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Families of Fallen Seamen Share Stories, Pain

Posted May. 24, 2010 14:11,   


“What are their nationalities? Do they live on the moon? They’re aliens because they cannot be communicated with.”

Ret. Lt. Yoon Doo-ho expressed frustration at a condominium Thursday in front of the 2nd Naval Command in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. His son, Lt. Commander Yoon Yeong-ha, was killed in a battle after his speedboat Chamsuri 357 came under surprise attack from a North Korean patrol boat on June 29, 2002.

The civilian-military joint investigation team for the sunken South Korean naval vessel Cheonan announced the results of its investigation Thursday. It said a North Korean torpedo sank the ship and released evidence. Certain critics, however, have questioned the probe results, suggesting “wreckage” or “conspiracy” theories as the possible cause in showing distrust of the government.

An angry Yoon Doo-ho blasted such critics, saying, “We cannot communicate with these aliens. They’re people who don’t love the Republic of Korea.”

○ ‘Gov’t slow in recognizing patriots’ deaths

Nine members of the bereaved families of the seamen killed in the second naval battle of Yeonpyeong Island in 2002 gathered at the Buddhist temple of Haeung for a congratulatory service Friday. The temple within the naval command houses the mortuary tablets of the fallen.

The memory of the second Yeonpyeong battle quickly faded due to the Kim Dae-jung administration, which sought to maintain its sunshine policy of engaging North Korea. The memorial ceremony for them was upgraded to a government-hosted event under the incumbent administration, but the respect and benefits for their sacrifice remain inadequate.

The bereaved families say they want to change the inscriptions on their children’s tombstones from “died in battle in waters near Yeonpyeong Island” to “died in the Second Naval Battle of Yeonpyeong.”

When the ministry said it would change the inscription in 2008, the bereaved families sent new phrases but have yet to hear a response.

Seo Yeong-seok, the father of the late Chief Petty Officer Seo Hoo-won, said, “The Patriots and Veterans Affairs Ministry have yet to give any reply. Since our children died so young, most of them had no children. After the passage of time, who will bother to remember whether and how our sons died in battle?”

Another relative said, “We hope the government assembles the scattered tombs of our children into a single site, and erect a special tombstone that recognizes the Second Naval Battle of Yeonpyeong like it did for the seamen of the Cheonan.”

The servicemen killed in the battle were categorized as those “who died while performing official duties.” Compensation is 31.5 million won (26,000 U.S. dollars) for a petty officer second class and 67 million won (60,000 dollars) for a lieutenant commander.

The Military Personnel Pension Act was revised after the Cheonan incident. The government, however, gave no additional compensation to the servicemen killed in the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong because it cannot retroactively apply the act.

○ ‘Shocked to see Cheonan sinking’

The bereaved families of the victims of the second Yeonpyeong battle barely managed to overcome their children’s deaths, but got a new shock after hearing of the Cheonan’s sinking and the death of the vessel’s 46 seamen.

“For a month after hearing about the Cheonan sinking, I fell into a state of panic and depression. I still have indigestion and take medication before and after meals,” said Hwang Eun-tae, the father of the late Petty Officer Hwang Do-hyeon, showing his prescription envelope.

His wife Park Gong-soon said, “I thought our children would be the last of the victims, but this tragedy has occurred again. I`m totally speechless.”

The bereaved families have gathered about 10 times per year, including on days such as Buddha’s Birthday, Memorial Day, the day of the second Yeonpyeong battle June 29, and at other celebrative and memorial events.

On March 27, the day after the Cheonan sinking, the parents of the late Lt. Commander Yoon and the late Petty Officer Han attended a housewarming party hosted by the family of the late Park Dong-hyeok. The families received a big shock after hearing that Petty Officer Park Gyeong-soo, who survived the second Yeonpyeong battle, went missing after the Cheonan incident.

At the celebrative service on Buddha’s Birthday at the temple Friday morning, Lee In-ok, the father of the late Petty Officer Second Class Lee Yong-sang, a victim of the Cheonan sinking, offered flowers after the bereaved families of the Yeonpyeong battle victims.

Yoon Doo-ho consoled Lee by saying “Endure the pain.”