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  • Remembering Korea 1950: A Boy Soldier's Story
  • Yŏng-ho Ch'oe (bio)
H. K. Shin , Remembering Korea 1950: A Boy Soldier's Story. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2001. xi, 163 pp., map. $17.95 (paper).

This is a wonderful book about the Korean War, memory of which appears to be fading into historical oblivion now. This small book is valuable because it gives us a firsthand account of a hitherto untold aspect of the Korean War—the pain and suffering endured by the Korean people. There are a number of works on the Korean War in English, dealing mostly with military operations and the politics and diplomacy surrounding the war, but virtually none tells us how the people in Korea weathered the ordeals of the horrible fratricidal war that pitted the Koreans against fellow Koreans. Here, we have a graphic account of a teen-aged Korean boy, whose experiences were repeated by thousands of other Korean teenagers during the war. This reviewer can vouch for this, as I went through similar ordeals.

Hailing from Kŏch'ang, a rural part of South Kyŏngsang Province, the author, H. K. Shin, must have witnessed the bitter ideological struggle [End Page 153] that went on, often with bloodshed, between the Communists and the anti-Communists in the region even before the outbreak of the Korean War. Chiri Mountain and its vicinity, near his home town, were notorious for the bloody battles waged by both sides. When full-scale war broke out in June 1950, the sixteen-year-old author was a tenth grader in Chinju and had to hurry home to look after his family, only to find his father being incarcerated by police on suspicion of being a leftist sympathizer.

As he witnessed with horror truckloads of detainees being taken out for summary execution, he agonized over what fate might befall his father—an experience shared by thousands of other Koreans. As the advancing North Korean troops approached Kŏch'ang, his family decided that he should evade the North Koreans and seek refuge. Escorted by his uncle, he walked all the way to Pusan, the war time-capital of South Korea, where, facing the bleak prospect of starvation, he enlisted in the Republic of Korea Army, falsifying his age, and enrolled in the military police school. (At around this time, another high school student by the name of Roh Tae-Woo [No T'ae-u] also entered the same M.P. school, rising eventually to the presidency of the Republic of Korea.)

By the time he finished the M.P. school, the fortune of the war had been reversed, and he joined the advancing South Korean troops and reached Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, where he guarded North Korean prisoners of war, detained in the former city prison. It so happens that this reviewer was there at the time as one of those Korean liaison officers who spoke very little English whom the author mentions with pity and humor in the book. As an intelligence liaison officer assigned to the I U.S. Corps, I visited the prison frequently to interrogate the pows. Yes, I too remember vividly the horrible scene of the atrocity within the prison compound that the author describes and the nauseating stench it emitted.

With the intervention of China, the war situation once again reversed, forcing the South Korean and UN troops to withdraw in chaos. While manning a checkpoint to direct the retreating troops, his unit came under direct attack by Chinese troops. Unable to escape, he had to play dead among the killed and wounded soldiers, during which his left leg was shot by the Chinese, who wanted to make sure there were no survivors. Miraculously, he did survive and managed to escape.

The author also comments on the conditions and morale of the South Korean troops along with the handling of the war situation. In addition, he offers his observations on other awful aspects of the war, such as brutalities committed by both sides, raping of women by American soldiers, corruption within the command of the Korean military, and the agony of his unsuccessful attempt to rescue a...


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pp. 153-155
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