DEFENSE FORUM FOUNDATION
CONGRESSIONAL DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY FORUM
CAPITOL HILL FORUM
HONORING SOUTH KOREAN POWS: CHANG-HO CHO& CHANG- SEOK KIM
“HALF A CENTURY IN THE HELLISH NIGHTMARE:
SOUTH KOREAN POWS TELL THEIR STORY”
HOSTED BY DR. THOMAS CHUNG,THE KOREAN POW RESCUE COMMITTEE
AND DEFENSE FORUM FOUNDATION
MODERATOR: WILLIAM MIDDENDORF, CHAIRMAN,
DEFENSE FORUM FOUNDATION
Held on Capitol Hill
Friday, April 22, 2005
Federal News Service
BILL MIDDENDORF: Good afternoon. Bill Middendorf, the chairman of the Defense Forum Foundation. I’m very pleased to welcome you to this very special forum. This is the opening event of the North Korea Freedom Week. And we are very proud to be a member of the North Korean Freedom Coalition. I would call your attention to the flier describing the many activities coming up for the next nine days to focus on the human rights situation in North Korea — quite a few events are coming up. I hope that you all take that home and read it and attend the meetings.
Before I introduce our co-host, Dr. Thomas Chung, who will introduce our two speakers, these very courageous, brave men that served so many years in a prison atmosphere in North Korea, I would like to acknowledge our special guests, many special guests. Since we have a large number of distinguished folks with us today, I’d like to ask each of you to stand, if I could, but that the audience hold your applause till the end. We’re very honored to have this wonderful group with us today.
First of all, we’re very pleased to have the nations represented today that sent troops, as part of the United Nations Joint Command, to fight and protect South Korean democracy when North Korea invaded South Korea in June of 1950. Those countries that did such courageous work and participated in that wonderful activity are represented here by some very distinguished leaders of their countries.
First of all, we’re very honored to have with us Ambassador Ayele Kassenbun of Ethiopia. Mr. Ambassador. (Applause)
Brigadier General T.R. Mandela, and Prince Choabi of South Africa. General Mandela is the nephew of Nelson Mandela. We’re extremely honored to have you with us. Could you stand? Thanks, General. And your colleague (Applause).
Colonel Richard Giguere of Canada. Colonel. it’s great to have you here. (Applause.)
Minister Counselor Francisco Echeverri of Colombia is with us today. We’re happy to have you with us. (Applause.)
And of course the distinguished Captain William Garner of Australia. Captain. (Applause.)
And from the country that I know that is deeply grateful for your nation’s support, Sang Wha Chung and Sung Hyun Choi from the embassy of the Republic of Korea. We’re happy to have you here. (Applause.)
We’re also honored to have with us one of the most distinguished ambassadors our country has ever had, a man that served with such valor both in South Korea and in China in those critical days, Ambassador James Lilley. Mr. Ambassador. (Applause.)
As well as Ambassador Moulud Said of Western Sahara. Mr. Ambassador. (Applause.)
Colonel Warren Wiedhahn of the U.S. Marine Corps, representing the American Korean War Veterans Association He served with one of the most distinguished Marines that I ever knew, General Lou Wilson, who I served also in the Pacific in a very minor role. But General Wilson went ashore at Guam — climbed up the cliffs there and single-handed took out the machine gun nests that were firing down on the troops coming ashore, and received the Congressional Medal of Honor. All those surrounding him were killed, of course, instantly. And when it came time, my job as secretary of Navy was to pick the new commandant of the Marine Corps, I said, many man that’s good enough to get the Congressional Medal Honor goes in as Commandant. (Applause)
Colonel Wiedhahn: Thank you, sir.
MIDDENDORF: We also have Colonel Bong Keon KIM, president of the Korean Veterans Association for the Western Region of the United States of America. Thank you very much for being here. Dr. Hae-Soung Kim, president of the Korean War Veterans Association. (Applause.)
And two very special individuals from the National Alliance of Families for the Return of American Servicemen and Women, one of whom, Michael Beng, was a POW from the Vietnam War, who served with great distinction. (Applause.)
And I’m honored to introduce Glorianna Johnson, whose four brothers — four brothers, think of this — served in World War II, the Korean War and in Vietnam. Three came home, and one did not, the brother who was a POW in the Korean War. Glorianna.
We also have with us Soon-Ok Lee, who is an old friend; a North Korean defector and survivor of the North Korean political prison camps, that Defense Forum Foundation first hosted in 1998. (Applause.)
We work very closely with her on human rights issues, and she’s seated with the supporters of the Exile Committee for North Korean Democracy, a newly formed organization of North Korean defectors that will be involved with many of the programs that are coming up in this coming week. Would you please all stand for a moment, those of you in that organization? (Applause.) They’re all at that table.
And finally, from back in the good old USA, I’d like to introduce one of the truly great patriots, Congressman Royce, the new subcommittee chairman on international terrorism. (Applause.) And Congressman Royce is also one of the leaders of the Korean-U.S. Exchange: every year, a group of lawmakers from those two countries come together and meet in their respective countries.
And also from the United States, Sin U Nam, our main partner of our work on North Korea — Sin U Nam. (Applause). Mary Gohng, North Korean program officer for the Defense Forum Foundation. Mary? (Applause.) Her grandfather, you may recall, was the South Korean diplomat who made the appeal the United Nations for action when North Korea invaded in June of 1950. He was a great hero.
And finally, Madame North Korea Freedom Week, Suzanne Scholte, our beloved president. (Applause.) There is nobody in this country that has done more that I know of to pursue the cause of freedom for North Korea. And thank you, Suzanne.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to our co-hosts this morning. Dr. Thomas Chung is a very active and respected member of the Los Angeles civic and business community. In his youth he fought in the Korean War, with these two gentlemen that he’s going to introduce; he fought with them. And when he first heard the story of one of the men we’re about to hear from, he could never forget his fellow soldiers that were left behind, and there were so many.
He founded the Committee for the Rescue of Korean POWs in an effort to try to save the lives of those remaining prisoners still being held in North Korea, and there are over 500 of them still, in our estimation, still being held.
Defense Forum Foundation is very honored to have as our co-host today, for today’s forum, Dr. Thomas Chung. (Applause.) The story of these two men getting out to China and being so heroic after 50 years is unbelievable. So come on up and make the introduction.
- CHUNG: Well, when I was about to leave to the airport the day before yesterday. My wife came to me, “Honey, I’m worrying about you.” So I said, “Worrying about what?” “Worrying about your `Konglish.'” (Laughter.) So she said, “I wonder if your audience could understand Konglish.” I said, “Don’t worry, they’re smarter than me, so I don’t worry about that!” (Laughter.)
Anyway, I’d like to have the honor to introduce my former comrade in war. On my right side, Mr. Sin U Nam. Next to him is Chang-Ho Cho; 75 years old; captured in 1951. And he escaped from North Korea in 1994. And next to him is Chang-Seok Kim. He is 74; captured in 1953 and escaped in 2000 from North Korea. (Applause.)
Now, I’d like to use this opportunity to briefly describe what is the problem now a days we face. As you know the Korean War broke in June 25th, 1950, and the cease-fire and armistice took place 27th July, 1953. During the negotiation of the cease-fire, the top issue was how to exchange the POWs. That was a big issue throughout this war for three years. The North Koreans and China insisted they wanted to exchange all-for-all basis. But United Nations Command insisted on volunteer for volunteer. So — (inaudible) — this argument to send back the prisoner based on the volunteer for volunteer.
I have some data here. One is the total of the exchange of prisoners that took place. It was June 8th of 1953. The total held by their side was, according to the book titled “United States Army in Korean War,” was 82,491 POWs held by North side, and they sent only 13,404 of the prisoners, of which 3,846 were U.S. Army, and the rest of them mainly South Korean army. And the exchange was executed under supervision of so-called Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission that consisted of Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, Czechoslovakia, India, plus — (inaudible).
The problem is they sent back to the South side only 13,404 out of 82,491. The rest of them? They kept saying they wanted to stay. I mean, it is tricky. And whenever the South Korean government has the occasion to raise the issue, they (North Korea) simply denies they have any standing on the issue, and denies there are any POWs because under the agreement, they sent back all who wanted to go, so there’s not any remaining. But this was not true.
According to the Ministry of Defense of the South Korean government, there are approximately 500 POWs still alive being held captive in North Korea as [last as] 2004.
We have two former POW here, and they will testify how many people, how they live, and things like that. I’d like to emphasize that the POWs captured by North Korea are not criminals. They fought for democracy. They fought for freedom. They stopped the expansion of communism on the Korean peninsula. They fought under the U.N. flag. As I said, they are not criminals, they are heroes. Nevertheless, they are still in captive, and most people have forgotten their existence. We need to rescue these people — (inaudible). They are not criminals.
Their age ranges from 70 to up to mid-’80s. They are dying day by day, one by one because of their age and the conditions. So we don’t have a lot of time.
As I said, they fought for freedom, they also fought for democracy, and fought under the U.N. flag. So — all nations and peace-loving people have an obligation to rescue these innocent people. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
SIN U NAM: My name is Sin U Nam. I’m an architect — (inaudible.) But I work with Suzanne Scholte very closely on human rights issue North Korea I’m honored to be here as a translator for two POWs. I spent two, three days with them and the story I’ve been hearing is just unbearable and incredible. But if I may, Suzanne, Ambassador, I’d like to add one more recognition. Mr. Moon Kook Han, he is my guide in human rights work, and he flew over from Korea last week, and he is responsible for rescuing a North Korean family, the Gilsu family, in year 2002, and Kim Han Mee family, who got very famous with the picture of a baby crying in front of the mother being dragged out of the Japanese consulate office in year 2002. And he is here to prepare and man the North Korean genocide exhibit, which was held for three days, Monday through Wednesday, at the Rotunda, at the same side, and the exhibit will be at the Fairfax Korean Church starting from Tuesday next week through Saturday. Moon Kook Han, stand up. (Applause.)
Now, Chung-Ho Cho, a POW who escaped in the year 1994, wrote and published a book as soon as he escaped. Its title translates kind of to “Dead Soul Returning Home.” Wish it was translated into English, because it’s really a good book, a good book to read. And as we titled the forum luncheon, it’s half a century in a hellish nightmare.
CHUNG-HO CHO: (Through interpreter.) I thank the Providence who guided me to this spot at this time to meet you all important guests. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and Mr. Congressman and the Korean War veterans here and President Suzanne Scholte, thanks for inviting me to this luncheon forum. And I consider this is a great honor.
I’d like to express my gratitude for the U.S. Senate and House to pass the North Korean Human Rights Act unanimously. And I’d also like to thank the 33,629 U.S. soldiers who fought for freedom and the peace of the Korean peninsula and perished over there. I will never forget those people who fought over there.
The war stopped, the actual fight stopped 52 years ago; 52 years ago, but between the North and the South, a huge army are facing each other. Their war was never over.
Earlier this year, on March 24th, there was a POW, a South Korean POW named Young Hyun-sop, who escaped from North Korea. He was 81. He escaped from North Korea and came to the [Korean embassy] in Beijing.
The Korean Ministry of Defense confirmed that there are still 547 POWs alive in North Korea out of 60,000 originally. This is a clear violation of the Geneva Treaty, agreement, and this is a clear violation of human rights.
I appeal here to North Korean government: Send them back. Send the POWs back to South Korea.
According to foreign reports, there are political prisoners camps in North Korea and there are tens of thousands of prisoners in those labor camps. A Japanese TV station released the video film of those labor camps recently.
On February 16th, 1952, I was court-martialed by the North Korean Red Army 4th Corps, and charged for mass escape, and was sentenced to 13 years of prison time. So I was in prison first from 1952 through 1958. For six years I was in a political prison camp. And then after that, from 1958 through 1964, I was in a general prison, I guess a civilian prison. So altogether, I was in prison for 13 years in North Korea.
We must expose the inhumane, barbaric genocide that’s going on in North Korea.
Where I was, it was completely isolated from the rest of the world. We didn’t know anything, what’s going on outside of prison. And the prison itself was a half-cave, underground cave, and it looked like a zoo. We did not have any toilet papers. The only thing available was a half-quart drum can. That was the toilet for all of us.
When it came bedtime, there were no blankets. Nothing was available. So, we had only the prison uniform, and we slept without any blanket. We all slept in the prison uniform, together. For 13 years, I never had a pillow or blanket over my body when I was sleeping.
When I woke up in the morning, I did not have any razor blade, nothing. So there was no shower or bath facilities. So for three years, I could never brush my teeth or wash my face. Again, I never had a chance to brush my teeth.
Six years passed, and the seventh year, I was transferred to a civilian prison. Then I was able to bathe my body. I had no underwears. I had no socks. The whole prison was heaven for fleas and ticks, not for us. It was a daily war, daily battle, fighting against ticks and fleas and parasites.
I was not able to brush my teeth for 13 years, so as a consequence, I got infected. My gum was all infected. So when I was 40, I lost all my teeth. The prisoners were undernourished, had nothing to eat. So one by one, the prisoners perished by all those infectious disease and sickness.
If there is one thing good about the prison, because we were underground, we were not frozen to death.
I was with four other ROK officer POWs, and the four of them perished. I’m the only one who survived the prison.
The North Korean criminal court, the punishment — the worst punishment, of course, is execution. And the long-term prison term is for 20 years. If anyone complains about the system, about the government, then the minimum: 10 years of imprisonment.
When they execute the prisoners, they don’t do it within the prison camp. They take the prisoner out, and in front of the families, the immediate families, in front of a large crowd, they shoot the prisoners; they shoot and execute the prisoners.
This happens — this kind of barbaric atrocity happens also in China, in China and in communist countries. In North Korea, no religion. No religious freedom whatsoever.
In the ’80s, they claimed they loosened up about religious freedom, but nothing changed. During the Korean War, all the churches were destroyed, and all the clergymen were arrested or executed.
There was a POW, a South Korean POW whose name was Oi Young-il, who escaped in 1953. He testified: in July and August 1951, in Pyong-an Nando Province, Gurun Kandong County, Songorisongoh (ph) Village, in the prisoner camp, there was a fence, a barbed-wire fence in between. This side, there were 3,000 South Korean prisoners, and the other side, there were 300 GI — U.S. Army prisoners.
Because of unsanitary conditions at the time and because of undernourishment and extensive diarrhea disease, infectious disease, one-third of South Korean POWs perished, one-half of U.S. Army prisoners perished at the time.
In North Korea, the United States is the mortal enemy. All they say: ? own with the U.S. imperialist, and the U.S. soldiers — the Americans are animals with four legs, they are hyenas, and they attack.??The propaganda says, ?.S. are international military police.??This kind of propaganda goes on from kindergarten, the anti-American propaganda.
Not too long ago, they declared they had the nuclear weapons, and they stopped the six-party conference. [North Korea] said the reason they didn’t want to come to six-party talks was the hostile policy of the United States against North Korea. The truth is, North Korea must abandon their hostile policy against the United States.
We all already know about the kidnapping of the Reverend Kim Dong-shik. This happens many times. They are the kidnappers, the North Korean government.
- NAM: Now let me translate verbatim. Kim Jong Il regime is a barbaric, murderous regime. The whole country, North Korea, is a big prison of no human rights whatsoever.
- CHO: (Through interpreter.) They are holding the entire population as a hostage. They don’t have any solution on feeding their own people. From 1995 through 1998, more than 3 million North Koreans died of starvation On top of that, more than a million people escaped in search of food to China.
Nationwide in North Korea, political prison camps, close to 30,000 people perished inside of prison.
In North Korea, this kind of inhuman and barbaric treatment toward people is not limited to the prisons. The whole country is a prison.
These kind of atrocities and human rights violations are nationwide, throughout the country.
The citizens — individuals cannot choose their jobs. They cannot pick and choose their jobs. The government, the regime, decides the jobs for you.
They work from father to son, generation after generation, on the same job — hereditary.
No freedom of travel. They cannot choose their residence without permission from the government.
They have no freedom of assembly. They do not acknowledge even the alumni associations or family associations.
In North Korea, there is no freedom to listen, to watch or to talk. The only thing allowed in North Korea is to follow blindly whatever is decided by the regime and the party.
The power of the National Security Bureau in North Korea is limitless, and they control the country and the entire population. So they force people, forced labor, without any payment.
If anyone takes a stand, anti-social, or if anyone [tries to] sabotage or [is] lazy or absent from work, the punishment is from one month to 10 days of imprisonment and slave labor in prison and beatings on the prisoners.
The Roh government in South Korea has abstained from the vote, the resolution against North Korean human rights violation. This is shameful and a disappointing act on the part of the South Korean government.
I thank you all for listening to my long speech. I thank you all. (Applause.)
- NAM: This is Mr. Kim Chang-Seok, who escaped the year 2000. They can spend days on what they went through in North Korea. They both worked in coal mines, forced labor, hundred meters deep underground, and they both suffered disease in the lungs from the coal dust. And Mr. Cho lost his leg, lost his teeth, lost his one eye. He has only one eye. And Mr. Kim went through the same hell, almost the exact same hell in North Korea.
Now, he prepared a long testimony, but unfortunately, we have limited amount of time so I did ask him to reduce it as much as possible.
CHANG-SEOK KIM: (Through interpreter.) I’m very happy to see you all. June 25, 1950, the invasion by North Korean Red Army to South Korea, the Korean War, that was the fight for life and death for the Republic of Korea. In that sea of fire and the sea of blood, we shed blood together, American U.S. Army comrades. And I crossed the Pacific and I’m so happy to see the veterans of the Korean War.
I was a prisoner of war for 50 years in North Korea. I was treated subhuman. I was despised by all. I was fortunate enough to escape to South Korea. There were not too many people who welcomed us, prisoners of war. Now the American war veterans and the comrades who shed blood are with us. You were kind enough to invite me and my wife and my comrades, so I want to thank you all.
As a soldier, I feel I had to apologize to the people because we did not accomplish the mission during the war. For 50 years as a prisoner of war in North Korea, I lived under the brutal dictatorship, and after 50 years, thanks to the help from friends, I was able to escape and to come to South Korea.
I was wounded during the war, so I was captured by the Chinese Red Army. And in August 1953, I was transferred from the Chinese Red Army field hospital to a prisoners camp, POW camp, in Pyongan-namdo (ph) province, Kondong-gun (ph) mine town. At the time, the POW camp was called Shin-Tung (ph) Mine Camp. There were 500 POWs altogether, South Korean POWs, and I saw six GI, American POWs there. And the camp was fenced in with barbed wire, and security guards were watching the prisoners.
The ration at the time for the prisoners of war, for us, the South Korean Army prisoners, was — I looked up in the dictionary on this one, because I didn’t know — it’s a millet; not rice or rye or pea — millet; just a handful of millet in cabbage soup. That’s what we got. And for American POWs they gave a potato and then they mashed it — mashed potato. That’s what they had to eat.
We prisoners were sick people and undernourished, and actually useless force to North Korea. But the North Korean regime did not return POWs to South Korea. There is a reason.
After the war, the dictator Kim Il Sung, he needed labor to reconstruct the devastation, and he decided to use POWs as a labor force to reconstruct.
Mr. Kim worked at the mine all his life in North Korea. And if it is just an average miner, the regime or the authorities would give them 15 days of safety training education, but the POWs, nothing. They just push them down to the mine. No training for safety measures.
In June 1956 those who went to the North Korean People’s Army, they were called volunteer soldiers. And 80,000 of them were all discharged at the same time, and they were sent to mines and steel mills. And at the time, the South Korean POWs were also given the ID cards, North Korean ID cards, and they were sent out to the society.
And at the time, the POWs did not belong to those 80,000 who were discharged. We were named like the cabinet regulation, Cabinet Decision 143, Regulation 143. So POWs were all called 143, Cabinet Order 143.
So in North Korea, 143 is a curse. Even a kindergartener, if they hear he’s 143, they all know he was a South Korean prisoner of war.
The difference between the Korean POWs and the so-called volunteer army was so wide, so all the volunteer army were given 15 days of training for safety measures at the mine, but us POWs didn’t get any training.
In 1993 there was a big anniversary, the nationwide festival, 40-year anniversary of the victory of the Korean War. The cease-fire was July 27th, so in North Korea they commemorate July 27th every year as a victory anniversary. So in 1993 there was a 40th anniversary. and they were allowed to achieve more, to get promoted, but the children of the South Korean POWs, nothing. No hope. They could not join the Party, they could not go to college, they could not get a promotion.
Kim Il Sung declared they would be — North Korea would be self-sufficient, food and everything. The dictator said that they would be self-sufficient, but from 1991, several million people perished due to starvation.
From 1992, only those miners who worked at the important mines and military supply — military plants, they were given like a few days distribution a month. The rest of the population, no food distribution from 1992. They stopped food distribution.
In North Korea, people began to die en masse around 1993, 1994. And it was reported that 3 million died of starvation by April 1997. And you know what the North Korean regime did? They could not accept — they could not acknowledge the fact that the people are dying of starvation, so instead of begging for food for the people, they asked for the feed for the animals to outside world. But at the time, the United Nations knew people were dying of starvation. So the United (States ?) sent 300,000 to 400,000 tons of corn at the time to North Korea — food aid.
For 50 years I was in North Korea treated inhumane, sub-human. For all those 50 years, I never forgot my home and my ancestors — (inaudible). Now I am back at my home, I want to tell you how I felt after I came back home. I want to tell the president, I want to tell the national assemblymen, I want to tell the high-ranking ministers and I want to tell all the millionaires in South Korea: If you got to be where you are right now because you are capable and you are smart, then you are all wrong. What did they do when the war came? Did they know what war was like? How many of those leaders, how many of them really know what the war was like?
Now let’s look at our president in South Korea. He was elected by South Korean people. He promised, he pledged he would follow the constitution and regulations and laws and he’d make the economy better for the people. He pledged, but he acts differently. Now he’s for the abolition of the National Security Act. If he abolishes the National Security Act, how is he planning to defend the country after abolishing the National Security Act?
The national assemblymen at the National Assembly, they spend all their time fighting along the party line. High-ranking ministers are the same also. So all the high-ranking officials in the government and the national assemblymen, the politicians in South Korea, they should realize what they have was defended by the soldiers like us.
All those big businessmen in South Korea, they owe that to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the war. Finally, I want to make this point. I want to emphasize there are still prisoners of war, South Koreans, still alive in North Korea. Our government has not done anything to get them. Why do they keep sending aids into North Korea? This is a very sad situation. I appeal they should change their policy, get the prisoners of war back home.
But in the end, there are only a few of us prisoners of war who came back home alive, but the government has not paid any attention to us. Please take care of those prisoners of war. This is an appeal to South Korean government, not to you.
- MIDDENDORF I have to confess, I’ve never heard of anyone being 50 years as a prisoner of war in any of the wars that I’ve known about. Those are most moving testimonies. My goodness, what these men went through, and all the others that went through, and of course, the American POWs. Such a moving experience that you shared with us today. Thank you so much.
I would like to ask Suzanne Scholte and Sin-U Nam and Congressman Royce if you’ll come up here and help us make a presentation.
SUZANNE SCHOLTE: I’m going to read this in English, and then Sin-U Nam is going to translate this for our distinguished speakers. This is our Freedom Award 2005.
Freedom Award 2005. For fighting for the liberty of the South Korean people, for surviving and persevering in the world’s most evil regime, for bravery in escaping to freedom, and for speaking out and not forgetting those you left behind, we are pleased to present this 2005 Freedom Award to Chang-Seok Kim and Chang-Ho Cho.
And one of these awards, we had to blank out their last name because they have associates back in North Korea that they are afraid if they use their real name that they would be killed. So that’s why you’ll notice one of these has a blank on it. But we’re going to present these to our heroes here.
- MIDDENDORF: And, Congressman Royce, why don’t you stand next to Mr Cho. (Applause.)
- MIDDENDORF: I’d like to invite all of you here today, if you can do it, to come, following this luncheon, to the Korean War memorial to the wreath-laying. That’s on Constitution Avenue, right near the Lincoln Memorial.
This concludes our meeting. Our next forum will be next Friday, with the North Korean defectors, in Room 2168 in the Rayburn Building; the North Korean defectors.
Thank you very much for coming. (Applause.) (END)