial, the men in our clan held a family council before I returned to Kwangju. My uncle, who was the oldest surviving member of our clan, and my father, led the meeting. In the meeting, my uncle said: "Bo Hi, you are the oldest son of this family. Now that your mother is gone, it's up to you to attend your father. I think it would be a good idea for you to take a wife."
More than anyone else, it was my mother who had been the most eager to see me get married. Now, her death became the impetus for the clan to begin considering this matter seriously. I was unhappy with this trick of fate, but I had no objections to the course suggested by the clan elders.
I was twenty-four years old, by the Korean way of counting. This was still young for a man to be thinking seriously about marriage, and I had not met anyone who I wanted to be my future wife. It went without saying that my duty as the first son was to find a spouse so as to attend my father, who was now alone in the world.
My uncle put the question to me directly: "So, it's all right, then, for the clan to find a bride for you?"
I hesitated for just a moment, but answered: "Yes, please do whatever you think is best." With these words, I headed back to Kwangju.
It took less than two months. This time, the news came by letter. It said: "You have been engaged to marry and there has been an exchange of the four pillars of fortune."'
I thought. "What? I've been engaged?" I was very surprised, but it didn't take long for me to calm myself. After all, it was what I had been expecting. I had my own ideas about marriage. I believed that the best thing for me to do was to act according to the wishes of the clan elders. My philosophy of marriage was as follows:
I believed that for each of us there is a particular individual who has been prepared by Heaven from the time of our birth to be our spouse. Whether we meet that person through a matchmaker or some other arrangement, we are destined to he joined with this person. This is the match made in heaven and the relationship formed on earth. As a man, I must bring happiness to one particular woman. Prior to marriage, I am waiting for this one woman, whom I cherish even in my dreams, to appear before me. This is the woman whom 1leaven has chosen for rue. When I meet that woman, I will think of her as the greatest treasure of my life who has been given to me by Heaven, and I will humbly bow my head and accept her.
The future Mrs. Bo Hi Pak during her days as a student.
In my case, my uncle and father worked with the other elders of the clan to find this woman for me. I hadn't yet seen her photograph. In fact, I hadn't yet been told her name. As far as I was concerned, though, I had met the woman whom I had always been destined to meet.
Some people asked me, "How is it possible that a modern man such as you, a person who has even been to America, should approach marriage in such an old-fashioned way?"
This is how I answered such people: "How much can you tell about a person by just looking at them? I think that the best way for a person to be happy is to believe that Heaven will always make sure that you receive that which is best for you."
Young people today may find this difficult to understand. They may accuse me of being from the Stone Age. Let's look at some facts, though.
In America, men and women generally go through a considerable period of dating and meeting and making sure that a particular person is the right person before they get married. Yet, about half of their marriages end in divorce. In California, the divorce rate is 75 percent. In other words, a lot of people are choosing the wrong person to be their spouse. Why is it that so many marriages fall apart, even though men and women are putting so much time and effort into making sure that their choice is the right one?
It's because they are getting it wrong on a more fundamental level. Most people choose the spouse whom they think will bring them the most happiness. So no matter how carefully they choose their spouse, they can't help but think that somehow it must be possible to have a greater degree of happiness.
Somewhere, there must be an even better man or woman. They can never be totally content with their choice. A husband will begin to compare his wife with other women. He puts them on a scale and begins to suspect that perhaps he has gotten a bad deal.
A man's wife, however, is not subject to comparisons. She is unique in all of heaven and earth. She is a daughter of God, born for the purpose of becoming his wife, and he was born to be her husband. When the spouses live to do everything they can to bring the greatest amount of happiness to their partner, their marriage will be filled with gratitude and contentment.
The relationship on earth permitted to me by Heaven was with Miss Ki Sook Yoon, a young woman who had been raised with care by the Papyung Yoon clan of the Yum-Ti District in Ah-San County.
The woman who was to be my wife had been chosen, but I still knew nothing about her except for the three characters that made up her name. This is a really exciting way to live! There is drama in my life!
I sat down and wrote a letter to my future wife. I praised her and thanked her for her courage in accepting the engagement even though she had not met the man who was to he her husband. I then promised that I would demonstrate a level of faith at least as strong as hers. I told her that she was the eternal mate with whom God in heaven had blessed me, so I would make it my life purpose to bring her happiness. Finally. I told her I hoped we could meet in the near future and that we could begin to develop a deep love for each other even before our marriage.
Frankly, it wasn't easy having a fiancée without being able to close my eyes and envision her face. I told my commanding officer about my engagement and received a few days leave. With a very nervous heart, I then headed for the home of my future wife, that is, the home of Mr. Chang Hee Yoon in Yum-Ti. However, I hadn't let them know I was coming.
My future father-in-law greeted me very cordially in the main sitting room. I was immediately impressed with his warmth and intelligence. It was clear that he was a well-cultured man.
"I would like to thank you," I began, for allowing someone so insufficient as myself to take your daughter's hand in marriage. The engagement has already been finalized, so I think it would be good for the two of us to meet today in order to begin the process of getting to know each other and of building a level of trust between ourselves before the actual marriage. I humbly ask your permission for this."
I expected that I would immediately he taken to a more private room further back in the house. Instead. I was asked to wait. After a while, lunch was brought into the room where I was waiting, and I ate alone. I was beginning to worry that I might not be able to meet my fiancée that day.
"Could it he that they're angry at me for having come here without any warning? My motives are really pure, but could it he that they don't know this?" All sorts of thoughts were going through my mind as I waited alone.
Soon, though I discovered that I didn't have anything to worry about. From their standpoint, I was a very important guest who had come without giving them a chance to prepare. Before they could receive me, they needed to make certain that the house was completely clean and neat. So, they were quite busy during the time I was waiting.
Bo Hi Pak and Ki Sook Yoon in their first photo together on the day they met, sitting outside her home in the village of Yum-Ti.
I think I must have waited at least two hours. Finally, someone came and showed me into another room. There, I saw for the first time the beautiful princess whom I had longed so much to meet. She wore a bright-colored traditional Korean dress, and she greeted me with a smile.
I hadn't thought of what I would say at this moment, and I. was at a loss for words. "Please, sit down," I finally said. At first, it was a little awkward. I have no recollection of what I said. In fact, it was a situation where words were all but superfluous. It was enough just to be able to look at each other. My beloved woman barely spoke a word that day. When I gazed into her face, she blushed and lowered her head slightly.
I couldn't stay long. I had to give at least some consideration to propriety.
"I will leave now," I told her. Now that we have finally met, I will write letters to you often. I hope you will respond to my letters as quickly as you can."
As I was about to stand up to leave, my beloved gave me something wrapped carefully in a handkerchief that had the word "happiness" embroidered on it. "I wrote you a letter," she said. She held the handkerchief out to me with the daintiest and most beautiful hands I had ever seen.
The author and his bride are wed in a Christian ceremony in the auditorium of his wife's alma mater
"I brought a camera," I said. "Let's take a picture in the back yard. That way, we will he able to remember each other's face."
We went into the back yard and took several photographs with the camera I had bought in the United States. I kept those photos safely in my wallet until our wedding day.
I sincerely thanked my future father-in-law and left. My beloved did not follow me out to the gate. This made me feel a little hit sad; I would have liked to see her once more before I left. I began walking down the road toward Onyang. She later told me that immediately after I left she ran as fast as she could to a room with a window where she could watch me walk away. She said she kept looking out the window until I disappeared from view.
I had found my ideal spouse. Actually, I had been given her by Heaven. Her eyes were as clear as fresh-fallen powder snow. Her countenance exhibited a purity that knew nothing of the problems of the world. Her skin reminded me of a lovely white moon flower blossom. She was a twenty-one year-old maiden who had been raised by a strict father and taught to become a virtuous wife and wise mother.
After returning to Kwangju, I began writing her once a week. She wrote me several times as well. Words cannot express how eagerly I would wait for her letters to arrive. We went on like this for the next several months.
November 29, 1953. We were joined in marriage in a ceremony held in the auditorium of her alma mater in Onyang. Rev. Shin Myung Bang of the Kwangju Christian Church presided over the ceremony. The two of us had insisted on having a Christian-style wedding. The only variations were that a large Korean flag was hung on a wall at the front of the room and I wore my military uniform. My country and my position as a soldier were two things that were so much a part of me as to be inseparable. This fact was clearly reflected in our wedding arrangements.
"If only Mother could have lived to see this day!" This was my only regret.
I couldn't stop the tears from welling into my eyes. I doubt that any of the guests could understand why the groom kept wiping the tears from his eyes throughout the ceremony.
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