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Tears on Mt. Geumgang

Posted August. 27, 2005 03:01,   


The two Koreas broke into tears once again at Mt. Geumgang on Friday. Love and longing for family were enough to render half a century of separation meaningless.

The 11th separated family reunion event will take place in two stages at Geumgang Mountain, beginning with a group reunion at 3:00 p.m. on Friday. The reunion has resumed 13 months after the 10th reunion last July. Among the first group who met with their kinsmen are two families of South Korean Prisoners of War.

Out of the 99 included in the first reunion group, half are over the age of 80, with 50 who are 80 or older and five over 90. The oldest is Choi Jae-sun, 97, who met with his three daughters in the North, and Park Gan-nam, 97, who reunited with her grandchildren.

The first group was to consist of 200 families, 100 each from the North and South, but one of the South Korean members, Jeon Jong-won, 73, suddenly fell ill with hypertension that morning and was unable to join the group.

The first stage of reunion takes place from August 26 to 28. One hundred South Koreans will meet with 235 North Korean family members during this stage, and in the second stage, 100 families from the North will meet their 435 South Korean kinfolk. The families will meet on four occasions (group reunion, individual reunion, joint tours at Lake Samilpo, and a farewell reunion), and for a luncheon and a dinner.

On the last day of the event on August 31, President Han Wan-sang of the South Korean Red Cross and Chairman Chang Jae-un of the North Korean Red Cross will take part in a groundbreaking ceremony for a permanent reunion center at Mt. Geumgang.

Among the first group of families, the two families of POWs had particularly heartbreaking stories to tell.

On Friday afternoon on the second floor of the Geumgang Mountain Hotel, Jeong Han-hyun, 69, the youngest South Korean brother of Jeong Jin-hyun, 79, cried for a long time in his brother’s arms over the 55 years of separation.

“Parents? What about our parents?” asked Jin-hyun anxiously, holding his brother’s hands. “They all passed away. So did our other brother and his wife…” answered Han-hyun, between breaths. Han-hyun’s whimpers exploded into cries at the news.

Jin-hyun joined the South Korean army in late July 1950 along with his friends. While he was serving near Yeongcheon, Gyeongbuk, he and his comrades were captured by the North Korean army and taken to the North. After the war, his family in the South received a letter that he had died in war, but his parents could not believe that their bright, third son had died.

His parents longed to meet their son one day, thinking, “If he’s only alive, even in the North, we shall meet one day.” Unfortunately, they died with their wishes unfulfilled in 1970 and in 1972.

“You are the only one left,” Jin-hyun said as he let out a huge sigh, wiping away his tears. He and his brother together remembered the days when they played Korean chess on sunny days at their yard in Gyeongju. “You were in middle school when we parted, and you’ve already grown so old,” said Jin-hyun, stroking his brother’s face. Han-hyun said, “It’s already been 50 years.”

“I couldn’t meet with my brother, but it is overwhelming enough to meet his kin,” said Oh Hyun-woong, 62, his voice trembling as he closely hugged his brother Hyun-won’s (deceased) wife Hong Jae-hwa, 69, and son Young-cheol, 39.

Mr. Oh thought of his brother who died just a year ago as he said, “I’ve never met my nephew, but he has my brother’s eyes.” Oh only found out from his sister-in-law on Friday that his brother died on April 21 last year.

Hyun-won, the eldest of seven siblings, went missing around December 20, 1950. He joined the army at 20 and was never heard from after Seoul was recaptured.

Hyun-woong thought his brother had died in the war until in 1999, 49 years later. Hyun-woong saw a subtitle that said Hyun-won was looking for his family in South Korea while he was watching the Separated Family Search program live on KBS. Hyun-woong immediately called the South Korean Red Cross and confirmed that his brother was alive.

Hyun-woong applied for a reunion right away, but he had to wait for six years until this day because he was relatively young compared to other separated family members. During that time, his brother passed away.

Hyun-woong consoled himself by handing some clothes, cotton gloves, and mufflers to his brother’s family that currently lives in Manpo, Jagang Province.