Righteous deaths of men and women in uniform are remembered officially. In total 148 firefighters who died on duty were laid to rest at the Daejeon National Cemetery, including Fire Captain Lee Young-uk and Senior Fireman Lee Ho-hyeon who died battling the fire in September 2016 at Seokranjeong in Gangneung City, and Fireman Heo Seung-min who passed away while dealing with the damages caused by a strong windstorm in Taebaek City in 2016.
However, not many try to understand the sufferings of the families who were left after they are gone. The bereaved families grieve over their loss for a long time rather than taking pride in their family member’s honorable death. The Dong-A Ilbo’s Hero Content Team covered their stories in its content, “People who devoted their lives and those who were left.” A father who has lost his son in the fire at Seokranjeong sweeps and mops the memorial monument at the fire site every early morning. A wife whose husband died at the same site after 30 years of life together, has his shoes cleaned every morning and writes a letter that cannot be sent every night. “I hate everything in this world without you….”
A longstanding sorrow becomes an illness. Her husband was so proud to be a firefighter that he had ‘911’ included in his phone and vehicle numbers. When she heard the news of her husband’s death from the site damaged by a strong windstorm, she gathered herself only thinking about her 100-day-old daughter. She couldn’t cry nor laugh. She was afraid that people seeing her laugh would talk behind her, saying that she seems to be okay already. She used to drink makgeolli, the raw rice wine with her mother-in-law during hard times. Her mother-in-law, who raised her son on her own by selling pancakes after losing her husband at a young age, was the only person the wife could share the pain. Trying to pull herself together, she ended up having a panic attack.
There are not many places for the bereaved families to lean on. Among 65,000 members of the fire station across the nation, only two are in charge of giving support to them. In the memorial ceremony, which is held every year to commemorate firefighting officers who died on duty, the families of the deceased spend awkward time with each other following the meaningless rituals of the program. This is different from the “National Police Week,” which is held every May in Washington, D.C., the U.S. It includes various programs, such as a bike tour commemorating police officers who died at their post, or a psychology consultation for the families. A candlelight memorial is the highlight of the event. Police officers provide a one-on-one guide to the families of the deceased they were close to, and tens of police bikes escort the bus they are in, with citizens around waving their hands. During the memorial ceremony, the names of those who died in the past year are called for more than an hour, making people who are not even family members feel consoled and sympathize with them.
In Korea, public officials who volunteered to support them, and the bereaved families made self-help groups to cheer each other up and give hands to the families of those who just lost their lives on the job. The society that owes men and women in uniform a life, cannot let their families overcome their sufferings alone. As much as it respects those in uniform, it should embrace their families as well so that people who are left can live a happy life.