Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Monday, July 14, 2003

50 years after being captured a South Korean soldier returns home with some pretty horrifying stories.

On Sept. 24, 2001, the South Korea army's ''Tiger'' Division gave Sgt. Kim an honor-guard ceremony, officially discharging him after counting him as killed in action for half a century.

''I couldn't tell whether it was a dream or not,'' says Kim, 75, a slight, wrinkled man with a shy smile.

For Kim, it was a long journey home. When he escaped North Korea in 2001 after five decades of captivity, he was one of the last Korean War prisoners to return home from the communist North.

South Korea believes at least 400 POWs from the South may still be alive in the North. Their fate, like the war that ended in an armistice signed 50 years ago next Sunday, is unresolved.

As for American servicemen who may still be in North Korea, the U.S. government has never asserted publicly that there are any, although in 1996 a Pentagon analyst wrote in an internal report that 10 to 15 ''possible POWs'' probably were in communist captivity.

Kim's unit was guarding South Korea's westernmost front line when communist invaders poured over the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950. Kim found himself ''on my own, tumbling down the hills.''

After the 1953 cease-fire, 8,341 South Korean POWs and 3,748 U.S. soldiers were traded for 83,000 North Koreans and Chinese.

But North Korea refused to return thousands of other South Korean prisoners, calling them ''liberated soldiers'' who wanted to stay in the North. Kim knew that to ask to go home could invite punishment.

And so, he says, ''I spent my next 50 years toiling at a brick kiln.''

Kim and his North Korean wife talked to The Associated Press on condition that only their last names be released, and not the name of their town, fearing for the seven children they left in the North.

When famine struck in the mid-1990s, thousands fled, including 40 POWs.

In 1995-96, 20 to 30 people died of hunger daily in Kim's neighborhood of 20,000 people and society appeared to be breaking down. Several people were publicly executed for slaughtering orphaned children for their flesh.

''A man found human carcasses hanging from the ceiling of a neighbor's second-floor apartment,'' Kim said.

In March 2001, a man came to Kim and said, ''You are from the South and I know a way to get you there.''

So-called ''brokers'' smuggle people out of North Korea, bribing border guards and getting help from human rights activists and sometimes South Korean government intelligence agents, according to defectors. Seoul doesn't acknowledge a role.

Kim's brother in Seoul financed his escape. Kim received nearly $300,000 from the South Korean government in back pay and pension, and spent about $42,000 to bring his wife out of North Korea in December.

< email | 7/14/2003 04:47:00 PM | link

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