Jeong Soon-hee (female, born 1935, lives in Gangjeong, Seogwipo)
Photo and article by Cho Jeong-hee,
Deputy Director of the Memorial Project Team
I was born in Gangjeong and have never left the village. I couldn’t dare to leave this place even after the four terrible years passed. Where could I go, leaving my house and fields? My father died when I was seven, and I was the youngest of six siblings. My eldest brother was a teacher at Gangjeong School, but he moved to Japan as soon as Jeju 4·3 broke out. He was smart and wealthy, so he seems to have been in the spotlight from the beginning. He couldn’t take his wife and daughter with him because he stowed away. That ended their relationship. My eldest sister got married early and lived separately from my family. My second eldest sister started with a family in Japan. By the time Jeju 4·3 occurred, there were only four members left in my family: my mother, my other brother, my other sister, and me.
It must have been the day after many people died in a large field in Gangjeong. Soldiers of the Northwest Youth League called out young people from my village, saying that the New Jungmun Road was blocked. My elder brother and five other boys the same age as me were taken by truck to clean up stones that had been piled up on the road, and one of the boys seemed to have laughed playfully. The soldiers started beating him with the butt of a rifle, accusing the kid of laughing at them. It is said that my brother tried to stop the soldiers, saying, “He laughed because he’s a bit retarded.” This time, the butt plates were flown at my brother. He couldn’t stand the beating and jumped from the truck the moment it passed the bridge from Jungmun to Hawon. I heard that when my brother fell into the stream under the bridge, the soldiers in the truck shot until they ran out of bullets. But strangely enough, they couldn’t find his body. Then those angry members of the Northwest Youth League stormed my house.
The soldiers who surrounded my house dragged my sister to the Beophwan Police Substation and me to Gangjeong Elementary School. It is right where Gangjeong Elementary School is now. There was a thatched house next to the school building, which was a storage room for grain. I was locked up in that warehouse for about a month, dragged out and frequently tortured. They forced me to tell them where my elder brother was hiding. They took off all my clothes and tied me to an iron plate that looks like a door. Then they tied my arms and legs tightly with a wire rope, putting me upside down and pouring water with chili powder in my nose and mouth. If I held my breath to the point of death, they forced my teeth open with an iron rod and beat me to make me confess. They also poked my arms, legs, shoulders, and other parts of my body with iron sticks. Puting me upside down, they gave me electric torture, and changed to water torture, and then from water torture to electric torture, repeatedly. When torture didn’t seem to work, then they beat me … The soldiers in the thatched house used a child as their plaything.
One day, the soldiers brought a man from Gangjeong. It turned out that the man had lied and told police that he had seen me and my sister secretly bringing food to my brother in hiding. I was so angry and thought it was so unfair, that I jumped at him and hung on him, grabbing his collar. “I also miss my brother, so if you really saw me delivering rice, tell me where.” The soldiers began to scold the man, saying, “It cannot be a lie if a little kid does this.” Guess what he said? He said, “Am I mistaken?” That day, I was released with my sister who had been taken to the Beophwan Police Substation. That man … he lived in this Gangjeong Village until he died without saying sorry to me.
I couldn’t leave my house after returning home. Soldiers seized the house and stood guard. My tortured limbs had pus-filled wounds that started to rot, but I couldn’t go see a doctor. Later, my neighbors stood guard but the situation was the same. They just cursed, calling us “rioters” and didn’t even talk to us. Before the incident, we shared food and got along well, but everyone turned their backs on us afterward. They took away everything we had planted, and they even took away my house parts. Soon after, my mother was shot on the 16th day of November on the lunar calendar. There was literally no one left for me to rely on. Then I started babysitting for other families. At the age of 20, I met my husband and got married. Only then did they stop calling me a “rioter” because I married a man who had been in the military for five years. Those in my neighborhood couldn’t talk bad about me any longer because he was a man of merit.
I still can’t sleep well at night. Even with a little rustling sound, I wake up because it feels like mice and cats are running on my body … Just seeing a cat on the street gives me goosebumps … When I was taken by the Northwest Youth League, I was thrown into the warehouse after every time I was tortured. It was a storage for grain, so rats were everywhere. At night, cats would run all over the warehouse to catch mice. All I could see in the pitch-dark warehouse was the dreadfully flickering eyes of the cats, and all I could hear was the tearing cries of the mice. Imagine mice and cats were running all over my half-naked body, making the tapping sounds. How terribly frightening … The snow was piled white outside, while there was nothing to cover my body. Probably from then on, I couldn’t sleep well at night. It’s no use taking sleeping pills prescribed from the hospital. I purposely moved to be near the farm where I can’t hear the sound of cars and people.
Jeong Soon-hee won the 2018 Jeju 4·3 Parents’ Award. (May 26, 2018)
I always have a headache because I can’t sleep well at night. Now, I lost sight in one of my eyes. Doctors say it’s because my nerves were hurt, and I think it’s from the torture I suffered when little. Those bastards grabbed my hair and dragged me around, tied my body upside down, and pounded my head on the floor so much that I couldn’t grow hair on the top of my head for a while. My head hurts, and I can’t sleep well. My limbs that were tortured with electricity still cramp and are sore. There’s no point in taking psychiatric medicine or neurological medicine. Nothing works. When I consulted with doctors at the hospital, they say it is a neurological delusion disorder and sleep disorder caused by torture I received as a child. But applying for the recognition of my symptoms as residual disabilities due to Jeju 4·3, I received a notice of disapproval. People may think that it’s been 70 years and I must have forgotten it by now. But I remember those days when I was tortured, when I was teased as a “rioter,” as vivid as if it were yesterday. It still hurts, and I’m still angry. I want to relieve the lumps in my chest and feel comfortable now…