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“He did what was Right…for Them”

Posted September. 10, 2005 08:08,   


Every day is a living nightmare for Lee Gyeong-mi (38•female•Gangdong-gu, Seoul) these days.

When the clock strikes 10:00 p.m., she automatically glances at the door for her husband. She can almost see him entering the house. Her daughters grow fidgety as well.

“When I grow up, I’m going to go after those kids who killed Daddy,” Woo-hui (12), the eldest, claims in a fit of anger.

“He did what was right,” Lee says wearily. Hyeon-jeong (10) only steals looks at both of them.

“Honestly, I hate those kids, too. Why did I have to see that... I can almost touch him in my last memory of him...”

Lee married college sweetheart Shin Myeong-cheol (42) in 1992 after four years of dating. Two years ago, Shin established a fabric business and gave up his summer vacation because of the workload, heavy despite the slack economy.

Feeling sorry, Shin treated his wife and daughters to a trip to the Gangwon Suta Temple valley on August 14 during the Independence Day holidays. The couple contentedly watched their daughters splashing in the water and headed upstream.

Two girls about their own daughters’ ages were being swept by the rapids. Spotting them first, Lee cried out, “Something might happen!”

Shin jumped into the water and pushed the children out of the torrent. But he himself was swallowed by the current into deeper waters. Lee watched her husband agitatedly, and was relieved when he resurfaced. However, Shin was again sucked into the murky depths. In less than five minutes, a family was shattered.

“People were so indifferent. They all watched him die without helping.” Surrounding the valley were hundreds of visitors.

Housewife Lee sold her late husband’s car a few days ago out of desperation for cash. The future seems bleak when she thinks of getting a job.

Lee is also worried about the nearing Chuseok in a week. She didn’t tell her mother-in-law (72•Jeonbuk) about Shin’s death. The eldest of three sons and two daughters, Shin was the glue that held the family together.

Lee is planning on telling her mother-in-law, who’s suffering from Parkinson’s disease and high blood pressure, that Shin is on a business trip.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare is in the process of acknowledging Shin as a martyr. If he is confirmed, grants of up to 170 million won in compensation, medical bills, education fees, and other support will be given.

While meeting with a reporter on September 8, Lee could only say, “Nothing can fill his absence,” before bursting into tears.

Since the year 2000, 114 people have been recognized as martyrs; those who have sacrificed their lives for others.

Jae-Myoung Lee egija@donga.com