A meeting of Jeju 4·3 survivors who suffer from disorders related to the tragedy was held on April 29, 2017, at the auditorium of the Jeju 4·3 Peace Memorial Hall. During the meeting, dancer Oh Seon-ja presented an impromptu performance to the song “Hanobaeknyeon,” which translates to English as “500 years.” The dancer is also the daughter of Oh Tae-soon, a survivor of Jeju 4·3 who suffers from physical disorders related to the incident.
Oh Tae-soon watched his daughter dance in silence from the corner of the auditorium. He wiped the tears from his eyes as if he did not want to be seen. We visited Oh Tae-soon in Seogwang-ri, Andeok-myeon, on July 9, 2017.
Photo and article by Cho Jeong-hee,
Deputy Director of the Memorial Project Team
Jeju 4·3 Testimony by Oh Tae-soon (born 1933, lives in Seogwang-ri, Andeok-myeon), who suffers from physical disorders caused by Jeju 4.3
Before the war, the young people were executed. As soon as the Korean War broke out, they were conscripted. Walls were erected around each village with guard posts built every 100 meters along the fortification. There were about 13 to 14 posts, each guarded by five people. So, there were about 70 guards required each day. Since the young men were dead or had been conscripted, there was no one left to guard the wall. Seniors and women had to be mobilized. They also instructed me to guard the post, too. I was only 16 at the time, but I was as tall as an ordinary adult. It was the police who told me to do so, and their orders had the same power as those of the president nowadays. The adults had steel rods sharpened by the blacksmith, but I had nothing to take to the guard post. I was afraid of being scolded by the police, so I picked up an oak branch from the mountain and made a club out of it before I joined the guard. So, I was on guard duty with the club. One of my squad members was an old man and was caught sleeping. We were supposed to relay messages from one guard post to another. For instance, if a policeman from the first post gives a message, it should be delivered to the second post, and from the second post all the way through to the last post. As the old man fell asleep and could not relay the message, the policeman ran to our post and shouted, “Everyone out!” We were told that when such things happen, we had to take our weapons, which the police called our “lifeline.” with us. I took my club with me. The policeman yelled, “Get on the floor!” Next, we were physically assaulted. The policeman took my club and beat us one by one with it. I was the last to be beaten because I was the youngest. I was scared and trembling from terror. When the policeman struck me, the pain was so intense that I couldn’t help but move my arm to cover my back. As the policeman hit me again, the club broke my arm.
I went to school with my broken arm. I was a student at Deoksu Primary School. At the time, my homeroom teacher just finished his training as a defense officer. He asked me, “What happened?” I could not answer. I was afraid of the police. My teacher, a military officer, had power, but I was still afraid of the police.
During Jeju 4·3, martial law gave too much power to the police. Once, I was sent to the Andeok police substation in the early days of Jeju 4·3 for an errand. Terrified, I went to the substation and saw policemen pulling a lady out from a water tank. There was a baby on the lady’s back. She was being tortured with her baby on her back. What a scary world it was. After the evacuation order, I moved to Deoksu-ri, and the situation worsened. No one could say anything even when the police shot and killed people without reason. In Deoksu-ri, the police told the evacuees to gather one day. They chose only the young people and shot them to death. After we came back to Seogwang-ri to rebuild our homes, there were six to seven policemen posted in the police box. The villagers took turns to prepare meals for the policemen. Every meal time, we prepared rice and side dishes and took them to the police box. The villagers did their best to serve, but the policemen were always complaining about the food, saying, “Are we supposed to eat this crap?” When we served chicken, they told us the food smelled like chicken feces. When we served pork, they said the food was full pigs’ odor and threw the food at us. At the time, the police were the law.
I joined the army on Nov. 16, 1955. I finished basic military training in Nonsan and was sent to the military police school in Daegu. After that, I was dispatched to the 2nd Division of the ROK Army. I was taller than most others and was chosen for that reason to receive honor guard training. One day, I was ordered to perform during an event for a visiting U.S. ambassador. When we were practicing the present arms salute, I was not able to hold my rifle firmly. I tried my best, but I could not hold it because of my injured arm. My platoon leader ordered me to step forward and started slapping my face. I was seriously beaten that day and could not tell him that it was because my arm was injured. I am still mortified about it. Had I received proper treatment when I first injured my arm, it would not have been like this. I just had to live with my injured arm and it remained injured for the rest of my life. Even now, when the weather is bad, I still feel pain in my arm. The pain is so bad that I barely sleep.
There was a man who raised a cow in my village. He took his cow with him everywhere.When he was living in a temporary building during the rebuilding of Seogwang-ri, the man lost his cow. He received permission from the police substation and went looking for his cow along with 10 people from the village. They searched Doneori Oreum. I followed the adults just for fun as they searched the volcanic cone but to no avail. Someone told us that they saw wild cows near Namsongi Oreum [Namsongak]. The search party split up, and about half of us went up to Namsongi Oreum. At the top of the oreum, we heard whistles. They were counterinsurgency forces who were patrolling around with young men from Jeoji-ri. Among our search party, there was a man who used to live in Jeoji-ri. One of the counterinsurgency forces saw the man from Jeoji-ri and became suspicious. He said, “Well, I haven’t seen that man for some time. Where has he been?” All of the search party members were arrested and taken to the Jeoji-ri police box for interrogation. The police interrogated the search party one by one and beat them. Luckily, I was spared of the beating because I was only a child. I cried as soon as a policeman holding a club stood in front of me. The adults who were beaten that night did not live long.
During Jeju 4·3, my older brother was a student at Daejeong Middle School. At night, the people from the mountains came, and, during the day, the police came to my home and tried to take my older brother and other young people in the village. Four of the young villagers, including my brother, ran away to mainland Korea as they thought that it would be dangerous for them to stay in the village. Ever since, I have never learned of the whereabouts of my brother. He left to avoid Jeju 4·3 but could not make it back home. I followed my brother’s tracks, asking many people about him. The last thing I heard was that he once worked in the central government in Seoul. I could not find out which department he worked in. I could not find any reliable record about my brother. I was diagnosed with liver cancer and am now receiving treatments for embolism. I do not have long to live, and that is why I think of my brother more than I used to. I want to find out where my brother passed away before I die. If only I could find my brother’s body.