It happened to me on a day in early July 1950. I was a student in the first grade of Bosung Middle School located in Hyaewha Dong, Seoul, Korea. At this point, I will explain Korean political and military situations.
Korea was emancipated on August 15, 1945, out of Japanese occupation for 35 years since August 29, 1910. Korea has been divided between South and North Koreas soon after the Japanese Surrender on August 15, 1945, and South Korea established the Democratic Government on May 10, 1948, under the leadership of President Syngman Rhee. There was the complete and permanent division of the Korean Peninsula across the latitude of the 38th Parallel North and hostilities between these two divided Countries including the frequent military clashes.
What despicable behaviors between the two Koreans they were! Why did they fight so severely like the worst enemies in the world? It has been my understanding that the North Koreans were far more cruel, vindictive, and vicious in attacking their South counterparts, and sent many Communist agents to the South becoming called “Partisan(빨치산 in Korean)”, a member of a body of detached light troops making forays and harassing an enemy, usually living in deserted mountains and attacking military or even civilian units or facilities.
On the 25th of June 1950, without any provocation, the massive North Korean military forces made all-out attacks across the entire 38th parallel from the North headed by the modern Soviet-made tanks and artilleries to the totally unprepared South Korean army, which was immediately defeated and retreated without any order. The North Koreans promptly occupied and crossed the Han River and advanced to the South, until they met the American Army from Japan, which was not well prepared either and suffered a major defeat. And so the Korean War was fought in the south for months until finally General MacArthur ordered Inchon landing, restored Seoul, and then advanced to the North from September 28 on.
I shall return to my one-day experience. Ever since June 25th, the school was closed indefinitely.
I was informed that our school announced to be opened now and urged the students to return to school as soon as possible by one of my classmates named Chulsoo Won, who lived near my house. Both of us went to the school without my parents’ consent since my father didn’t allow me to go there because it could be dangerous.
On our arrival, we saw many students on the school ground, and then there were a few students with armbands who ordered us to form ranks according to their grades, and then we were led to the school auditorium and sat down on the long benches. We, the youngest students, sat in the first and front row, and the next rows were occupied by the second, third, fourth, and fifth graders successively.
One of the armband students seemed to be in charge and introduced two special speakers. The first one called “Partisan comrade(빨치산)” a tough-looking middle-aged man, started to talk in a deep tone with North Korean accent while showing a cold and chilling smile,
”My dear comrades, I am very glad to see all of you here. I have been a partisan for a long time, always fighting for our Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea and our venerable Comrade, “Kim Il-sung”. I have been fighting our enemies all the time for so long, and the enemies killed my parents, my wife, sons, and daughters. They certainly will kill me sooner or later, but I will make sure that I will also kill all of them. My young comrades, please follow me in our fights against our enemies as we have done. Let us start volunteering as our young volunteer army.”
The second one was a gentle-looking man with a fluent and persuasive speech about the school education system with a summer-long vacation in the Diamond Mountains with all kinds of programs. At the end of his speech, he concluded that we should volunteer to be youngsters’ volunteer army to fight for North Korea and Kim Il-sung, the head of North Korea. His talk was getting stronger and more appealing. Someone started to clap his hands, followed by the rest of the students. When the second speaker ended his talk, someone started a “Military Song”, the beginning of which I still remember vividly:
We fought enemies until dead
Don’t grieve our deaths, dear comrades
Just raise our flags, blood-drenched red flags
XYZ…XYZ…[I couldn’t remember these words]
ABC…DEF…[I couldn’t remember them too.]
[I have forgotten the rest of the words of the song though I did remember most of them at that time since I heard and heard it all the morning in the school.]
This song had very stimulating, inflaming, and appealing effects. Other armband students all joined the singing, creating the eventual chorus.
At first, there were overall hesitations on the part of students despite their passionate urgings for volunteering. In other words, no students dared to rise, walk to the podium, and stand as volunteers yet. Then the Communist agents and armband students raised their encouraging talks mixed with the song. We started to see only a few volunteering students from the senior grades, which didn’t seem to satisfy the agents and the armband ones yet.
Then a non-armband student took the microphone and started urging to volunteer very passionately even quoting our venerable 3-1 Movement, by saying “Don’t you ever forget our 3-1 Patriotic Movement!”, followed by his own loud singing of the same song. This certainly stimulated the remaining sitting students enough to move to the front for volunteering en-masse.
At this moment, there was no need for individual volunteering, In fact, every student rose and walked to the door and then to the school ground to regroup the ranks in four lines, and then the students started to grab the shoulders of the students in the front, and then started to march in the school ground several turns while singing the same Military Song.
We eventually went out of the school ground to the street connecting to the rotary of the main street, Hyaewha Dong, where we made a few turns around the rotary before finally, we started to march toward the center city. I was one of the youngest students out of the five grade system in the Middle School, and I was the first grader and almost 13 years old. Consequently, we were in the very rear of this long volunteer students’ procession.
At first, I didn’t think I was taken to their students’ volunteer army, but this situation indicated that I was simply trapped to be one of the youngest members of that army. I had to do something about it. I may have to go to the frontline of the war with this group, but at least I must tell my mother where I am going.
That was what I needed to do. I got out of the marching rank and then one armband member who didn’t look like a student but an agent stopped me, “Where are you going?” I said to him, “I am going to tell my mother where I am going.” This man frowned at me and looked at me up and down, and then bluntly yelled, “Go.”
The next moment I ran out of the marching ranks, turned around the Hyaewha rotary, and then kept running to the north. Soon I found my home in Samsun Gyo, met my sister at the entrance, who asked me where I was. I didn’t tell her the full story, just telling her that I was with Chulsoo Won. She didn’t question me any further. And so, everything has been fine with me once I arrived home.
Aha, then what happened to Chulsoo Won? He was a really smart young boy and noticed something wrong with the armband people, so he just fled out of the schoolyard without any problem.
But what could and did happen to those unlucky student volunteers? I don’t have to enquire about anyone. I believe that all of them were taken to the Youngsters’ Volunteer Army and taken to the frontline of the battle being used as “Bullet baits(총알받이)”. Some lucky survivors, if any, must have been taken to the North along with the fleeing North Korean soldiers. Recently there were a few times of the separated family reunion between the South and North Korea, and there were some males who had been taken to the North as student volunteers at very young ages such as 14 or 15 years old, very much like me. I was so lucky to be back home on that day.
Next, I found some information about “these forced volunteers” to be posted.
“Background of ‘the Volunteer Soldiers of South Korean Origin’ mobilized by North Korea Left Out at the Armistice Negotiation and its Solution”
“This paper seeks to find out the history and scale of ‘Volunteer Soldiers’ mobilized by North Korea while the war was going on, how they were dealt with at the armistice table and what efforts were made to get them as well as to resolve the matter after the cease-fire.
When the Korean War abductees are talked about, it is not unusual that people often think only of social leaders such as political leaders, scholars, rightist movement leaders, etc. A good part of the abductees, however, were “Volunteer Soldiers” of South Korean-origin.
For instance, according to the abductees’ list prepared by the then Ministry of Home Affairs in late 1951, which lists some 126,000, about 90,000 of them were ‘Volunteer Soldiers.’ “Volunteer Soldiers” were often excluded from the lists of abductees prepared either by the abductees’ family group or the government as they had been classified as students, youth group members, etc.
While it may be proper to exclude those who were captured as prisoners of war by the Republic of Korea (ROK) and United Nations (UN) troops, interned in the Koje Prisoners of war(POW) camp and released in 1952, and those who, at their own will, chose North Korea after the cease fire, it is unfair to exclude from the category of kidnapped those who were forcibly taken into the NK army as they also were victims of the war.
While the important civilians were abducted according to NK’s premeditated plan while NK army occupied Seoul, most of the ‘Volunteer Soldiers’ were taken from South Korea and placed to the frontline against their will. NK, however, has never admitted their being, claiming that they have only ‘Volunteer Soldiers’ or those who opted NK because they had become disillusioned with South Korea.
It is a big tragedy that not even the fate of those taken away during the war, now some 60 years have gone by, is still unaccounted for. The very first thing we have to do is finding their fate, the dire and cherished desire of their families.
In short, there were about 90,000 South Korean students forced to join the young volunteer students’ army, and not a single one was sent home or allowed to return home from the North Korean captivity state.”
Bosung Middle School
South Korean volunteers
North Korean Communists
North Korean Soldiers
Recently I searched the military song through Google Search and found the full lyrics written by Rim Wha, a Korean leftist poet.
Peoples’ Resistance Song by Rim Wha
We fought enemies until all dead:
Do not grieve our deaths:
Just cover us with our flags, the red flags:
Below which our sacrifice was sworn.
My comrade was shouting while bleeding :
Which is still resounding in my heart :
Farewell my comrade along the road of grudges:
The boiling blood of revenge is still spurting.
Our comrade fell from the white terrors:
The guns and swords shook while looking for enemies:
Who tried to sell the freedom from our country:
Let us defeat them all, our dear commando.
Kwan Ho Chung, November 25, 2020