Messiah - My Testimony to
by Bo Hi Pak
Chapter Two - The Korean War
It was around the 27th of May in 1950. I stood at the Sun-Jang railway station near my home village. The station had been decorated with scores of our national flag, the Taeguk-ki. Just about everyone who lived in that area had come out for my official send-off to the military academy.
In the past, our Japanese rulers had often ordered everyone to go to the train station to help celebrate the departure of young soldiers going to war. These were Korean men who had been forcibly recruited into the Japanese armed forces. I remember being given a Rising Sun flag, the flag of our oppressor, and told to wave it. Among the many men I helped send off like this, I don't think a single one ever returned.
This time, the situation was very different. I was the one being sent off, surrounded by Taeguk-ki flags, to become a protector of the fatherland that we had only recently been able to reestablish. This time, the authorities didn't have to issue any orders to bring the people to the Sun-fang station. In addition to the children from Do-San Branch School, the entire student body of Do-Go Elementary School was there to see one of their teachers. From my standpoint, I was merely fulfilling nay duty to my fatherland. For them, though, it was a matter of tremendous pride that someone from their home-town had been accepted to the military academy, and they wanted to express their confidence in my success.
I was particularly inspired to see the students. Several hundred of them were gathered that day, and they were all overjoyed to think that one of their own teachers was going off to become an officer and to do important work for the country. It made me realize that I bore a very important responsibility to live up to the expectations of these children. It touched my heart deeply when some of them carne to me sobbing and said, "I want to see you again. Who is going to carry its across the stream when it's flooding?'
It was a glorious send-off for me. Sun-tang station was located near the seat of Do-Go Township, and the whole neighborhood was enveloped in a festive spirit.
As I left my home that morning, I had taken Mother's hand and asked her to take care of her health.
"Please, Mother, you have to stay healthy at least until I can come back as an officer. Of course, I'll be hack even before that if I can get some time off. You have to pray for me at the jang-kwang, but please don't pray all night. Get plenty of sleep."
Mother replied, "All right, Bo Hi. I don't want you to worry at all about home. I'll take care of the pigs, too, so don't worry. I always knew your life would take this kind of course. You weren't born to spend your whole life as a farmer. I want you to do great things for your country. That's been the reason for all my prayers at the jang-kwang. 'Today is a very happy day for me. Whenever I think of you at the academy, it will give me strength.
"Oh, and by the way," she said. "While you're at the academy, I want you to wear socks. Don't forget to wear your socks. Do you understand me?"
Her final words for me were that I should wear socks.
"Yes, Mother," I said. "I'm sure the government will give me socks that have been made by machine, so I will he sure to wear them. I want to return home as soon as possible and show you how I look in uniform. Me next time I come, I won't greet you with a bow. Instead, I will give you a salute. Something like this." I stood straight and gave her a smart military salute. Mother looked very pleased.
As the train pulled in to the station, the whole crowd broke into a rousing chorus of the national anthem. Their voices seemed loud enough to echo throughout heaven and earth. I stepped up on to the boarding ramp in the rear of the train. Someone came up to me and put a sash around me with the words, "Entering Korean Military Academy."
The train sounded its whistle and began to move. The children shouted, "Hooray for our teacher! Hooray for Teacher Bo Hi Pak." It was a very emotional farewell. We kept waving to each other until we were out of sight. At that moment, I made a firm decision in my own heart, I would not return to my hometown until I had gained some honorable success.
That day, I passed through Seoul and arrived at the Korean Military Academy in Taeneung. There, I immediately faced a new crisis. I had to take another aptitude test. My heart began to pound. Just the thought of taking a test made me tremble with anxiety. My first thoughts were of the faces of the children who had seen me off at Sun-tang station.
"If they're going to give aptitude tests, then its certain that English will he one of the subjects. What am I going to do? If it turns out that I fail the aptitude test and can't enter the academy, there's no way that I'll he able to go back home. I won't have any choice except to jump into the Han River and die."
I was seriously concerned. I thought of the way that the large crowd of people had sent me off at the station, and I knew that I could not possibly return to them without having accomplished anything. Fortunately, the aptitude test turned out to be not for the purpose of deciding who would qualify for the academy but simply for checking our aptitudes in different areas.
After the test, the entering class began preparations for the matriculation ceremony. We were issued dress uniforms, fatigues, boots, and socks. I wanted very much to take those socks home and show them to Mother.
"Don't worry, Mother," I said to myself, "I'll be wearing these wonderful socks."
Next it was time to get our hair cut. We were told that this was to symbolize our entry into a completely new life, similar to someone entering a Buddhist monastery to be trained as a monk. All 330 members of the entering class had their hair cut off. We felt like children again, both in body and in spirit.
The matriculation ceremony was held June 1, 1950. We were all dressed in our Korean Military Academy dress uniforms. I felt so proud to wear the academy insignia on my shoulder! The singing of the national anthem was followed by an address by Gen. Hong Il Kim. Then, we all raised our right hands and pledged to become fortresses for our country and to dedicate ourselves to the defense of our homeland. It was a very solemn ceremony. I doubt, though, that any of us realized that the day was just around the corner when we would actually have to carry out our pledge.
Our fates were suddenly changed just twenty-five days later, with the outbreak of the Korean War.
Thrown Into War
June 25, 1950, was a Sunday. This was the day that the great tragedy of the Korean War engulfed our country. Twenty-five days had passed after my entry into the academy, and I was becoming accustomed to my new life. Things were just beginning to go well for me. The members of our class had not yet been allowed any passes to leave the campus. We all wanted to show off our Korean Military Academy uniforms in downtown Seoul, but our superiors were adamant about not letting us leave the campus. "There will he no passes for you until you begin to look like real soldiers!" they would tell us.
So on Sundays, we never expected to go anywhere. We would spend the time in the barracks, washing our clothes and catching up on our studies. We thought that June 25 would he just like any other Sunday.
That morning, though, an Emergency Preparation Order was issued, and cadets one year our seniors were also forbidden to leave the campus. As the hours passed without any further word, we began to think that this must be some sort of training exercise. Then suddenly, the order came: "Dress in full battle gear and assemble on the parade ground."
We quickly changed into our battle fatigues. Wearing steel helmets with the academy insignia, we ran out to the parade ground carrying the M-1 rifles we had been issued.
There, we witnessed a strange sight. Cases of ammunition for the M-1s were being unloaded from several trucks. We were ordered to take as much ammunition as we could carry on our shoulders and around our waists. This was unusual, indeed. Until then we had only been allowed to fire a total of eight rounds of ammunition each at the firing range. Some of us had tried to get just one more bullet, but the officers were very strict about the handling of ammunition. Yet, now we were being told to take as many as we could carry.
"Hey," someone said. "I guess they've decided to let us fire these things as much as we want." We were all in a jovial mood as we loaded ourselves with so much ammunition that we could barely walk. We all felt as though we were going on a field trip.
The entire cadet corps then boarded several dozen trucks, and the trucks began to move out. No one knew where we were going.
It was about 4:30 in the afternoon. The summer sun was beginning to set in the west, but its rays were still strong. In the truck, we were all in high spirits. One cadet was humming a song. The convoy of trucks kept to a northward course.
About seven o'clock, we ran into a rain shower. Everyone got soaking wet, and the ammunition we were carrying suddenly felt a lot heavier. Evening was coming on, and the June breeze seemed chilly. It was then that I saw what made me realize that something serious was taking place.
As I looked out in the direction the truck was going, I could see long lines of civilians trudging toward us down the road. They were all headed south. They were being pushed to either side of the road as the truck convoy made its way north. Everything was out of the ordinary. The tired-looking people were carrying large bundles on their heads. Many of the men had A-frames strapped to their hacks that were loaded with household furniture and other goods. Some men were using the A-frames to carry old women who were too weak to walk. Many women were carrying small children on their hacks and leading older children by the hand. One family I saw had all managed to climb on the back of a cow. This peculiar column of people continued on and on, far into the darkness.
"They're refugees," I thought to myself. "Something terrible must have happened." The atmosphere in the truck suddenly became tense. My heart began to pound. I think all of us were having the same thought, some sort of incident had occurred. It had to he something major.
As we passed the refugees, many of them turned and looked up at its as if to beg us to help them. They would bow imploringly, put their hands together as if in prayer, and then wave good-bye. I felt goose humps all over me. No one was under any illusion now that this was some kind of field trip.
My fellow cadets were probably thinking as I was: "Something's happened. This is certainly no field trip. \We've been mobilized to perform a mission. All right! Whatever that mission is, we'd better perform like members of the cadet corps."
We had only traveled a little farther north when we began to hear artillery fire, then machine gun fire.
"It's war! The Northern Puppets' must have begun a southward invasion. Our country is in danger!"
We all tightened the chinstraps on our steel helmets and gritted our teeth. Soon, the truck stopped and we were ordered to get off. We were given orders according to companies and squads on where to place ourselves. My squad was ordered to go to the top of a grassy hill. There, the squad leader, a senior cadet, assigned each of us to a particular spot and ordered us to dig foxholes.
We started digging as fast as we could. For the first time in our lives, we were hearing the sound of artillery, percussion bombs, and machine guns. Time and again, flares would burst overhead, making the night as bright as day. Soon everyone was hunched up in his foxhole.
That was how the war began for us. Just twenty-five days after entering the Korean Military Academy, we became soldiers fighting on the frontline of battle.
A Helmet Flying Through the Air
I spent the first night of the war in a foxhole I had dug myself. It goes without saying that I didn't get even a wink of sleep.
The next day, the academy corps was ordered to attack and take an enemy stronghold located directly in front of us. Looking back now, this was a ridiculous order. The North Korean People's Army (NKPA) was pouring down across the 38th Parallel with enough force to not only take Seoul but push all the way to Pusan on the southern end of the Korean peninsula. Yet our cadets were given an order to take an enemy stronghold without the benefit of a single piece of artillery or even a machine gun, much less the knowledge of how to use them. The only experience that we 330 members of the entering class had with guns was that we had been allowed to fire our M-1 rifles exactly eight times each on the firing range. And, of course, we had no reserve units, no communication devices, and no means to be re-supplied.
Yet, our order was to take the enemy stronghold. I suppose some might call this a brave effort, but it was foolhardy. It was like trying to break a stone by throwing eggs at it.
Our morale was high, though. We were cadets in the Korean Military Academy and we were wearing the proud insignia of the academy. We thought of ourselves as the best of the best who had been chosen from all around the country. And besides, when we saw the refugees the day before we had pledged to put our lives on the line to force the enemy to retreat. We were all twenty years old, very young. No one had a wife or children. Who could be better suited for the job to take the enemy stronghold?
The attack began. We jumped out of our foxholes and started running toward the hill in front of us. The NKPA saw us coming and began to hit us with concentrated artillery fire. The sound of small arms and artillery fire filled the air. I could hear bullets whizzing past me. I knew that if one were to hit me, it would be all over.
I did my best not to think about anything except running forward. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to the top of that hill. I just kept going forward. About halfway up the hill, enemy fire became so severe that we had to get down on our stomachs and crawl. The bullets were falling like rain in a summer afternoon rainstorm. We were pinned down. Anyone who tried to lift his head and get up and run immediately let out a dreadful yell and fell dead to the ground.
I looked up and saw an old burial mound in front of me. If I could get to the mound, I could use it as cover against the bullets. Already, though, my squad leader and three of my companions were crouched behind the mound. Still, it seemed like my best chance to stay alive, so I began crawling with all my strength up the slope toward the mound.
When the squad leader saw what I was doing, he started motioning with his hand. He was giving me the order: "Don't come here" He was telling me the place was full and there was no space for me. I stopped crawling. It was a life-or-death situation, and I resented the leader for telling me to stay back.
"How could he do such a thing?" I asked myself.
Just at that moment there was a sound like lightning striking the ground, and the whole area was covered in smoke and flying dirt. The pressure of the explosion was so strong that I thought it would break my eardrums.
"What's happening?" I thought.
When the smoke had cleared, I lifted my head and looked around.
"Wow! What's this?"
A mortar shell had exploded right on the burial mound where the four men were taking cover. When the smoke cleared, my four compatriots were nowhere to he seen.
"Oh, no. They took a direct hit!"
Just five seconds before. I had been trying to get to where they were. Had I succeeded, I would have been blown away with them. The squad leader who told me to stay back actually saved my life.
"What a strange twist of tine. It must he the benefit of Mother's jang-kwang prayers." I thought. I cried out "'Mother!"
Just then, I heard something hit the earth with a thud right next to me. It was a battle helmet. It had belonged to one of the men at the burial mound, and the explosion had blown it high into the sky. There was no sign of the soldier who had been wearing it.
This was just the first of several instances during the war when my life was miraculously saved.
Unprepared and under-armed, we had no chance against the enemy, and soon we were ordered to fall back. Retreating, however, was about as difficult as attacking. Somehow, I made my way through the raining bullets, running through rice paddies that were filled with water after the spring planting. Finally, I made it back to the spot where we were to regroup.
This time, we were ordered to dig trenches and prepare to hold our positions against the onrushing communist army. Someone suggested that we go to Mount Bullam, near the academy campus, and defend the academy itself. There was no time for that, though. We didn't know if we could stay alive for another day or even another hour.
One thing was clear, there would no more retreating. We had to defend our fatherland even at the cost of our lives. That was the thinking of this group of idealistic cadets.
No one said so in as many words, but we all made a common pledge to defend the ground where we stood, on the honor of the Korean Military Academy.
"Seoul Has Fallen"
Morning broke on a new day, June 27. It was eerily quiet. The sky was clear. There wasn't a single cloud.
We couldn't understand. Why hadn't the enemy appeared before us? We were overcome with fatigue and also hungry. Everyone lay exhausted in the trenches. Some of the men took off their shirts that had been soaked in muddy water and tried to dry them off. The 27th passed without incident. So did the 28th.
We were bewildered. "Did the war end?" "Why is it so quiet?" No one had any answers. Finally, our questions were answered on the morning of the 29th.
We received a wireless message from army headquarters. It said: "Seoul has fallen. Each soldier in the academy corps is to make his way to Suwon as best he can. There, the corps will regroup. Army headquarters, Siheung."
Our capital city was already in enemy hands! As we later learned, the NKPA had used tanks to spearhead an offensive across the Imjin River. They marched down the western corridor through the village of Munsan and captured Seoul with lightning speed. They had no need to stage an attack in the central corridor near Pochun, where we were positioned. This meant we were already deep behind enemy lines. We had been waiting for the enemy to attack us, but they had already passed us by. Now we had to make our own way back through enemy lines and down to Suwon.
"Will our country be able to survive? Oh, Heaven. Please don't forsake our country." There was nothing to do but to place the fate of the fatherland in Heaven's hands.
The soldiers of the academy corps decided to make our way to Suwon squad by squad. We didn't even know our exact present location. If we just started wandering around aimlessly as a single unit, it would be just a matter of time before we were captured. To prevent this, we members of the second class would retreat by following our seniors in the first class. We had no maps and no compass.
The men whose homes were in Seoul wanted to return to the capital city. They reasoned that they knew the geography well there and could find plenty of places to hide. I was afraid to go to Seoul even in peacetime. To a country boy like me, Seoul was a strange land. A group of us decided to go around Seoul, crossing the Han River at the Kwang-naru Ferry, a point east of Seoul.
I can't remember how many days we walked. I was fortunate to join up with a very capable senior cadet. Under his leadership, we hid ourselves during the day and moved only during the night.
One evening, we came to a hill overlooking the Korean Military Academy in Taeneung. All the buildings were in flames. This campus had represented all that I had hoped for, and I had been so proud to finally set foot there. Now it was being devastated by war right before my eyes. We had set out from there just a few days ago. My neatly ironed dress uniform and cap were going up in flames before I had a chance to wear them even once outside the campus. We did not enter the campus.
Eventually we reached the Kwang-naru Ferry. All the boats were on the far shore. The refugees had taken every available boat to cross to the southern shore and abandoned them there. No one was coming back across to the near shore, which was under NKPA occupation. We managed to cross the river by hanging on to a couple of logs. Somehow, we escaped enemy territory and arrived on the southern shore of the Han River.
Those who had elected to enter Seoul were not so fortunate. I learned later that they were all captured by the NKPA. Academy cadets were particularly conspicuous, so the North Koreans made examples of them, standing them up in front of the Central Executive Building downtown and executing them in public during broad daylight.
We members of the academy's second class faced another tragedy, which was caused by the fact that our hair had been cut very short at the end of May in preparation for the matriculation ceremony. As my compatriots moved during the night, they sometimes came across fellow ROK army soldiers who had not yet retreated. When soldiers came across each other on the battlefield, they would each shout out, "I am ROK army." The cruel truth of war is that neither can believe the other without some kind of verification. It was generally believed at the time that the simplest way to verify which side a soldier was on was to knock off his helmet and check the length of his hair. ROK soldiers generally did not cut their hair to the scalp, so if the hair was at a normal length, then the soldier could he trusted. If the hair was extremely short, then it was assumed he was an NKPA soldier.
Unfortunately, all the incoming cadets had had their hair cut down to the scalp. When a soldier from another unit took the helmet off one of my classmates and saw the short hair. he would almost always stick the muzzle of his rifle into the cadet's stomach and pull the trigger. This is how some of my classmates died.
Fewer than a hundred cadets managed to arrive at the designated assembly point in Suwon. Many had been wounded. To think of all those young people who had raised their hands before Gen. Hong Il Kim to offer their pledge as soldiers! In just a few days of battle, we had experienced hell.
Only a month ago, we had stood on the parade ground in Taeneung, our hearts filled with youthful ambition and determination. Already, though, more than a hundred of my fellow soldiers had died in battle and about the same number were missing in action. They had been such innocent and virtuous youth.
This ended the short life of the second class of the Korean Military Academy. We came to he called the "Suffering Second Class," and today on the campus of the Korean Military Academy in Taeneung there stands a tower that was built to memorialize the souls of the members of the second class who died in the war. Our graduation from the academy was postponed for forty-six years.
On May 4, 1996, as part of ceremonies to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the academy, members of our class were awarded honorary diplomas. Surviving members of the class dressed up and assembled on the academy parade ground once again. They reviewed a column of their juniors who were then currently enrolled. The Suffering Second Class finally graduated almost two generations after we were first matriculated. My oldest son, Jun Sun Pak, represented me at the honorary graduation ceremony and received my diploma.
My prayer for my compatriots who died in battle is that they will have eternal peace. I would like them to know their sacrifice was not in vain. By awarding honorary diplomas, our country officially recognized their merit. I will always regret that these young men had to fall like flowers that are nipped in the bud before they have a chance to show their beautiful colors.
A School for "Expendables"
You can't carry out a war without officers. When the war struck, Korea had a desperate need for officers, and they had to be trained in a relatively short time. The army comprehensive training school (Korean Military Combined School) was created to fulfill this function. The officers who graduated from that school were the most crucial players of the Korean War.
The campus of the Dong-Nae Girls Middle School in Pusan, where young Korean girls had so recently studied and played and planned for the future, was appropriated. The school was established in August 1950 and produced some seven thousand officers in forty-six graduating classes. All graduates were immediately assigned to frontline units as platoon leaders. Platoon leaders were better known as "expendables." Of these seven thousand graduates, more than two thousand died in battle, and some four thousand were wounded. They offered their bodies to stop the bullets that threatened their country.
Most of these men were young and idealistic students when war broke out, hut they threw aside their studies to answer their country's call in a time of crisis. Others were professors or businessmen. There were cases where professors and their students became classmates in the training school received their commissions together, and fought side by side. A good example is Dr. Ki Taek Kim. who was a professor at Youngnam University at the outbreak of the war. He felt such righteous anger at the thought of the North Koreans invading our country, that he joined his students for eight weeks of training at the army comprehensive training school and was commissioned as an officer. He, too. became a platoon leader on the frontline. He knows, as I do, many fellow soldiers who were burning with patriotism and a sense of righteous duty as they went charging to their deaths on the battlefield. Dr. Kim survived the war to become president of Youngnam University.
After assembling in Suwon, the cadets who had survived the first few days of the war received orders from Army Chief of Staff Byung Duk Choi to move down the peninsula to Dong-Nae. Cadets who had previously served as noncommissioned officers or had any other military experience were assigned to the first class, and those, such as myself, who
had little or no experience, were assigned to the second. The day was August 26. 1950. Both classes were given eight weeks of training, with our class graduating just one week after the first. At graduation, we received our commissions. Somehow. I was chosen to speak at the graduation ceremony for our class on October 21. The ceremony, and especially my address, was dedicated to our fellow academy cadets who had already fallen in battle. In my address, I said in part:
"Today, we are not the 330 men who entered the academy in Taeneung. Instead we are barely more than a hundred. We will never forget you. NW will fight two and three times harder than anyone else. We will win your victories as well as our own in hope that by doing so your resentment that is soaked in the blood of battle might be alleviated. Comrades. we pray that you may rest in peace. Even though you have passed out of this world, we pray that you will continue to help us defend our fatherland."
I wept uncontrollably as I read these words. By the time I finished. my classmates and even Gen. Hong Il Kim, who was serving as commander of the training school at the time, were wiping tears from their eyes.
The author as a first lieutenant during the Korean War
I was assigned to the Twenty-eighth Regiment, Ninth Division, which later became famous as the "White Horse Division." As soon as the graduation ceremony ended, I got into the back of a truck and traveled through the night to Seoul, where the Twenty-eighth Regiment had been formed.
I was now reentering the war with a military identification number (204725) and was an officer of the ROK army holding the rank of second lieutenant. Many of my fellow cadets had already sacrificed their lives for our country without having received any rank or ID number.
Bloody Spring Offensive
The Twenty-eighth Regiment, Ninth Division, was formed in Seoul and then assigned to the eastern front, in Kangwon Province. The highly mechanized U.S. forces were deployed on the western front, where they could take better advantage of their mobility. The ROK army was assigned to the much more mountainous terrain of the eastern front.
For the first time in history, the United Nations brought together sixteen nations to form a single military force. Under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the U.N. Forces established their final line of defense at the Pusan Perimeter and succeeded in stopping the enemy. After a period of gains and losses on both sides, General MacArthur succeeded in staging a landing at Inchon on September 15, 1950. Such an operation was thought to be strategically impossible, and it was only MacArthur's military genius that made it succeed.
The U.N. Forces retook Seoul and continued to push northward, until finally they reached the Yalu River, which forms the northernmost border of Korea with China. Some ROK army soldiers dipped a pail of water from that important river and took it to President Syngman Rhee. It seemed the reunification of our homeland was just around the corner. Unexpectedly, though, soldiers of the Chinese People's Volunteer Force (so-called, even though in truth they were regular forces) began to pour across the Yalu River on October 25, 1950.
On December 5, the Chinese army captured Pyongyang. The U.N. Forces were forced to retreat again, and on January 4, 1951, we suffered the tragedy of Seoul falling into enemy hands a second time. U.N. and ROK forces continued to fight bravely and finally stood their ground. Seoul was recaptured, and the NKPA was pushed hack up to a line approximating the 38th Parallel. There, the two sides fell into a stalemate. This line continues to exist today as the Military Demarcation Line between North and South Korea.
In May 1951, the Chinese army staged a full-scale attack in an attempt to break the stalemate. The attack is known to history as the "Communist Chinese Army's Great Spring Offensive." At the time the Ninth Infantry Division was assigned to the eastern front, and our Twenty-eighth Regiment was deployed in the most central area of the forward line. Our regiment commander was Col. Chang Jung Lee and Col. Park Chung Hee (who later became president of Korea) was chief of staff of the Ninth Division.
I began as a platoon leader. I quickly found out why platoon leaders were known as "expendables." It was almost a daily occurrence that a person assigned to be a platoon leader on one day would be killed in battle the next and his dead body would come rolling back down the hill.
I was able to last long enough to receive an assignment as regimental tactical officer. This was an opportunity to work closely with the commander at regimental headquarters. Specifically, I was assigned to he company commander of the regiment's noncommissioned officer training company. It was my responsibility to provide training to noncommissioned officers in the regiment and send them out to the front.
The winter of 1951 was cold and we had a lot of snow. Particularly on the eastern front, the snow was so deep that we were isolated and immobilized. The Chinese army used this as an opportunity to concentrate a large force right in front of us. That is face to face with the Third ROK Army. The enemy's plan was to break the stalemate and once again push their way down to Pusan. This time they chose to avoid the superior firepower and mobility of U.N. Forces to the west and concentrate their forces on a frontal assault against the ROK army on the eastern front. We knew nothing of this at the time and deployed only a normal defense perimeter.
The Chinese forces opened fire in May 1951. Their main assault force staged a frontal attack on our Ninth Division. They applied the military principle "break through at one point and deploy on all fronts." This means that an army finds the weakest point along the enemy's perimeter and concentrates its force on that point to break through. Once deep penetration has been achieved, then the objective is to cut off the enemy's re-supply and escape routes. The Chinese applied this principle with their "human wave strategy."
The Chinese succeeded in breaking through with their frontal assault on the Third ROK Army. The pivotal battle was the famous Battle of Hyun Ri. The communist Chinese army circled to our rear and cut off the Third Army's main supply route leading to Hyun Ri Pass. The Third Army was ordered to retreat, but this large unit was already in a hammerlock and couldn't break loose. The Third Army's supply trucks, filled with our ammunition, weapons, and food supplies, became caught up in a single line that stretched tens of miles on the road from Hyun Ri to Injae. The infantry attempted to break through at Hyun Ri Pass along with the supplies. The Chinese, however, began to attack with everything they had. Far from breaking through, we found ourselves on the defensive. Our forces were hopelessly trapped.
It was a very dark night. There was no way to move both the infantry units and the supplies together. Soon, the situation became desperate and orders were given for individual units to make their way through enemy lines as best they could. The problem was what to do with the supply trucks. We had no choice but to abandon them but we couldn't let them fall into enemy hands. The transportation company had to swallow their tears, cover the trucks with gasoline, and set them on fire. The flames rose high into the heavens, and other units took this as a signal to do the same with their trucks. Hundreds of trucks were set on fire and began burning at once. It was a grand and terrible sight. If this had not happened in the context of a war, people might have called it one of the world's greatest spectacles.
The night had been so dark that we couldn't see anything in the valley below us, but now the whole valley was clearly visible as though under the midday sun. The heat waves swirled around and around inside the valley. When ammunition trucks caught fire, the explosions were enormous. These were so strong that the mountains themselves seemed to tremble. From time to time, multicolored flares shot up into the night sky and exploded in a wonderful array of colors.
But this was war not the set of a Hollywood movie or some well-planned celebration. We were in the midst of a struggle to the death. The spectacle illustrated the fact that we had lost the battle. It was our military materiel that was burning. Our ammunition was burning. Our supply of rice was burning. All of our military vehicles were burning.
I began to wonder whether we would be able to win the war. Could our country withstand such conditions? My heart was in pain, and my whole body shook with fear and anxiety.
My first responsibility was to keep the men in my company alive. I had to lead them through enemy lines and to safety. That was my responsibility as company commander.
I ordered my men: "I want all of you to follow me. We're going to have to find a way to get through the enemy lines on foot. Don't stray too far from me. You see this white parka that I'm wearing? Keep this in sight at all times. All right, let's move out."
I led the way up a steep slope to our south. It wasn't just the soldiers in my company who followed me up. Several hundred, perhaps several thousand, soldiers who had become separated from their units all followed our company. It was a mob scene. None of the men had even an ounce of energy left to do battle. The only way to stay alive was to climb over the mountains and retreat. I wondered to myself how many of the men behind me would actually be able to make it alive into friendly territory.
We continued to climb through the night, and by the time the sky became light we were climbing down the southern slope. In order to reach our assembly point at Hajinbu, we needed to cross the Changchon River in the valley below. It was at this river that I was to face a new trial, one that would mark a major turning point in my life.
Miracle on a Riverbank
I led my company down to the bank of the Changchon River. Typical of rivers in this province, its waters were crystal clear. It was only about three feet deep at its deepest point, and walking across would not be a problem. Across the river to the south, there stood another tall ridge, so steep that it reminded me of a giant Oriental screen.
Soldiers in other companies were already making their way across. I, too, gave the order: "Prepare to cross the river!" This signaled the men in my company to take off their boots and uniforms, wrap them in bundles with their rifles and ammunition, and place these bundles on their heads. I would remain on the near bank to direct the crossing and would cross after seeing that all the men had crossed safely. I made a visual check of the area to confirm it was safe and gave the order: "Company, cross the river!"
Quietly, the men placed their bundles on their heads and waded into the river. All two hundred or so men in the company were in the water, but the lead soldier had not yet reached the far bank just at that moment, several machine guns opened fire on us from the cliff on the far side. The Chinese had been waiting for us at major points on our escape route, and they had chosen our most vulnerable moment to open fire.
It wasn't just one or two machine guns that were firing at us. The bullets were falling like hail. In an instant, the Changchon River was transformed into a bloodbath. My men fell dead into the water like so many stalks of rice being cut down with a knife. The water in the river quickly turned a bright red. There was no way to avoid total annihilation. It was a living hell. All my men were dying in a pandemonium of agonizing screams.
There was nothing I could do to help them.
Instinctively, I fell flat on my stomach on the near shore. I was still exposed, well within range of the Chinese guns. I knew I was going to die at any moment. There was no way to avoid it. I stretched out my arm and felt around for something that I could use to protect myself. I managed to dig a small stone out of the sand and put it by my head. But what use was that? I was dead no matter what part of my body the bullets struck. Even if I could retreat, I would just be moving farther from my objective and safety. I was still on the wrong side of the river.
The gunfire died down for a short pause and then became heavy again. For the first time in my life, I cried out: "Hananim! [God!]" My cry came from an instinctive realization that God was the only one who could let me survive this crisis. In the next moment, though, a different thought raced through my mind: "I've never believed in God. What makes me think He will help me now?"
At that moment, I made a pledge: "God! God! If you let me live, I will live the remainder of my life for you. God, I pledge this to you!" The words came to me in that instant, and I don't know if they call be called a prayer, but certainly this was the first time in my life that I made a pledge to God.
Enemy bullets were still raining down. I tried to control myself and start thinking like a commander.
"What can I do to save my company? If only I could find some way to call in some American fighter-bombers. But how am I going to do that?"
No sooner had I had this thought when a formation of four American fighter-bombers thundered down toward us out of the sky. One of the pilots appeared to get a fix on the Chinese stronghold. He climbed and circled around for a second pass. This time, he fired his rockets straight into the enemy. The whole thing took only a few seconds.
The enemy stronghold was suddenly quiet. "Now it's their turn to suffer a blow." I had to move quickly to find cover. I sat up on the bank and checked to see whether I had been hit. It often happens in the confusion of war that a person is hit but doesn't realize it. I found that I had not been wounded, so I shouted as loud as I could: "Company, retreat to where I am. Follow me. We have to take cover!"
Only three men were able to follow me. Two of them were seriously wounded and covered with blood. I supported the two soldiers on either shoulder and ran to cover behind a boulder nearby. The third man was also wounded, but not as seriously.
My company had been annihilated at Changchon River. Somehow, though, I had escaped without being wounded at all. I was the only one to survive that day without any wounds. I felt strongly that God had answered my call. Otherwise, how could I have experienced such a miracle? God sent the American fighters.
From that point, I began to live my second life. My first life ended at Changchon River. The life I live now is a gift from God. Front that time on, I began to search for the meaning behind God's allowing me to survive certain death. I did my best to live up to the pledge that I had made to dedicate my life to God. I offered prayers that were questions directed above: "God, why did you let me survive? What is it that you want me to do? I will live my life in the way that you want. Please, tell me what it is that I should do?"
The answers were a long time coming, but my spiritual life had moved to a new plane from the time I entreated an impersonal "Heaven" and the mountain spirits to protect my parents. I embarked on a spiritual quest to find out about the will of God. I tried to humbly listen for the whisper of Heaven.
Trials in Enemy Territory
The three soldiers and I hid deep in Mount Odae. Chinese soldiers were all around us. We did our best to hide ourselves during the day, and by night we traveled along the mountain ridges in a southerly direction. We were prepared to take our own lives rather than face capture.
One night we were sitting by a path catching our breath when we heard the sound of men marching nearby. Several soldiers were coming toward us. We figured the odds that these were enemy soldiers were about eight or nine chances out of ten, but we weren't certain. The night was pitch dark, and we couldn't see anything. We held our breath and waited, and soon a group of four soldiers started to pass right in front of us. I still couldn't tell if they were friend or foe. Then, I saw the outline of one of their guns against the sky.
"That muzzle is a Chinese rifle, not an M-1!"
Just when I realized this, several shots exploded next to me. Corporal Kim, who was sitting beside me, had realized that these were enemy soldiers at the same moment I did and let off several shots from his rifle. We ran off into the forest as quickly as we could.
Another time, we needed to get a drink of water, so we went into a forest that had a mountain stream running through it. As we were drinking, we looked up and saw a long column of Chinese soldiers coming up the stream in our direction. There was no time to escape, so we just froze where we were. The soldiers came within fifteen feet of us and passed by in single file. There were hundreds of them, and if even one of them were to look carefully into the forest as he passed by, we would he discovered. But Heaven directed their eyes away from us, and we were saved.
We wandered through the mountains for days, and finding food became a serious problem. The only way to survive was to eat grass or anything else that seemed safe. We ate anything that contained relatively large amounts of water and didn't taste bitter. We even chewed on pine needles.
We only moved at night, so it was difficult to know what direction we were headed. We moved along mountain ridges and used our hands to feel the trunks of large pine trees along the way. If one side of the trunk was particularly damp and had a lot of moss growing, then we would decide that this was the northern side and head in the opposite direction. Another method we tried was to look up the trunk of a pine tree and see which side had the most branches. We figured that the side that had more and larger branches was the south side because it generally received more sunlight. Neither of these methods was foolproof, and we frequently lost our sense of direction.
Mount Odae was still very chilly during that spring of 1951 when the Chinese staged their offensive. Particularly on the tops of peaks and ridges, the cold wind seemed to blow right through our bodies. We had to cross many streams, and our bodies would shake uncontrollably when wet. It wasn't just our hands and feet that were trembling. When you're really cold, your entire body begins to shake from its core. Even our lower abdomens began to shake and we were losing feeling in our hands and feet.
I knew that if we fell asleep, we would freeze to death. I decided to try and start a fire. Of course, we had no lighter or matches. The only way we could think of was to try and rub the butts of two rifles together, like people in the Stone Age. We were too weak, though, and couldn't build up enough friction to get a spark.
My three men fell sound asleep and I was ready to pass out. But if I fell asleep, too, we would all die right on that spot. I had to wake them, so I began hitting them mercilessly with the butt of my rifle.
"Get up!" I ordered them. "Get up so we can climb over this mountain. We have to get to the other side by sunup. If we fall asleep here, we will all freeze to death."
It was a death march. Our legs were so heavy that it took all our strength just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
"Lets just be thankful that we haven't been captured. Just be thankful we aren't prisoners of war." I kept saying these words to myself as we pulled ourselves up to the crest. Soon, it became light and we could see the sun rise above the horizon. I remembered how I used to watch the sun rise from the top of Mount Do-Go near my home. I missed those days. I missed my home. I missed Mother. I remembered the way she looked as she prayed at the jang-kwang.
"I wonder where Father and Mother are now? Are they all right? I wonder if Father has run out of bicarbonate of soda. Yes! l have to be strong. I have parents whom I need to serve. If I die, who will attend my parents?"
I bowed to the sun as I had in earlier days and put my hands together in prayer. The sun seemed happy to see me and seemed to say, "Where have you been? Welcome back." The sun shined its soft warm rays down on us, and we lay on the southern slope of the ridge to rest and warm up. Steam rose from our clothes as they began to dry. I could feel the warmth of the sun penetrating my body clown to the bones. Soon, we fell into a deep sleep. When we awoke several hours later, we found ourselves revived from our almost total exhaustion.
The "Fire-Field People" of Mount Odae
When night fell again, we had to move on. We had to climb down the slope and then cross over the ridge to our south before the sun rose again.
We began climbing down through dense forest. Mount Odae is one of the few places on the peninsula where it is possible to walk through forests that seem never to have been disturbed by human beings. The forest was so thick. I couldn't imagine that a human hand or foot had touched these trees during the past thousand years. There were trees that had apparently lived several hundred years before dying and falling on their own. On top of them other trees had taken root and were growing toward the sky. It was difficult to make headway through the dense underbrush. It seemed a perfect place to run into a wild animal. We were encouraged, though, by the certain knowledge that the slope was taking us farther south.
Suddenly, we began to hear something. It sounded like an animal. Could it be a tiger? Was it a bear? We quietly took cover to wait and see.
We soon realized that it wasn't an animal. It had to be a human being. From the sound of the footsteps, it was definitely someone climbing up the slope in our direction. I thought it was probably a Chinese soldier. Who else would he climbing around such a deep forest in the dark of night?
The sound of the footsteps kept drawing nearer until they were just a few steps away. I told my men to stay back and jumped out at the person like an animal pouncing on its prey. I grabbed both of his hands so he couldn't go for his weapon. The person cried out in surprise.
Now I could see that he was wearing white. He couldn't be a Chinese soldier. He was clearly a civilian. I quickly shouted to him: "We are ROK army soldiers. Don't be afraid. We are retreating from a battle. We are traveling south through enemy territory."
The person appeared frozen with surprise for a few moments and then spoke. "I thought I was being attacked by a tiger."
He took a few moments to catch his breath and then began to talk.
"Listen, you can't go down that way. Our house is a little farther down this slope, but the place is filled with Chinese soldiers now. They've taken the corn and potatoes from our fields and have made a stew to feed themselves. They have sentries all around, so if you keep going down this slope you will be captured."
"What should we do?" I asked.
"Follow me. My family is hiding in a cave not too far from here. You can stay there until the coast is clear and then move on clown the mountain."
In those days, there were still Koreans living in isolated mountainous areas who subsisted on slash-and-burn cultivation. The general population referred to them as hwa-jun-min, which loosely translates as "the fire-field people." This man's family was engaged in this type of subsistence farming. We could tell that this mountain farmer was a good man with a pure heart, and we immediately put our faith in him.
We followed the young man though the dark and soon came to the entrance to a cave. The man went inside first and we could hear him talking to his mother.
"Mother," he said, we have some guests. They are men from the national army."
Inside, the ceiling was much higher and the cave more spacious than I had expected. It was as large as several rooms combined in a normal home. The young man's mother came and greeted us.
"Well, hello! Welcome. You must he very tired. Please sit clown and rest."
She then called out to her daughter. "We have company. They're from the national army. Do we have anything to make a stew for them? They look like they're very hungry."
Our ears pricked up at the mention of food. A few moments later, a young girl appeared with a soup ladle in her hand.
"Mother, all we have is a little bit of corn," she said.
Her mother told her to go ahead and make a stew with whatever there was. "Work quickly so these men can eat," she urged her.
The daughter put a pot on the fire. We lay down on a makeshift ondol that they had made by channeling the smoke and heat from the cooking fire under a slab of rock. I watched intently as the young girl put more wood on the fire. She had covered her hair with a white cotton hand towel. The bright light of the fire highlighted the features of her face.
I couldn't help but gaze at her intently. Hers was a face that had never been covered with cosmetics. Her complexion seemed clear as glass. Her eyes were pure, and her cheeks were the color of ripe peaches. The word "pretty" couldn't do justice to her. She had a strong quality of holiness and sacredness. I became intoxicated by her appearance as if I were gazing at a sacred painting. It struck me that such beauty must he an outward expression of the unstained beauty with-in her. I felt that she embodied the purity of the mountain farmers of Changchon Province.
"If this weren't wartime, this would be the most idyllic scene," I thought. The reality, though, was that I had no way to he certain that I wouldn't be killed the next day. It suddenly struck me that these people were risking retaliation from the enemy for taking us in and feeding us. It would he terrible if any harm came to such pure-hearted people. I asked the mother:
"Is there any possibility that Chinese soldiers will find this place?"
She gave me a reassuring smile and answered. "No one is going to find this cave. No one except us. I want you soldiers to rest so that you can go back out as soon as possible to chase the communists away. I have a son, and he's also fighting in the national army."
That helped to explain why she was taking such good care of us. She was treating us just the way she would have treated her son if he had come home. She was protecting us, because that's what she longed to be able to do for her son.
"These people are giving us one more reason why we have to win this war," I thought. I was deeply moved by her kindness, and I became even more determined to fulfill my mission.
Soon, the stew was ready. The pot was black with soot and covered with dents. It almost seemed like a prehistoric artifact. The family didn't have a single grain of rice. Instead, they served us bowls of corn. The only side dish was a plate of large clumps of rock salt. It took some time just to break the clumps apart with our teeth. To me, though, it was the most delicious meal I had ever eaten. I remember thinking that I probably would never enjoy any meal as much as I did the meal that day in the cave, no matter how long I lived. I was genuinely grateful to these people. They had given us everything they had, not even holding back any food for their next meal, in order to nourish us. It was the first meal that we had eaten in almost a week.
After the meal, we lay down and immediately fell into a deep sleep. Several hours later, the mother of the family shook us awake. When I rubbed my eyes and sat up, I saw that she had brought something for us.
"Eat this, and you'll be able to rest much better," she said. "They say that this is really good for you. It'll take away your fatigue."
I didn't immediately recognize what she was giving us. "What is this?" I asked.
"It's wild honey. I found it in a crevice in a large rock. Its called 'living honey.' You've heard of seokeheoug, haven't you?" She was referring to honey that is found in hives built in the cracks of rocks or in trees in isolated mountainous areas. It is an extremely rare delicacy.
"Go ahead and eat the hive and honey together," the mother told us. "The hive is very good for you, too."
We ate the wild honey and delighted in its exotic taste. The honey seemed to flow into each cell in our exhausted bodies and recharge them with new energy. Once we had eaten the honey and slept a few more hours, we felt like completely new men. We had been resurrected from the dead.
Even more than the honey, I was inspired by the purity and goodness of the fire-field people. I said a prayer, asking Heaven's blessing on this family. We were completely revived in that cave on Mount Odae. We owe our lives to that family. The young man who had brought us to the cave had gone out to check on the movements of the enemy troops. As we were getting ready to move on, he came running back in through the entrance with news that something was going on in the Chinese camp. He said he saw the Chinese soldiers gathering up their supplies and moving north. This was strange indeed.
The young man said if we left immediately, he could guide us safely to the next ridge. We expressed our deep gratitude to the mother and the young "holy girl" before we left the cave.
I told the young man that I wanted to go to a point where I could get a good look at the movements of the Chinese soldiers. He showed me a place where I could peer around a rock and look down on a road. The Chinese were hurriedly moving back and forth, and it was clear that some major development was going on. I looked farther away and was surprised to see Chinese soldiers coming this way from a southerly direction. Many of the soldiers were paired up to support a wounded soldier on their shoulders between them.
What could be happening? There were wounded soldiers covered in bloody bandages. Others were being carried on the backs of their comrades. Some were limping along on their own. Others were barely managing to keep pace with the column by leaning on the shoulder of another soldier. They were all Chinese, hundreds of wounded soldiers trying to escape as far north as possible before death overtook them. Clearly, they were a defeated army.
"Our side must he making a counterattack! Our side must have defeated the Chinese spring offensive. That must be it! 'We've done it! We're winning!"
With the young man to show our way, we moved south along the mountain ridges. Finally, we could hear the sound of tanks in the distance. They were headed north. Cautiously, we peered out from the forest and discovered that these tanks were on our side. Our side is moving north! It's a counterattack!"
When we got a little closer, we could see the flag they were flying. "It's the Stars and Stripes. Its the Americans!"
Under the Stars and Stripes, we could see the familiar colors of the U.S. Third Division. The unit had been moved to this part of the peninsula from the western front in order to stop the Chinese offensive and stage a counterattack. We were so happy, we hugged each other and the young man from the fire-field family and jumped up and down with joy. We thanked the young man and ran out from the forest toward the tank column.
I shouted at the Americans using all the English words I knew at the time: "Thank you, thank you, thank you! O.K.!" We hugged the soldiers of the U.S. Third Division. We ran up to the nearest tank, touched it with our hands, pressed our bodies to it, and kissed it. Tears of gratitude poured out from my eyes.
"God, thank you! Oh, God! Thank you!"
There was no stopping the river of tears. We had escaped from enemy lines. Soon we were reunited with the Ninth Division. Twenty-eighth Regiment. Many members of my company whom I had assumed to he dead reappeared from here and there, and we rejoiced to see each other alive. I realized how precious it was to be alive and how good it was to have battlefield comrades.
The next day, we received orders to move out to fight another battle. I looked up to heaven, and said to myself: "God, I will never forget the pledge I made to you. I will never forget."
A Woman in Bed
War is a heartless thing. It is full of completely unforeseen situations. It can take a paradise on earth and instantly transform it into a living hell. In war, there is no guarantee that you will live to see the next day. On the other hand, there are things that probably can he appreciated only in time of war, especially with regard to the meaning of human life.
A man's life in war is no more secure than that of a fly. People die every day, and death becomes the norm. On the other hand, you come to understand that there is nothing so tenacious as human life. Some people seem to be able to survive anything. Even if the sky fell down, they would somehow crawl out from under the rubble. Through my war experiences, I came to understand very clearly that our lives are in Heaven's hands.
In most cases, war turns soldiers into "one-day hedonists." Because there is no guarantee that they will live to see another day, they do the best they can to enjoy today. It's partly for this reason that in every war throughout history, soldiers have enjoyed a plentiful supply of liquor and women. If there is liquor to drink, soldiers will drink it today. If there are women available for companionship, the soldiers will want to be with them today. The Korean War was no exception in this regard. Whenever military units were on the move, there was a contingent of prostitutes following in their footsteps. War and prostitution always feed off each other.
Seoul had been reduced to rubble and no attempts had yet been made to restore it. Already, though, bars and kisaeng houses (houses of prostitution) were beginning to spring up everywhere around the city, sometimes using basements of bombed-out buildings and places that were little more than holes in the ground. Any civilian home that had somehow survived the fighting in good condition was quickly turned into a drinking establishment catering to soldiers, and many women could be seen entering and leaving such places. Whenever they could, soldiers on the frontline would make the trip into Seoul and visit their favorite bar. After a few drinks, they would take one of the girls and sleep with her. The next day, they would dress up neatly in their uniforms and head back out to the land of death.
One day, I was ordered by a superior officer in the Twenty-eighth Regiment to get in the back of a jeep. I had no choice but to obey. Six officers got into two jeeps and headed into Seoul. The officer who had ordered me to come along was in the seat in front of me.
"Lieutenant Pak," he said, "Have you ever been to a kisaeng house?"
"No, sir, I have not."
"What? Not even once? Well, innocent, no wonder you still smell of your mother's milk. Today, I'm going to take you to a really interesting place."
"Don't say anything. Just sit back and watch."
Soon the jeeps arrived in front of a certain kisaeng house in Seoul. I followed my superior inside. The six officers were shown to a room where someone had already set out a table of liquor and food. Six women wearing thick make-up came in and one sat next to each of us. The food was delicious and plentiful, and I was amazed that anyone could find so much in the ruins of Seoul. Each time we finished eating a dish, even more food was brought in. We were served whiskey, beer, potent shocbtt (a hard liquor brewed from rice) and just about every kind of alcoholic beverage I had ever heard of. I have never been able to drink alcohol, so I just helped myself to the food.
After the others had had a few rounds of drinks, the atmosphere became very festive. They took off their shirts, and their faces were as red as beets. We began taking turns singing songs. The kisaeng were apparently quite good at this sort of thing and made sure that everyone was having a good time. We all forgot about the passing of time and enjoyed a moment of happiness.
Alter a while the superior officer spoke to me.
"Lieutenant Pak," he said, "you're just like a virgin girl. It's war. Do you understand? War! All of us might die at any moment. That's why we are going to eat, drink, and be merry today. Then, tomorrow, I will expect you to fight hard again. Here, have a drink."
He held out a glass, and I took it. The kisaeng sitting next to me immediately filled it with alcohol. I pretended to take a sip and then placed the glass under the table.
The mood in the room was reaching a climax. "Pandemonium" might best describe it. The kisaeng women danced for us. The men and the kisaeng would touch cheek to cheek. 'Then, someone would place his lips on the lips of a kisaeng, and she would scream in feigned surprise.
Finally, the officer stood up and addressed the mistress of the house.
"Are all the rooms ready?"
"Yes. The rooms are ready now."
"Six rooms. I assume you've made sure that all of them are nice and warm."
"Well, of course. You're one of our best customers. You know what to expect when you cone here. We know you only want the best."
It seemed that my superior was a regular patron of this establishment.
"Well, then," he said to her, "take us to the rooms."
I followed the lead of one of the kisaeng to a room that had been assigned to me. It was warm, and there was bedding spread out in the middle of the floor. The kisaeng began to speak to me in a very affectionate voice.
"Go ahead and take off some of your clothes and lie down. Oh, you're very tall."
Then. I asked her a rather ridiculous question, "Excuse me, miss," I said. "Are you able to go home now?"
"Go home? No, I can't. There's a curfew on now. No one can go out on the streets until 1::00 a.m. But why do you ask? Don't you like me?"
"Its not a matter of liking you or not liking you. Well, if you can't leave, I suppose it can't he helped. Here, I want you to lie down here. I'll lie down, too."
I took off my clothes down to my underwear and laid down on the mattress. She lay down next to me. Then, I looked at her with a very serious expression, and said, "Miss, there's one thing that I want you to promise me."
"Under no circumstances do I want you to touch my body during the night. That's what I want you to promise. Can you do that?"
"What's the matter? You sure are strange. I have to have a little fun, too, you know."
"Well. I understand how you feel. But that's the way it has to be. I need you to promise that you won't touch me."
Then I pretended to fall asleep and began snoring. In reality, though, I was wide-awake. My heart was pounding wildly. For the first time in my life, I was sharing a bed with a member of the opposite sex. I didn't want to have sex with her, though. If there was even a chance that I might survive the war, then I wanted to save myself for the woman I would later meet and marry. I had adhered to this principle strictly until then, and I didn't want to break it now. In reality, though, it was difficult to share a bed with a woman and not touch her. I wanted morning to come quickly, but the minutes seemed like hours as I waited for the sun to rise.
I could tell the kisaeng was having a difficult time, too. She kept sighing deeply. I'm sure she must have wondered how she had gotten mixed up with such a strange customer. She could not fall asleep either.
Four o'clock finally rolled around. I got up first and began putting on my uniform. She got out of bed, too, and got dressed. As I turned to leave, she looked with a smile and said, "Can I ask you something?"
"What is it," I replied.
"Are you impotent?"
"What? You want to know if I'm impotent?" I began to laugh very loudly and told her, "Well, maybe I am."
Then I said, "I'm sorry that I gave you such a difficult time last night. I have something here that I want you to have. This envelope contains my full salary from the last time we were paid. It's a month's pay. I want you to take it and buy something nice for yourself."
She seemed perplexed by my suggestion. "You want to give me a month's pay? I can't take it. Besides, I've already been paid. Please, put your money away. I don't want it."
I insisted, though, that she take the money.
"I know you've already been paid, but this is something different. This is something I want to give you personally. You can think of it as my way of compensating you for giving you such a hard time. Besides, I'm about to go back to the battlefield. What use do I have for a month's pay when I don't even know if I will live to see tomorrow? Go ahead and take it. Use it for anything you want. I think you're very beautiful. I'm very happy to have met you."
"You seem like a real nice person," she said. And you're handsome, too. How did you become impotent? Its really too had. You probably won't even be able to get married."
I smiled but said nothing. I escorted her out the door and to the gate. As she walked away, she looked hack to bid me farewell.
At breakfast, my superior wanted to know how I had enjoyed myself.
"How was it?" he asked and broke into loud laughter.
I answered, "It was fantastic. I had a really good time last night, and now I'm ready to go out and fight hard."
To me, it was a matter of faith. Some might have called it a superstition. Somehow I felt that one reason Heaven had protected me from certain death in the battlefield was that I had been strict about not having sexual relations with any woman and waiting for the woman I would meet and marry someday. Later, when I joined the Unification Church, I discovered that this was in fact, true.
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