Back home after 70 years with 70 years of memories

On March 30, 2018, the Jeju 4·3 Research Institute held its 17th Jeju 4·3 testimonial ceremony titled Back Home after 70 Years with 70 Years of Memories at the Jeju Culture and Art Center. Three witnesses — Song Bok-hee, 88, from Osaka, Japan; Lee Sam-moon, 78, from Mokpo, South Korea; and Yang Nong-ok, 88, from Gyeonggi-do Province, South Korea — were invited to the stage to tell their stories of how they ran away from their homes during Jeju 4·3. In this issue of Jeju 4·3 and Testimony, the witnesses discuss how they had to regretfully leave their homes to survive. As Lee’s testimony was presented in issue 30, the stories of Song and Yang are being presented here. – Editor

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

Song Bok-hee was born in 1931 in Seogwipo. She was 16 when Jeju 4·3 began. She moved to Japan at age 20 and is now living in Osaka. She still remembers the scenes of Jeju 4·3 as they were “so horrifying that I cannot forget them after 70 years.” Seogwi-ri is the central part of Seogwipo. There, the soldiers of the 2nd Regiment who occupied the village cut off the heads of villagers and presented them on utility poles. Armed rioters raided the village, and many villagers lost their homes during the night. The leader of the myeon office, Song Moon-hee, a senior in the family of Song Bok-hee, was said to have been shot to death at Jeongbang Waterfall. Her father’s younger brother was arrested during preliminary detention and has not been heard of since. The killings, the deaths, the burning of buildings and the destruction were endlessly abysmal to her. She became a stowaway to Japan at the age of 20 to escape the terror.

Song Bok-hee (born 1931 in Seogwi-ri, Seogwipo; lives in Osaka)

I lost my home over one night

I cannot remember the face of my mother as I was too young. When Jeju 4·3 occurred, I was living with my father and my brothers. It was maybe because our village, Seogwi-ri, was at the center of Seogwipo that the mountain people [rioters] and the counterinsurgency people did not leave us alone. There was an inn in our village. About 20 members of the supporting police forces who were dispatched from mainland Korea stayed there. The owner of the inn told me, “They are going to burn all the houses that are near the mountains.” Since the mountain people come to the nearest houses in the village to eat and sleep, the police were going to burn down all the houses to cut them off. I don’t know how the words spread among the people in the mountain, but it was the mountain people who raided Seogwipo in advance and set fire to the village. It was a huge fire. My home was among those that were burned. On that night, my father was not home, so I was putting out the fire on the roof. When my father came back home in a hurry, he shouted, “Come back down here if you don’t want to get shot!” Anyway, it was my efforts that stopped the main building from burning. My father’s younger brother’s house was completely burned. So, his family had to move into our house. Just think about your home being burned down in a single night. Where would you go?

The horrible deeds of the 2nd Regiment

I heard President Syngman Rhee ordered the 2nd Regiment to move into Jeju to “suppress the riot.” The 2nd Regiment first thought the job was to be easy. However, the forests were thick, and it was difficult for them to navigate. The weather was cold, and the snow was piling up. It was said that they were puzzled by the environment.
It is unlikely that President Rhee’s order to “suppress the riots” was to kill every person in Jeju.
However, the soldiers of the 2nd Regiment who occupied our village were cruel. They cut the heads off those who were caught in the mountains and hung them on utility poles. Unfortunately, one of the poles was right above my home.
A bunch of people were gathered around my home in the morning. I went outside to look and see what was going on in the crowd, and there were the heads of dead people hung up on the pole. I was only 16 years old at the time. I was so terrified, especially of the heads of dead women because they had long hair. They looked like ghosts to me.
It’s been 70 years, and I still remember the scene as if it happened yesterday. What was worse was the soldiers stuffed the noses of the heads with lit cigarettes. The soldiers were mocking the dead by playing with cigarettes to laugh at the deceased in a devilishly mischievous manner. One of the heads belonged to Song Tae-sam, a senior in the Song family.

Family seniors who went missing

While Song Tae-sam was a distant relative of our family, Song Moon-hee, who was also the leader of the myeon office, was a closer relative. The leader Song Moon-hee was shot to death at a field near Jeongbang Waterfall after he was taken by soldiers at night. Many know the waterfall as a beautiful tourist attraction. During Jeju 4·3, it was nothing more than a killing field where numerous people were murdered. Soon after the outbreak of the Korean War, my father’s younger brother, who used to work in a fisherman’s association, the wife of the leader Song Moon-hee, and another senior in the Song family were arrested. It was preliminary detention, and those who were taken are still missing. I heard rumors that they dumped the bodies at sea.

Becoming a stowaway

During the times of Jeju 4·3, the island was full of death. The killings, the deaths, the burning of buildings and the destruction — It’s been 70 years, but I still remember terrible moments when I think of Jeju. That is why I do not want to go back, honestly. The feelings were much more intense at the time. So, I became a stowaway at the age of 20. I boarded a ship to Japan. Luckily, I was helped by my older sister and her husband who had already moved to Japan a few years before. I was able to settle down in Osaka. I worked at a fabric factory making raincoats. I met my now husband, who is from Yeongrak-ri. I gave birth to three boys and one girl. The memories of Jeju were too horrifying to even think of them, and now, I am telling you the story myself.