Mother of Marine pleads for answers before 1-year anniversary of son’s death

Posted on : 2024-06-13 17:34 KST Modified on : 2024-06-13 17:34 KST
The mother of the late Cpl. Chae wrote a letter asking for an investigation to be concluded by July 19, 2023, the one-year anniversary of her son’s death during a flood rescue mission
A flag calling for a full fact-finding investigation into a Marine’s death on the job pokes out of the backpack of a participant in a rally put on by a Marines alumni association calling for a special counsel probe into the alleged external pressure on an investigation into the Marine’s death in July 2023. (Yonhap)
A flag calling for a full fact-finding investigation into a Marine’s death on the job pokes out of the backpack of a participant in a rally put on by a Marines alumni association calling for a special counsel probe into the alleged external pressure on an investigation into the Marine’s death in July 2023. (Yonhap)

The mother of a Marine who died after being swept up in a current during flood rescue efforts on July 19, 2023, is pleading for answers to why her son died and measures to prevent similar tragedies from recurring before the one-year anniversary of her son’s death. 

In an open letter shared with members of the Ministry of Defense press pool, the late Marine’s mother wrote, “I beg of police to conclude a swift investigation that leaves no loose ends before July 19.”  

During flood rescue efforts along Naeseong Stream in North Gyeongsang Province in July last year, a Marine corporal surnamed Chae lost his life. His death, and the investigation into how it happened, have been at the center of allegations of a coverup going all the way up to the president.

“I got married late in life. I had trouble getting pregnant, and regularly took the eight-hour trip from my home in Namwon, North Jeolla Province, to an obstetrician in Seoul’s Sinsa neighborhood. I finally succeeded in getting pregnant, and my son was born in January of 2003. I get carsick easily, so the trips back and forth were unbearable. I’d often break down and cry. Before I had my son, I’d had a miscarriage. So after he finally came into my life, I spent every morning at the hospital just staring at him in wide-eyed awe,” she wrote.

“And then that son was taken from me. He is now a star in the sky, and everything in my life has collapsed. Time has stopped for me. After he enlisted, he never got a proper leave of absence. The only time we got to see him was after the ceremony celebrating his completion of basic training. We had lunch at a nearby guest house. Who knew that would be the last time…”  

“I’m not asking for anything else. I simply want to know who gave the order for my son and his comrades to wade into treacherous, muddy waters on July 19,” Chae’s mother wrote. 

“I want to know why they were not given life vests for their search-and-rescue operation during a flood. I want the full truth about everything revealed, and then I believe the responsible parties should be disciplined,” she added. 

“I beg of those in power to bring a conclusion to the police investigation before the year anniversary of my son’s death arrives, to uncover the truth behind his sacrifice. After the battle surrounding his sacrifice is over, I wish to spend the rest of my life mourning him. Please help me to mourn him in peace,” she pleaded. 

“My life is in shambles. If you have an ounce of empathy in you, I ask you to place yourself in my shoes,” she continued.  

“Looking back, I should have stopped him when my son insisted on enlisting in the Marines,” she recalled.

“Even now, I can’t help but think my son will walk through the front door with a smile on his face. I miss him so much. My throat dries up in yearning, because I can’t see him.” 

She also called for the restoration of rights and privileges of Col. Park Jeong-hun, the former chief of the Marine Corps investigation unit that initially looked into Chae’s death, who had been dismissed and indicted for alleged insubordination by military prosecutors. 

“I call on the defense minister and the military authorities to restore the rights and privileges of Col. Park Jeong-hun, who was made to suffer during his quest for the truth regarding my son’s death. I ask that his status within the military be restored and that he is treated with the proper professional reverence,” she wrote. 

She concluded her letter with the following: “We are approaching another monsoon season. Please establish the proper protocols and preventative measures so that no more of our soldiers suffer the same tragedy. 

Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung posted on his Facebook page, “I will ensure that the bill for a special prosecutor’s investigation into Chae’s death is passed, that the truth behind Chae’s unjust death is revealed, and that the responsible parties are thoroughly punished.”

People Power Party floor leader Choo Kyung-ho wrote, “I will vehemently call for the conclusion of the investigation into Chae’s death before July 19.”

Yoo Seong-min, a lawmaker from the same party, posted on his Facebook page, “It is my hope that the president, the former and current defense minister, Lim Seong-geun, the Marine Corps commandant, Commander Lim Seong-geun of the 1st Marine Division, anybody who exerted political pressure on the investigation, key witnesses, police investigators, and the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials all take the time to read the open letter from Chae’s mother.”

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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