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POW Spent 43 Years in North Korea

Posted November. 20, 2006 07:21,   


“I am a man come back from the dead.”

Mr. Cho Chang-ho, the first prisoner of war (POW) to escape from North Korea, who introduced himself with the above sentence after escaping, passed away from a chronic disease at the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital on November 19, 2006. He was 75 years old.

Only this April, he appealed at a hearing of the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives, saying that “The Korean government and the international community have to take charge of bringing back the 540 POWs held in North Korea.” In the seven months following this hearing, apoplexy and cancer struck, but his remaining family said he repeatedly insisted, “We have to bring back the prisoners of war,” while continuing treatment in and out of the hospital.

After the outbreak of the Korean War in his freshman year in the College of Education at Yonsei University, he volunteered for military service as second lieutenant but was taken prisoner by the Chinese Communist army the following August at the Baekma-Hill battle.

When he adamantly refused the ideology conversion requests of North Korea, he was confined in notorious labor camps in Deokcheon, Seocheon, and Hamheung for 12 years and six months. He then was sent to work in copper mines for another 13 years, being released from compulsory labor only after being diagnosed of silicosis.

Mr. Cho crossed the Amnok River on October 3, 1994, escaping to China, and arrived in Korea 20 days later on a Chinese fishing boat.

The nation shed tears hearing his words when greeting the Minister of National Defense, Lee Byung-tae, in his hospital bed: “Second Lieutenant Cho Chang-ho, Identification Number 212966, reporting safe return to the Minister.”

Mr. Cho was honorably discharged in November of that year at the Korea Military Academy wearing a First Lieutenant badge. He married Ms. Yoon Shin-ja (66) in 1995 and received his degree from Yonsei University the same year. He seemed to recover his lost self.

However, Mr. Cho did not linger in his comfortable new life, urging aggressive measures by participating in assemblies whenever the government remained silent regarding the human rights problem of North Korea.

Ms. Yoon, his wife, and two sons and one daughter in North Korea survive him. The funeral service of First Lieutenant Cho Chang-ho will be held at 7 a.m. on November 21 at the Seoul National University Bundang Hospital as the first veteran’s funeral of the Korea Veterans Association. His body will be cremated and will rest at the Chunghondang, a crypt at the National Cemetery in Dongjak-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul.