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What We Remember


I've been at a Toronto area hospital over the past several days as my dad recovers from colon surgery. While resting on his hospital bed on Sunday morning, I asked him to share anything he remembers about living through the Korean War.

When the war first started, his father and oldest brother fled to the southern most part of Korea to escape anti-communist mass killings.

Left behind with his mother, grandmother, and 6 remaining siblings, my dad recounted his first memory of the war when, at 8 years of age, he and one of his sisters dashed into a cellar seconds before an American bomb struck a nearby strategic warehouse for the opposition.

He was later told that the bomb had caused near collapse of the cellar. Knocked unconscious and drenched in 간장 (soy sauce) and 고추장 (fermented red chili paste), he was saved and carried out of the cellar by his 13-year old brother.

As the family traveled by foot to get to a relative's home, they narrowly avoided groups of communist soldiers who were following orders to kill civilians on sight.

After many days of travel with little food and water, my dad recounted the jubilation and relief that washed over his family as a truck full of soldiers with a South Korean flag approached them. Amid the temporary respite and happy chatter around him, a young Korean soldier - likely in his early 20s - walked up to my dad and said "you must be hungry." The soldier reached into his pocket and brought out 5 건빵 (hard tack crackers) and handed them to my dad.

Lips quivering and holding back tears, my dad then said in a raspy voice, "I have no idea what happened to that soldier, if he lived or died...but I'll never forget him and how he gave me those 5 건빵."

Over 50 years, this was the first time I saw tears drop from my dad's eyes.

As we trek through life, we go through seemingly endless highs and lows. It seems that what we remember and hold onto most are those moments when people made us feel deeply cared about. If there is some meaning to the human experience, I reckon it's to be found in this.


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