U.S.’s Yongsan bombing of 1950 caused 1,587 civilian deaths

Posted on : 2010-07-16 12:05 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
U.S. air raids accounted for 25 percent of civilian deaths in the first 3 months of the war

By Gil Yoon-hyeong

“I was a student at that time. It has been 60 years since then, but I still remember what happened.”

University of Seoul Emeritus Professor Sohn Jeong-mok, 82, met with the Hankyoreh at the University of Seoul library on Monday. Professor Sohn spoke as he dragged the memories out from a place deep in his mind. It was June 25, 1950, some 60 years ago. Seoul was in chaos due to the sudden outbreak of the war. Seoul fell in just three days, and most of the city’s 1.4 million residents were stuck, unable to flee due to the destruction of the Han River bridges.

At the time, Sohn was a 22-year-old student in the Law Department of Korea University. Reading Hong Myung-hee’s novel “Im Kkeok-jeong” while hiding in a secret basement at a relative’s home in Seoul’s Sindang neighborhood on July 16, he mustered the courage to visit the home of Kim Sam-su, then an economics professor at Korea University, in the Huam neighborhood of Seoul’s Yongsan district. Kim had been Sohn’s teacher at Daegu University (now Yeungnam University). On his way home after having lunch at Kim’s home, he headed up a slope on Namsan mountain near the old Japanese Shinto shrine (now the An Jung-geun Memorial Hall).

“Suddenly I heard the clamorous roar of bombers. I looked back and was so frightened I hit the ground.” About 50 B-29 bombers with the U.S. 5th Air Force covered the Seoul sky, sent to destroy the switch yard and arsenal behind what was then Yongsan Station in order to slow down the southern advance of the North Korean army.

The target of the bombing was a military facility, but some of the bombs missed.

“U.S. military records from the beginning of the war include pilot testimony that pilots bombed buildings based merely on hunches or buildings that seemed large,” said Kim Tae-woo, research professor of Seoul National University’s Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies. “As a result, it appears structures that were not direct military facilities such as public offices and schools were also greatly damaged.”

How bad was the damage from the Yongsan bombing? According to statistics on Seoul resident casualties during the first three months of the war, drawn up by the government statistics office in 1950, one fourth of the 17,127 deaths were caused by air raids. In particular, of the 2,709 total deaths suffered in the Yongsan district, the direct target of the Yongsan bombing 1,587, or 58.6 percent, were due to bombings.

“Unlike the provinces, where village communities still remained, Seoul had a large transient population, so it has never been known how many people were killed or injured in bombings,” said Kim Dong-chun, a former standing committee member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea (TRCK). “This is one of the major tragedies we have already forgotten.”

Meanwhile, two bereaved family members petitioned TRCK for an investigation, but last month the commission ruled it would not investigate, calling the Yongsan bombing a militarily necessary operation.

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

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