Photo and article by Cho Jeong-hee,
Deputy Director of the Memorial Project Team
Yang Nong-ok (born in 1931, in Ora-ri, Jeju, but now lives in Gyeonggi-do Province)
It’s been 70 years, but I can still remember vividly as if it happened yesterday, the night when the signal fire was raised during Jeju 4·3. There was a beacon fire lit at the top of Min Oreum. The fire was raised by young villagers whom I knew. I was afraid because I knew who they were, which could lead to trouble.
On the election day of May 10, all the villagers of Donomi went up Yeolanji Oreum. We spent about a week there. In the meantime, my father went down to visit our home and came back to the oreum from time to time. He had to feed the pigs, hens, and chickens. We couldn’t stay in the mountains forever. While all the people were up in the oreum, I don’t think there was a single person who was linked to the rioters. No one cared about the ideological dispute in Donomi.
However, the police ordered us to be collected. The police said they arrested a young person who was from Darangut, Nohyeong-ri. His face was almost unrecognizable. He was severely beaten and seemed dead to me already. His clothes were all torn apart. I could see his underwear, and his face was covered with black bruises. He was totally unrecognizable.
When the police asked us, “Do you know anything about this person? His parents, perhaps?” no one answered. Even when the man begged, “Do you not recognize me?” no one could say anything because we were all scared and afraid of being involved. After the police took the young man to Min Oreum, we could hear gunshots.
On Nov. 18, 1948, the village of Donomi was completely burned. The police came into the village and lit it on fire, starting with the homes and structures as its outer edges and working their way toward its center. When my home and village burned down, we went to my older sister’s house who was living with her in-laws. We were able to get a room for my father, me, and my sisters.
On the last day of November, we finished the ancestral rites for my grandfather. On the next day, everyone was ordered to gather at Dodu Primary School. The police threatened people who stayed home and rounded them up. On our way to the school, my father walked in front of me, with my two little sisters at his sides. While walking, my father looked back at me and told me to “search under the pot.”
As the people gathered at the school yard, a Jeep came carrying people from Mollemul. There were nine people, blindfolded. They came out of the truck and stood in three rows, and were taken to a barley field on the other side of the road. I saw them with cigarettes in their mouths. Soon after, the sound of gunshots roared, and the people collapsed to the ground. If anyone tried to close their eyes or cover their faces so as not to look at the scene, soldiers used clubs to beat them. We were forced to watch the execution. After the execution, a person named Kim from Yeonmi-dong began to point at people. His finger suddenly pointed at my father. As soon as this happened, the soldiers took our father and shoved him onto the Jeep. I begged to be allowed to follow him. The one they called the commander of the 9th Regiment told me, “Get off.” He continued, “We will investigate and let him go.” However, my father never came back.
I heard rumors that my father was taken to the Jeju Police Station. I carried on my back my father’s overcoat and clothes, and a carton of cigarettes I had bought for him, and I went to Jeju City. At the time, the road was closed, so I took the way around the coast. I started walking at dawn when the tide was rising. When I reached Mugeunseong, the sun was already setting, and the tide was rising again. I waited for a day in front of the police station but could not meet my father. I stayed one night at my aunt’s near Gwandeokjeong. The next day, I went to the police station again. On the fifth day, I was able to see my father on a Jeep. I shouted, “Father,” and tried to cling onto the vehicle, but my father lowered his head. One of the soldiers lifted me up so I could board the vehicle, but the commander of the 9th Regiment gave the soldier a look. As soon as the soldier saw his commander, he let me go, and I fell to the ground. I got up and tried to follow the car again. This time, a guard held me back. That was the last time I saw my father.
My heart was tearing apart as I returned with the pack of my father’s clothes. When I was passing by the military shop in Gapjajeong near Chilseongtong market, I saw a person crying. “Oh, my brother died in Ora-ri,” the man said as he laid down his pack of straw mats. I heard the people taken aboard trucks were killed in the public hall of Ora-ri. My aunt bought me beef and told me to “serve them at the ritual.” So, I prepared the meals for my father’s ancestral ritual. My two little sisters and I cried together.
My aunt introduced a man to me, and we got married. I found out that my husband suffered from wounds he sustained from being tortured after being captured by police during Jeju 4·3. He had two brothers who went missing in Mokpo Prison. His mother was shot dead in Yeolanji Oreum. His father was also murdered in the mass killing. My husband was the only survivor in his family.
He was often taken to the police substation as the police interrogated him over his older brother’s whereabouts. He was beaten every time he was arrested. He was always released with his body covered in bruises. I did not know that when my aunt set me up with my husband. After the wedding, my husband could not make ends meet because he was feeble. His lungs were damaged, and I could not feed him well, either. When we were climbing up the hill from Mogiwat to Yeonmidongsan, he suddenly fell down. He died immediately after.
I remembered the last words of my father, “to lift the stone under the pot.” After my father died, I lifted the pot, under which was a stone atop an envelope. The envelope contained money. The money was wet, so we had to dry it for several days. I had to be careful and had my two sisters keep watch while I unfolded the money on top of a cauldron’s lid. We had to do it three times, which means it was a lot of money that my father left me.
We used it frugally for our father’s funeral and ancestral rituals. We collected wild chives and garden cress and sold them to buy rice for my father’s ancestral ritual and other seasonal memorial services. Looking back, I think the seed money my father left us allowed me to buy our own field, which allowed me to raise my own children. I still have pocket money, which I never use, just like the pot money my father left me.