'Hope in Hungnam'
I have been disheartened recently to learn that a growing number of pro-North Korean elements prevail in our society. This is despite the fact, or perhaps because of it, that more than six decades have now passed since the Korean War (1950-53).
The more worrisome aspect of this is that some left-wing, pro-North Korean politicians from a minor opposition party, the Unified Progressive Party, have recently been elected as members of the National Assembly. Recently, one of these left-wing lawmakers came under fire for his recent pro-Pyongyang stance in dealing with North Korean affairs. He publicly said, ``The problem is not pro-North politicians, but pro-U.S. politicians.”
These senseless remarks and support for the North Korean regime by leftist radical groups seem to ignore the bitter experiences of the Korean War. It is an undeniable fact that the freedoms which these groups, as well as other South Koreans enjoy today, were purchased at a very high cost: the blood of soldiers from the United States, the United Nations and the Republic of Korea.
It is vital to remember that nearly 95,000 U.N. troops were killed during the Korean War. Without these great sacrifices, South Korea would have become an impoverished Stalinist state along the lines of what we see today in North Korea. Because of the great debt owed to these men, we should eternally remember the solemn sacrifice and bloodshed of the fallen soldiers of the Korean War ― those who fought and bled for South Korea's freedom.
For me, it is hard to think of the Korean War without thinking of the historic Heungnam Evacuation Operation. This was an enormous humanitarian evacuation led by U.N. forces which rescued a massive number of refugees from North Korea in 1950.
I recently read a book titled ``Hope in Hungnam” written by Mr. David Watts who lives in Texas. The English version of his book describes the unique story of the dramatic escape in 1950 of 100,000 civilians from North Korea during the darkest days of the Korean War. It is a historical fiction novel released to readers around the world on June 25th, the 62nd anniversary of the Korean War.
I was especially intrigued by “Hope in Hungnam’s” beautifully crafted portraits of the stunning rescue of 14,000 refugees aboard the cargo ship Meredith Victory, commanded by Captain Leonard LaRue.
Miraculously, all 14,000 refugees were taken safely to South Korea without any loss of life. To the crew’s great surprise, five babies were born on the ship during their voyage from Heungnam harbor, North Korea to Busan and Geojae, South Korea. Because of the courage of Captain LaRue and his crew, the Heungnam evacuation is recorded as one of the greatest military rescue operations in the history in the world.
As an excellent work of historical fiction, the novel recounts the story of a U.S. Marine desperately searching for meaning in war, the woman who saved him, the captain who saved them all, and a ship that did the impossible.
It is noteworthy that the book has been well-received by the men who were actually there, including a refugee who escaped as a 14-year-old boy aboard the Meredith Victory, Mr. D.H. Won. Won escaped North Korea with his father in 1950 on board the ship.
Won has said, ``David Watts has written an intricate account of both the desperation and hope we felt in those bitter days in December 1950. The book deals with love, hate, forgiveness, tolerance, service, and sacrifice. The author writes as if he was actually there.”
In a time where some among us have forgotten the great sacrifices made so that South Korea could be free, it is very much worth your time to read this compelling story of the Korean War.
“Hope in Hungnam” can be ordered in South Korea from amazon.com
Choe Chong-dae is a guest columnist of The Korea Times and the president of Dea-kwang International Co., as well as a director of the Korean-Swedish Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.