“I had to join the women’s army corps to remove my father’s ‘red record.’”

Jeong Bong-young (born 1934, Dodu Village, Jeju City)

I first met Mrs. Jeong Bong-young last summer at Yongdam Leport Park where a joint memorial service was held for those residents of the northern part of Jeju Island who were murdered under the pretext of preliminary inspection. I saw a strange elerly woman within the participants, whose number dwindled every year. I asked her, “Are you here for the first time?” and she said, “Yes. I did not know women could also put their lost loved ones on the list of the Jeju 4.3 victims’ families. Nobody told me. I did not know such events were going on. I am the daughter of my deceased father who is still not on the list. That is why I am here for the first time.” She went on with a long reply filled with resentment and a sense of frustration. One year later, we met again. On the day I went to see her and deliver her a photo of herself being awarded the “4·3 Proud Parent Award,” she was returning from the hospital where she received treatment after having gained her newly issued 4·3 bereaved family certificate. Now she speaks out with a clear and louder voice, to bring to life her long-lost story.

Recorded and Arranged by Cho Jeong-hee, head of the Memorial Project of Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation
Photo by Kim Young-mo, a member of the Memorial Project Team of Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation

A healthy baby who sponged her mother’s tonics was born 10 years after her parents marry

My name is Jeong Bong-young. I am 87 years old since I was born in 1934. My birthplace is Japan. My father worked as an executive director of the Jomae Factory, a padlock manufacturer in Ikaino, Ikuno ku in Osaka City. His eldest and second eldest brothers were the “Oyabun,” or CEOs. My mother married my father when she was 16 years old. Without her husband, she lived with her parents-in-law in Dodu Village for 10 years before going to Japan where she gave birth to me when she was 26. My father himself prepared herbal tonics for my feeble mother, and I sponged that from inside my mother. Thanks to the medicine, I was born so healthy that I weighed more than 4 kg. I had round eyes, and I was chubby. My father must have thought me invaluable as he was already 30 years old by that time.

Back home to where “the tiger had its mouth wide open!”

I never submitted to the Japanese who called me “Josenjing,” a despicable word they used against Koreans. Rather, I was the leader of the children my age in my neighborhood streets of Ikaino before I came back to Jeju when I was 13 years old. Before I came to Jeju, my father, fond of mountains, took me hand in hand to a temple that is located on Mt. Ikomayama. At the time, the tranquilizing sound of the streams and the incense from the temple calmed me. I told myself then “not to beat up my younger siblings.” When we got to the temple, a Japanese monk was praying. As my father told the monk that we were going back to Jeju, the monk yelled frighteningly, “The tiger has its mouth wide open! You must stay!” However, my father had to take care of his parents on behalf of his two older brothers who didn’t want to leave Japan. He had to leave for Jeju along with my mother and his five children. I wonder what he was thinking on the ferry that carried us to Jeju where death lurked for him.

Jeong Man-jong (right), Bong-young’s father, in Japan in his younger days.

Our house burned down and my mother’s box was all that was left

As soon as we got to Jeju, we built a new house in Dodu Village though we never lived one full year in it because it burned down during the turmoil. It was midnight Jan. 1st, 1949. Leaflets were flying over my yard, telling us to climb up to the mountain. That was when they burned down our house. At around 2 a.m., there were lights all over and the sounds of military boots stomping around. Then there was a “crack!” and our front door smashed to pieces. I knocked my mother’s head with a lamp that was within my reach. I tried to shout but I could not because I was so frightened. My mother, startled, ran out with my youngest sibling in her arms, and my five-year old younger brother jumped into the Tong-si, a traditional Jeju-style toilet and pigpen, at the back of the house. The pigs inside were knocked into a heap because of him and fled. However, the pigs were burned to death, but my younger brother survived inside the Tong-si. As the fire slowly devoured our house, my mother handed my two-year-old brother to me and said, “Hold the baby.” She jumped into the burning house, and after a moment she came out with a box that contained clothes and blankets she had made when she married my father. She just could not let it burn. At least it was what she wanted to protect, with all the clothes and blankets looted by the riots. She pulled out a total of two boxes from the blazing house and tossed them into the yard, which took an incredible might. Pillars of flame and smoke swallowed our house. Ashes and my mother’s boxes were all that was left.

A box Bong-young’s mother pulled from their scorched house during Jeju 4·3. It is her only keepsake.

Arrested, arrested, and arrested again

“People risked their lives for national independence from Japan; the least you can do is help us take care of our village affairs.” That was what the folks in the village asked of my father, and my father could never reject them. He was doing his best as the village foreman and the chairperson of the aid association for Dodu Elementary School when Jeju 4·3 broke out.
One day, all the village folks were told to gather at Dodu Elementary School. There were adults in the schoolyard and children in the field next to it. Ten men, with their eyes covered with white cloth, were brought forward. They were shot dead in front us. You will not see anything more merciless or any death more useless than those I saw that day. But it was still worse for my father. He was not shot to death but was beaten severely — so severely that one of the old men had to carry my father home on his shoulders. As soon as my father entered our yard he collapsed, and my mother poured a bottle of distilled spirits on him to disinfect his wounds. With his skin ripped and torn open, my father barely survived, only to be taken away again two or three months later.
At 2 a.m., three sturdily built men stormed the house calling my father’s name. They just took him away without reason. Fortunately, he was back by morning, safe and sound. Apparently, one of the police officers was taught the Thousand-Character Classic Chinese text from the village school teacher, my grandfather. The cop said, “You never want to get on that truck. It’s going to take you to that military training ground where they kill everyone. Now hurry yourself back.” But there was not a moment to celebrate my father’s return. “How come Bong-young’s father survived the night and my husband didn’t! Why wasn’t he killed, too!” It was a cry of a neighbor who came to our yard. She cried so loud with her hair shaken loose. It was just enough to draw attention, and my father was taken away again by the police.

Released from Mokpo Prison as a model prisoner

The police station at the time was standing where Gwandeokjeong stands now. I was waiting for my father who was taken to the police station. All of a sudden, a post card was delivered, saying that we should visit Mokpo Prison on the mainland. My mother could not read but she was courageous enough to leave for Mokpo all by herself, with the postcard in her hands.
“Your father is breaking stones with a hammer.” She told me my father was a model prisoner and said she would rather he stay in prison than to be arrested again and die a purposeless death. She was praying every day for my father, and immediately before the outbreak of the Korean War, my father came back home. It was like a miracle.
According to the list of convicts, Jeong Man-jong (20 years old), the father of Jeong Bong-young, was brought before a military trial. On Dec. 15, 1948, he was sentenced to one year and was sent to Mokpo Prison. It appears that Man-jong was released earlier than expected on Oct.16, 1949, under the “jurisdiction to release a model prisoner.” (Mokpo Prison List of Identities in Concluded Cases, 1949)

Preliminary inspection and going missing

On the outbreak of the Korean War, my father said, “This is a big one.” I did not know what he meant exactly but he was taken away three days later. Again, he was taken to the courtyard of Gwandeokjeong. My mother paid him a visit to deliver his clothes. She came back with the outfit my father was wearing. It smelled of carcasses and was rotten and permeated with sweat. It was shorter than a month after my father was taken when a friend of his came and said, “Bong-young’s father died on the 4th of July.” That was it. I still have no idea as to when, where, and why my father died, or if he really did die on July 4. I perform his memorial rituals every year a night before the anniversary of his death, and I am sure that my dear father died at sea.

My father who I could not hold even keep alive in my dreams

Once I had a dream, a dream where my father and I were in a taxi. We were passing Dongmun Rotary heading to the bus terminal. I was sitting in the front and I found that my father was missing as I turned back to look at him. Suddenly, a huge tidal wave was coming, and my father was already being sucked into the wave. I tried and tried to hold him as hard as I could, but I couldn’t. It turned out that it was only a dream. I awoke in a flop sweat and my clothes were damp. That dream is the only evidence I have that my father died at sea.

Handling the bloodstained knife to cook meals

We had no tools. We had to use a knife that was left by the rioters to cut, chop, and slice food. It was the same knife that was used to kill people. My youngest brother, who was born in Jeju, starved to death, and that’s when I thought I should pull myself together. After all, I am the eldest of my six brothers and sisters. I became a domestic servant for one of my distant uncles to take care of my mother and remain with my siblings. I worked for about a year when my uncle had me work in a soybean sauce factory at the west pier. It was where beans were soaked, put into a large wooden pail, and steamed to make soybean paste or red pepper paste. Every two weeks, I received red pepper paste or soybean paste as a gift. I was regularly paid though the money was small. I was always hungry. I sometimes stole the steamed beans to ease my hunger. Then I heard that the military was recruiting female soldiers. A five-year service in the military was supposed to offer me a job as a typist! I could not live my whole life carrying soybean and red pepper pastes in that factory, so I thought being a typist was a much better choice.

Picture of classmates from Jeju. Left end from the second row is Mrs. Bong-young Jeong.

I was 19 years old, becoming a female soldier

I did not know what it meant to love your country. Even when I was in Japan, people called Koreans Josenjing, but they did not kill for no reason. Shooting, stabbing with bamboo spears and knives, and even stoning people are not something you can do to force someone to love his/her nation. I did not want to be called a family of criminals because of my father’s false “red record.” It was the reason why I signed up for the armed forces. Becoming a soldier to lift my family above my father’s false charge! I was one of the 11th class of graduates of the army. We were a total of 60 students from Jeju alone. A ceremony was held for the students in the front yard of Gwandeokjeong with the governor and other residents in attendance. It was the same place where my father was taken into custody, beaten up and taken out to the sea. I was 19. I finished my training at the Nonsan Training Center and Gwangju Sangmoo Base and became a signal corpswoman.
Even though I was accused of being a spy and investigated by the Intelligence Corps because my father had a “red record.” They interrogated me, asked me why I joined the army, and forced me to stare at the word “patriotism” written in huge letters upon a blackboard. I served 8 years and was discharged in 1960. It was a relief that I served in the military. My father’s “red record” was erased and I could get married and give birth to my son with honor. My son graduated from Seoul National University and had no trouble passing all those inspections when he tried to get a job in a U.S. company. It is all thanks to the fact that I had tried so hard to get rid of my father’s “red record.”