Reliving the memory that was inscribed on her body 70 years ago

Kim Jeong-a (born 1946 in Go-nae, Aewol; lives in Tokyo, Japan)

Kim Jeong-a was born in 1946 in Gonae-ri, Aewol-myeon. She was only two months old when Jeju 4·3 occurred. She does not remember mother and father. She had to suffer the loss of her parents, the scars left on her chest, arms, shoulder and neck, to live with the hearing loss of her right ear, which she had to cover with a handkerchief to hide the pus it oozed. Her tears prove that after 70 years, the memories of her past still hurt her. She says she does not know of Jeju 4·3, but it was Jeju 4·3 that gave her all the hardships she endured while being a mother to two daughters and the grandmother to her granddaughter. – Editor

Photo and article by Cho Jeong-hee,
Deputy Director of the Memorial Project Team

“On Nov. 13, 1948, the armed guerilla fighters attacked and massacred the people of three families in Gonae-ri. Kim Bong-eon (age 24), Oh Chang-soon (age 23, Kim’s wife), Ko Si-chun (age 21), and Yang Chang-ha (the mother in her 60s) died in the assault. Ko Hee-bong, the father of Si-chun, was seriously injured. Bong-won was a teacher at Aewol Middle School, and Si-chun was one of the first graduates of the middle school. The victims were from a knowledgeable class. The armed forces seemed to have coaxed the victims, who were opinion leaders of the local community, to follow their cause. It is likely the guerillas murdered the victims as the suggestion was rejected.”

Source: 「Jaemin Ilbo Newspaper」 (Nov. 13, 1998)

The memories inscribed on the body

I was born in 1946. I was only two months old when Jeju 4·3 broke out. Of course, I do not remember anything about the incident, nor the faces or the voices of my parents. No one could explain why my parents passed away, why I became an orphan, or why I could not hear with my right ear. I did not know why my deaf ear kept oozing pus all the time. There was no explanation. It is only the wounds on my body that remember that horrible day 70 years ago.

The police record of innocent people killed during Jeju 4·3. Parents of Kim Jeong-a (Kim Bong-eon and Oh Chang-soon) are known to have been murdered during an assault on Gonae-ri on Nov. 13, 1948 (Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation).

The night of Nov. 13, 1948

On the night of Nov. 13, 1948, they attacked our house in Gonae-ri. The three of us — my father, my mother, and I — were asleep inside. We were slashed relentlessly by blades and spears. On that day, my father died. My mother lived for 10 days after suffering from the wounds. She was slashed everywhere.

The child who had to cover her ear with a handkerchief

I was found in covered blood as my mother was shielding me up during the assault. I was raised by my grandmother, who was desperate to save her one and only granddaughter. Unlike what my neighbors thought would happen, my wounds began to heal. However, even when the wounds on my chest, shoulder, arms, and neck healed, my right ear never regained its hearing. It’s uncomfortable, but I could bear it as I was able to use the other ear. The oozing of pus from my right ear, however, was embarrassing. It bruised my heart. I was afraid someone might see it, so I always used a handkerchief to cover my right ear. I looked everywhere and searched hard to make the oozing better, but it was of no use.

Scars from the stabbing under the ear.

My grandmother’s tears

My father graduated from Tokyo University. He was a smart man and a teacher at Aewol Middle School. He was the pride of my grandmother as everyone in the village envied him. My grandmother was in grief from her son’s death. She sent her other children, my uncle and aunt, as stowaways to Japan, in her efforts to save them. She had to see the faces of the assailants, the same people who killed her son and daughter-in-law, every day. Who could understand the fury and the sadness of my grandmother? She felt pity on me, who lost both her mother and father. Yet she did not come to my school on the days of my entrance ceremony, graduation, or sports day because she did not want to think of her lost son. I still remember when she cried in front of her son’s grave. She told me that it was her last wish to see me married. Indeed, she did pass away after I got married.

The wounds of Jeju 4·3 that had to be taken care of without help

After my wedding, I first received an operation at Severance Hospital in Seoul. Although I was told that my hearing could not be recovered, I had to do it anyway. After the operation, there was no miracle, and I still could not hear with my right ear. There were numerous treatments that followed, and the symptoms improved. Still, the oozing never stopped. Looking back, it has been a long time, but nothing really improved over the 70 years. I had no one to call mother and father. It was awkward just to utter those two words. Now, I have become the mother of two daughters and a grandmother of a granddaughter. Yet, the wounds of Jeju 4·3 are still the source of my pain, fury, loneliness, and sorrow.

The Jeju 4·3 aftermath disability report and diagnosis written 70 years after Jeju 4.3.

Talk about Jeju 4·3

It has been about 38 years since I came to Tokyo. There are not many chances to learn about Jeju when you are living in Japan. I recently learned of the building of the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park as well as reports on the Jeju 4·3 victims and survivors. Fortunately, the deaths of my parents were reported by relatives living in Jeju. Now, I think it is my turn to report the death of my uncle and register their families as well as report my disability. For the first time in 70 years, I am talking about the wounds of Jeju 4·3. Honestly, I was afraid and embarrassed, but after I began talking about it, I felt comfortable and resolved in my mind. I think it is time I paid tribute to my parents.

The graves of Kim’s parents (Oct. 1, 2018).