INTERVIEW WITH HONG AN
INTERVIEWER: This tape 10481, the fifth of February 1997, Washington DC, interview with Hong An. Mr. Hong An, thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us today. Can I start off by asking you to describe where you were living and what you were doing when North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950?
HONG AN: I was eighteen years old and I was going to school and I was a senior in high school and that was the last year for my high school and I was getting ready for college entrance by examination. 1950, was the [inaudible] year of the Republic of Korea, which gained independence in 1947. We lived under the American, the military government for two years, from 1945 to '47 and before that, Korea was under the domination of Japan for some thirty five years and I was born in thea of the last part of the Japanese rule and I also lived through the American military government and we gained independence and I was happy to live under our own government, which I think... which our parents elected. I was too young to vote at that time.
INT: So tell me about that government under President Syngman Rhee, what did you think of President Rhee as a leader of the first Korean Republic?
HA: Well, after the war he was our first President and the only president we had known and until the end of the World War Two, we never heard of the name Syngman Rhee, because I don't think [inaudible] don't let us hear about his name. Then he came to Korea after some thirty some years of exile in the United States and we thought that he was a great fighter for the independence and we greatly owed to him of our glorious independence for three years, I think, the Korea was newly gained democratic system, was kind of rudimentary, not really grown up, natural democratic government as we look at it from... today. At the same time, we were happy to have our own government and he was a great leader and the elder statesman of our country. So I had, at least, only respect for him.
INT: And what about on the other side of the Thirty Eighth Parallel, Kim Il Sung, what did you hear about and what was your feelings about him? Again, I'm thinking of those years before the War began.
HA: The name Kim Il Sung we heard, even during the Japanese occupation. But Kim Il Sung has a legendary sound to us, because the only constant kind of hushed talks behind the scene of the Japanese police that there was a great guerrilla leader fighting against the Japanese in the wilderness of Manchuria and he was almost portrayed as a man with super-power, he could travel so fast and so much in a day or so and his name sounded like our hero. But when the World War Two ended and we heard about Kim Il Sung in North Korea, he was like thirty some years old and everybody talked, no he can't be real Kim Il Sung, because he's too young to be a legendary leader we had. So we thought that he was kind of usurper that brought by the Soviet occupying forces in North Korea and that's about the extent of our concern or our interest in him and we thought he was too young, not the real Kim Il Sung we heard of and perhaps [inaudible] existed we don't know.
INT: What about the Thirty Eighth Parallel itself, was that seen - again I'm thinking of these years '48, '49, '50 while you were still at high school - was that seen as a permanent division of Korea or just a temporary thing?
HA: Well, we never dreamed of the division as something permanent, at least the United States government told us it was a temporary measure only to receive the Japanese surrender in the North by the Soviet armed forces and in the South by the American forces and we never even dreamed of it would last so long and it would cause this bloody war later on.
INT: Right. When the war began and within a few days America had pledged military assistance to South Korea, what reaction did you have to that news? Were you delighted to hear that America would come to your aid?
HA: I remember vividly, even today, the day the war broke out. It was Sunday morning we heard this kind of remote, the roaring noise from the North, from our city, our dwelling place and the, of course, government told us that there was a some invasion by the North Koreans. They didn't say it was a full, all out invasion, and the government constantly announced that the South Korean army was repelling the invading North Korean forces and even went into North Korean territory. We were very, very happy and confident that our armed forces would do that and even to the last woman, that is the night of twenty seventh, I remember at midnight the government announced that the people should remain calm and the government is doing all it could do and stay in home and do nothing, no panic. Next morning, it was Sunday, very bright Sunday, twenty eighth, we woke up and we looked outside of the wall or fence of the house and there we saw strange soldiers with different types of, you know, helmets, and tanks also. I never saw any South Korean forces ever having tanks. There were the big tanks on the streets and soldiers with the sub-machine guns with this round magazine which South Korean army didn't have. And I thought, what is it, who are they? Then we saw North Korean flags for the first time in our lives and suddenly it dawned on us, oh my God, here are North Koreans and where's our government, where's our armed forces? We felt we were betrayed, we were lied to.
INT: Let's cut there...
INT: Continuation of interview with Hong An, fifth of February 1997, Washington DC. When you first heard that the United States was going to give some military assistance to the Republic of Korea, did that give you a new hope?
HA: So we realised that South Korean army really collapsed and there was nobody to protect us from and at that time we had nearly a religious conviction, well faith that the United States will come to rescue us. After all, it was the United Nations which supervised the independence of South Korea, which created South Korea, and it was the United States which backed up all the way and we were told and we had this belief that the America, this country, will come to rescue from invasion from North Korea all the Communist country. Come to think of it today, it may have been too much of a faith knowing that the world situation, but we had this conviction. Then we heard that North Koreans announcing that the People's Army was fighting gallantly against the Americans, so we knew that there was the Americans already in the battle. Then we saw in several days later, this [inaudible] flying, these jet planes, the Sabre jet I understand, fast, kind of [inaudible] planes over our sky and we knew that we were OK, we'll be saved after all. And when we realised that there was a participation by the United States armed forces and with the United Nations forces, we thought North Korea at the sound of Americans in the battlefield, I thought and we believed the North Koreans would turn round and leave, but that was a premature understanding or the knowledge we had, it was not true, the war dragged on and on, but we were very happy that the after all our friends, the from the free world came to rescue us.
INT: Right, so let's pick up the mood then inside Seoul after it had been occupied by these strange, unusual soldiers with flags you hadn't seen and weapons you hadn't seen before. What was the mood like in Seoul soon after the North Korean occupation?
HA: In the beginning, we were curious as to who they were and how they react to us and so forth and we timidly went out, cautious we went on to the street and talked with them and soldiers were very kind, after all they spoke our own language and were kind to us. Obviously the trained soldiers were very well disciplined and wouldn't do anything harmful to the civilians. However, some later days then came the North Korean administrators, the government people came, and their attitude was totally different and we began to fear of the occupation. And... two things that happened thereafter, one is the shortage of food. We quicklran out of food, because there was no and we found that the North Korean administrator wouldn't care for feeding us, so we had to hunt and get food ourselves. The other thing was that North Koreans started to hunt or capture South Korean able-bodied men to put into their, what they called the volunteer forces and [inaudible] began and I can tell you that it was women, the mothers and... and sisters who saved us, the totally immobilised men from the disaster, from hunger and from being picked up by the North Korean recruiters.
INT: Can you tell us a bit about your own particular circumstances, what happened in your family, can you tell us about when you went into hiding and how that was organised and how your mother covered up for you and so on?
HA: So, first about the... the food. The food ran out and it was usually my mother and my elder sister who'd get certainly silk dresses that they had or something valuable and would bring them to the farm side, walking like a ten mile, twenty miles in hot summer days, risking the air strike and so forth and bring some grain, some rice, some barley and so forth and fed us. So... And in the meantime, the men were totally immobilised, they couldn't go out, my father included, who was not particularly young at that time, but we were totally immobilised. Soon after the occupation, we were told to come to school, where there would be Russian movies played. So some would venture out to the theatres and schools. Then after movies or school meetings, they say, well, we have to fight for the country's liberation against the US Imperialist and so forth. Many had to really without choice had to volunteer, with quotation marks on both sides. I knew that I wouldn't do it from the beginning. My family tradition had the full conviction that there was nothing to trustworthy of the Communist propaganda and so forth. I stayed home all the while. Then as the war progressed and... to the August and September the search began intensified, almost every morning or in dusk, before sunrise, the Communist teams and cadres, local police, would encircle our area, our areas also encircle and block all the exits and they search house by house and pick up any able-bodied, like us, from fifteen to forty, forty five, and made quickly a volunteer. We heard that they were sent to a school or some training centre and trained for a couple of days how to shoot rifles and sent to the front line. By then it was like a... like Tai Jon and then later like [Natung River]. My mother was so determined, more than determined that I was to protect me from this happening and my mother would not sleep at night because usually it was after midnight or early in the morning that search team would come to the area and my mother made some kind of a small hole under the floor of my house, a small hole. I almost was forced to get into it. I hated that because it was damp and cockroaches were running in my face and across and smelly on some hot days, but she forced me to stay there for a couple of hours until the search team would leave and felt safe. This went on for two months or three months, I think about two and a half months, and each time I had to do that and that was how I survived and I think I survived only by this totally dedicated mother's effort to save me from... from this... this trap.