The secret tragedy of Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh= Ku Su Jeong/ correspondent in Vietnam
(e-mail=chaovietnam@hotmail.com)

Photo/Man who lost 16 members of his family. Phu Cat, Vin Dinh province.

Remember the article entitled "Terrifying Korean Soldiers¡±published in the Global Village section of 256th edition of weekly news magazine in Korea This article, which confirmed the atrocities of Korean soldiers and some of the sites where the killings took place, shocked many readers around the world. The writer and Ho Chi Minh correspondent for , Soo-Jung Koo, this time visited many of the areas where Korean army was stationed at that time. This included 13 villages, nine towns, and five provinces in the central part of Vietnam. Graphic eyewitness accounts by some one hundred survivors she met during the trip left Korean readers speechless about the disgrace.
Although 24 years have passed since the end the of the Vietnam War, Koreans never paid full attention to the scars the Korean soldiers had left on Vietnam's people. They were busy calling for compensation from Japan and the United States for their wrong doings during the Japanese colonial rule of the Korean peninsula and the Korean War respectively. However, Koreans turned a blind eye to the victims of the Vietnam War. hopes that this sppecial report will serve as an opportunity to urge Koreans to compensate for the victimized Vietnam people at the governmental and civilian level. In addition, its purpose is to help people have clear understanding of at least, a part of the history of the 20th century.

Photo/ Le Thi Thiet & Tran Doan became mentally retarded after he was hit on his head with the butt of a rifle as he was coming out of a underground tunnel. Unfortunately, his son was born mentally retarded.

Will there be a requiem for the dead? The sky was gray the whole morning and wind caused the branches to sway as the car left Saigon and entered State Road 1. Soon the sky started to shed tears, hitting the windows. Thirty years. It is time enough for a boy to be born, grow up, marry and become a father. As I drove on, I was traveling back to the past and the broken souls of the victims greeted me with tears.

Stories that are hard to believe¡¦

In every city that is connected to the main artery of Vietnam, State Road 1, the Korean military was stationed during the Vietnam War. The White Horse Unit was stationed in Cam Ranh, Ninh Hoa, and Tuy Hoa; the Tiger Unit in Song Cau, Quy Nhon, and Phu Cat and the Blue Dragon Unit in Chu Lai (Chau Lai), Hoi An, and Da Nang. ROK (Republic of Korea) Forces Command was located in Saigon and the Field Command in Nha Trang. For this reason, the 'pilgrimage¡¯to find the trail of the 'dai-han¡¯ (this is what the Vietnamese called the Korean soldiers during the war) continues along State Road 1. This two-lane road, which was built during French colonial rule, has many ruts as if to prove that Americans had kept their promise to return Vietnam back to the Stone Age. There were many holes and bumps and the car had to slow down from time to time to avoid running into ongoing restoration work.

Photo/ Old lady said to have been raped by the Korean soldiers. She lost her right leg and left foot because of the landmines.

The guideline for Korean forces in Vietnam read ¡°Act brave and become terrifying soldiers to the enemy...be kind and courteous ¡® dai-han¡¯ to the Vietnamese¡¦¡± Korea first dispatched non-combatant units such as Taekwondo (Korean traditional martial art) trainers and a medical team through Vung Tau, the southern part of Vietnam on September 22, 1964. Then, in October of 1965, combat units such as the Blue Dragon Unit (Navy Corps 2nd Brigade) and the Tiger Unit (Capital Defense Command) landed in Vietnam as did the Tiger (26th Regiment) and White Horse Unit (9th Division) later on. Koreans built roads, schools and hospitals, provided commodities and taught Taekwondo to people. However, that was not all.
¡°Uncountable numbers of people were killed when Koreans first came into the villages. When they were staying the villages, local people had to leave their homes. Only when the war was over and Koreans had left could they return home. However, that really wasn't the end of the war. Many lost their hands and feet due to unexploded shells and remaining landmines. For the rest of their lives, they had to bear the grief of losing their loved ones; their parents, wives, husbands and children.¡± I have heard frightful tales of slaughter in war stories before. I used to think that, like any other war stories, they must be laden with exaggerations. Nonetheless, the stories of civilian killings by the Korean military made me feel as if I was watching a horror movie that sends ice-cold shivers down your spine. At first, the Vietnamese appear as extras in the movie. However, when the camera angle closes up on them, they become the main actors, breathing their last breath before their gruesome deaths. ¡°The intestines were dangling outside the body, with maggots swarming in the fat of the intestines that had turn yellow.¡± ¡°As if slaughtering new born babies was not enough, they destroyed entire graveyards using bulldozers.¡± ¡°People could be seen on State Road A-1 picking up pieces of torn flesh and smashed up bones that were scattered throughout the road.¡± The testimonies of the survivors were just unbelievable and too brutal to be true. "Civilian Killings by Korean Soldiers," these five incredible words repeated disconcertingly in my head.

The official count of civilians killed by Korean soldiers may be as high as 5,000.

The Vietnam War is commonly dubbed as ¡°the war without a battle line"; a war without a front or a rear area of operations, with identification of friend or foe virtually impossible. In describing the situation in Vietnam, a Korean soldier once said, ¡°One hears the singing of a cuckoo, but not even a chick is to be found." The Viet Cong were everywhere and nowhere. The Vietnamese called the villages they lived in ¡®soi-doi' (sticky rice made with green peas). This depicts the irony of the village, which was controlled by the Vietnamese government military during the day, and ruled by the Viet Cong at night. In such a situation, Korean soldiers had to face the hard reality that guns had to be pointed at civilians in order to survive. Maybe the killings were inevitable.
It was raining when we started off from Saigon, but as soon as we entered the central area, we could see a blazing sun hanging high in the dry air. Outside the car window, the scenery was a midsummer wave of green. Hills looking as cozy and soothing as a mother's breast enveloped the villages. Farmers wearing nun-ra (traditional Vietnamese hats), and carrying baskets at their waist, were sprinkling fertilizer on the rice paddies with their hands. Cows were grazing lazily on the pastures, children swimming playfully with a flock of geese in the pond. But there were days when flowers, dripping with blood, fell ceaselessly and covered the waves of green. Farmers running for their life desperately threw away their baskets and were shot mercilessly. Young girls bringing food for the farmers were raped, killed, and their bodies abandoned, naked. Newborn babies were killed at their mothers' breasts. Those were the days when even the sun went blind.
For nine years, from 1965 to 1973, a total of 312,853 ¡®dai-hans¡¯ came to the tropical land of Vietnam, far away from home, as members of the Blue Dragon, White Horse, and Tiger Units. 4,687 of them never made it back home. A total of 1,179 battalion size battles and 556,000 small-scale battles were fought. In combined ROK/US operations, the United States was in charge of artillery fire support in the rear area, whereas the Koreans were the ones who actually conducted operations in villages. The fighting guidelines that the Command issued were, ¡°Kill, burn, and destroy without leaving a single speck,"¡°Better to misfire than to lose the enemy." "Dry out the water (people) to catch the fish (Viet Cong)," ¡°Even children are spies," and¡°Every house that has a tunnel belongs to the Viet Cong."
In Vietnam, the Korean military killed a total of 41,400 enemy soldiers. But there were also killings of civilians that have not yet been officially reported nor made known to the world. According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture and Communications, the total number of civilians killed by the Korean military-the Ministry is careful to add that it is a preliminary count-comes to approximately 5,000.
However, the Vietnamese people do not trust these figures. They even express their obvious discontent over the government's lukewarm attitude to unearthing the truth. In a certain region, the figures claimed by the inhabitants more than double the official count of the Ministry of Culture and Communications. The region that I visited covers only half of the places mentioned in the ¡°War Crimes Report-The Atrocities of the Korean Military in South Vietnam¡± published by the Vietnamese Politburo. The deaths that I encountered in my travel were so shocking as to overturn the solemn and noble image that I had of death. Just as the victims were not Viet Cong, they were not heroes either. And their deaths were neither touching nor heroic. Their deaths are not commemorated, and the dead were not granted any posthumous decorations. No subsidy from the Vietnamese government, nor compensation by the Korean government. Nevertheless, cenotaphs have been erected, memorial services held to solace the dead. And documents have been prepared to record their pain in history. One last word. Throughout my travel to the sites of mass killings, picking and probing into their pain, I have never been threatened with revenge. With my long and exhausting trip behind me, I still feel the warm and innocent smile of the Vietnamese living in me. Thirty years have passed. Isn't it about time for us to sing an ode to comfort the souls of the victims?
(273th edition of "The Hankyoreh21"/ 2. Sep, 1999)