Comfort women and Vietnam War survivors pledge to fight together for justice

Posted on : 2015-04-06 16:07 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
70 years since Korea’s liberation and 50 since S. Korea’s sending soldiers to Vietnam, some victims still feeling the pain of war
 a survivor of the Vietnam War
a survivor of the Vietnam War

On Apr. 4 at the House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, Yoo Hee-nam, 87, a former comfort woman for the Japanese imperial army, met with survivors of civilian massacres during the Vietnam War.

“It‘s shocking to think that South Korean soldiers did those things while they were in Vietnam. I want to apologize on their behalf,” Yoo said, her voice trembling.

“There is hardly anyone who truly understands the sadness and suffering of victims of war. I am really happy to meet another victim like myself. We both had the good fortune to make it out alive, so let’s not waste the time we’ve been given.”

The people who visited the House of Sharing on Saturday were Nguyen Tan Lan (64) and Nguyen Thi Thanh (55), war victims, and Huynh Ngoc Van (53), director of the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.

The three arrived in South Korea Saturday morning just before the opening of a photo exhibition by Lee Jae-gap titled “One War, Two Memories.” This exhibition will open at the Peace Museum, a foundation chaired by Lee Hae-dong, on Apr. 7, to mark the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese control and the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.

After greeting Lee Ok-seon, 88, co-director of the Peace Museum, and seven former comfort women from the House of Sharing who had come to meet them, the three Vietnamese women placed some flowers at stone memorials for the comfort women who have died.

In front of each of the stone memorials - for Bae Chun-hee, Park Du-ri, Moon Pil-gi, and the rest of the deceased comfort women - the three women folded their hands together and bowed low, before presenting them with flowers and a photo symbolizing the War Remnants Museum, on which “Desire for Peace” was written in Vietnamese.

Nguyen Tan Lan is a survivor of the massacre at Tay Vinh (formerly Binh An), a village in Binh Dinh Province, on Feb. 15, 1966. A total of 1,004 people were killed in the massacre. Tan Lan‘s mother and younger sister were among the dead, and he grew up as an orphan.

“After Tan Lan grew up, he served as the village chief and its party secretary. He often says that after he became an orphan, the village raised him,” said Koo Su-jeong, 49, an activist for peace in Vietnam.

During the Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacres on Feb. 12, 1968, which took the lives of 74 civilians, Nguyen Thi Thanh lost five family members - her mother, younger brother, older sister, aunt, and nephew.

Thi Thanh, who was eight years old at the time, only remembers her older brother - who couldn’t walk because an explosion had blown off half his buttocks - telling her to find her mom. Thi Thanh walked around all day long, only later realizing that her entrails were spilling out of her body.

“The war took everything from me. I had no idea I would live to see the former comfort women,” she said, on the verge of tears.

One of the former comfort women who was listening to her story clucked her tongue and said, “War’s a terrible thing.”

“I’ve known about the House of Sharing since 1998,” said Huynh Ngoc Van, the museum director. “I’ve seen their story in film and in pictures. We endured war as well, so we’re fully able to understand how these women suffered. But neither the Japanese government nor the South Korean government has apologized. Despite this, I hope that these women will continue fighting as they are now until the day that all wars end. We’ll keep doing the same thing.”

“Thank you for coming from so far away. I never dreamed that there were also victims like us in other countries,” said a former comfort woman also named Lee Ok-seon, 85.

“Even so, the survivors have to go on living. Firm resolution should guide our steps. For us, the war is still going on.”

The person who invited the three Vietnamese to come to South Korea was Han Hong-gu, the permanent director on the board at the Peace Museum.

“Even if only to create an opportunity for Japan to acknowledge and apologize for its wrongdoing, the South Korean government and society should waste no time in acknowledging and apologizing for the massacres and other tragedies that occurred in Vietnam,” Han said.

The Vietnamese women and the former comfort women spent about two hours together, exchanging the presents that they had prepared for each other and taking turns singing and dancing.

“I’m told that this is the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation [from Japanese occupation]. It’s also the 50th anniversary of South Korean soldiers being sent to Vietnam. My hope is that South Korea and Vietnam will walk forward on the road to peace. In order to go down that road, both countries need to have a correct perspective on history,” Nguyen Tan Lan wrote in the visitor’s log at the House of Sharing.

During their week in South Korea, the three Vietnamese are planning to attend a number of events at the National Assembly and other locations in Seoul, Busan, and Daegu.


By Park Ki-yong, staff reporter


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