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MIA Remains Discovery Gives Closure to Elderly Widow

Posted June. 06, 2009 08:21,   


The remains of a South Korean soldier killed in the Korean War have been returned home after 59 years, giving his grieving widow closure after decades.

The head of the excavation team of the Defense Ministry Park Shin-han said yesterday, “DNA testing of the ministry’s Criminal Investigation Command showed that the remains discovered in Hwacheon County, Gangwon Province, in 2007 belonged to Pvt. Kim Sang-hee, who fought for the 2nd Division of the Republic of Korea Army in the Korean War in the 1950s.”

“The DNA of the ashes was found to be identical to that of Kim Sang-hee’s son Gong-jun. That means they are father and son.”

Shortly after the Korean War began, Kim, who was then 30 years old, left his wife and two sons to enlist in September 1950. He is estimated to have been captured in January 1951, when Chinese soldiers rushed southward, and shot dead by North Korean soldiers along with his comrades in Hwacheon.

The private’s wife Kim Sang-hwa, a resident of Jeju Island, was digging garlic under the scorching sun when the ashes of her husband were identified yesterday. “Now I can see only his bones. It’s just meaningless,” she said.

On what she would say to her husband had he survived the war and returned home, she said, “I’d ask him why he made my life so tough.”

Kim Sang-hwa tearfully spoke of the difficulties she experienced without her husband. She said she last saw him Aug. 14, 1950 of the lunar calendar, the day before the Chuseok holiday.

Back in 1950, her husband underwent training at the playground of Hallim Elementary School in Jeju. With top shells and broiled sweet potatoes in her hands, Kim Sang-hwa visited the school to see her husband.

“I couldn’t see my husband frequently since I couldn’t afford the carfare. But I hoped to see his face that day since it was the day before Chuseok. I never imagined that I would never see his tanned skin and beautiful smile again,” she said.

Kim Sang-hee left for the battlefield two days later. The wives of other soldiers visited the school to see their husbands off, but Kim could not since she had no money.

Two years after their marriage, Kim Sang-hee was drafted by the Japanese imperial army and forced to work in Manchuria for three years. After Korea’s liberation in 1945, he passed through the 38th parallel to return to his South Korean hometown.

“After the war began, he volunteered to join the army, saying, ‘I love drinking too much. I need to do something to change my life. I will join the army and decide on new plans for my life,’” Kim Sang-hwa said.

In January 1951 of lunar calendar, Pvt. Kim’s commander sent a letter saying, “Private Kim is OK. Don’t worry.” This was the last she heard of her husband before receiving a letter saying he went missing.

Since then, she has performed rites for her husband every June 5, his birthday. She even built a tomb for him in the Jeju town of Hangyeong and visits and pours soju on it every Memorial Day.

“I thought my tears had already dried up. I no longer hold a grudge. I think it’s good to put his ashes in his hollow tomb. If I see him after dying, I’d tell him stories about my tough life,” his widow said while wiping tears.

jy788@donga.com rews@donga.com