The families of the missing crewmen of the sunken naval ship Cheonan wailed yesterday when the identities of bodies recovered from the lifted stern of the ship were confirmed. They had been waiting to learn of the fates of their loved ones in waters near Baengnyeong Island or at the 2nd Naval Fleet headquarters in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.
The corpses of the missing crewmen were recovered 20 days after the Cheonans sinking. After the bodies of 1st Sergeants Nam Ki-hoon and Kim Tae-seok were found inside the stern in rescue operations, the families of the remaining missing crewmen believed their survival was impossible. After recovering the bodies from the lifted stern, the families again had to fight back tears yesterday. The South Korean people feel the same sense of sorrow and pray for the souls of the sacrificed.
When the ship was split into two, the crewmen at the stern were separated from their colleagues at the bow. They were on duty or resting at the stern. The 58 crewmen at the bow, who were all rescued, showed their resolve and military spirit though the ship was sinking. The crewmen inside the stern struggled desperately but did not make it. Certain sailors might have died in sealed compartments while waiting to be rescued. It is heart-wrenching to imagine how they suffered. The thoughts and prayers of the South Korean people are with those who lost their beloved sons, husbands, siblings, relatives and friends.
The government, military and people should begin honoring the resolve and military spirit of the deceased. Proper assistance should also go to the bereaved families. The government and military should give those who sacrificed their lives for their country the highest national honor and treatment. The government should never repeat the mistake of the Kim Dae-jung government, which failed to properly recognize the six sailors killed in the 2002 inter-Korean naval clash near Yeonpyeong Island off the west coast or compensate their bereaved families.
The wife of Sgt. 1st Class Han Sang-kuk, who died in the Yeonpyeong sea battle, immigrated to the U.S. in 2005, saying, Who will willingly go to battle for such a country? and returned home after the inauguration of the incumbent Lee Myung-bak government. The mother of the late Petty Officer 2nd Class Park Dong-hyeok said in her memoir, I felt sad and miserable seeing raindrops after burying you (at the memorial hall) in Daejeon. The U.S. Forces Korea commander sent me a letter to comfort me. The government and state agencies havent sent me a letter let alone a call. For what country and for whom did my son sacrifice himself?
Those in uniform who sacrificed their lives for the country should never be forgotten. The U.S. continues to do its best to return American POWs from the Korean War and search for the remains of the fallen. Seeing their government never forget the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers, youths joining the military and active soldiers nurture patriotism and a sense of responsibility. Those in the armed forces are also our children, husbands and siblings. Trusting them, boosting their morale, and respecting their self-esteem are the responsibility of the government and the people as well as strengthening national defense.
Another task is to fix the loophole of military preparedness against the North Korean threat as shown in the Cheonans sinking. By doing so, Seoul must prevent a recurrence of a similar incident. This is what a government should do to honor the noble sacrifice of soldiers who die for their country.