As A Peace-Loving Global Citizen: Episode 21

As A Peace-Loving Global Citizen: An Autobiography by Rev. Sun Myung Moon
Chapter 2: My Heart Flows With a River of Tears
U.N. Forces Open the Prison Gate, pg 79-82

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U.N. Forces Open the Prison Gate 

The Korean War had begun while I was imprisoned in Heungnam. Three days after it started, the South Korean military lost the capital of Seoul and retreated farther south. Then sixteen nations, with the United States in the lead, formed a United Nations force and intervened in the war. U.S. forces landed at Incheon and pushed towards Wonsan, a major industrial city in North Korea.

It was only natural for the Heungnam prison and factory to be targets for U.S. aerial bombing operations. When the bombing began, the prison guards would leave the prisoners and take refuge in bomb shelters. They weren’t concerned whether we lived or died. One day Jesus appeared right before me with a tearful face. This gave me a strong premonition, so I shouted, “Everyone stay within twelve meters of me!” Soon after that a huge bomb exploded near us. Those prisoners who had stayed close to me, as I told them, survived.

As the bombing became more intense, guards began executing prisoners. They called out the prisoners’ numbers and told them to come with three days’ food rations and a shovel. The prisoners assumed they were being moved to another prison, but in reality they were marched into the mountains, made to dig a hole, and then killed and buried there. Prisoners were being called out in the order of the length of their sentences, with those with the longest sentences being called first. I realized that my turn would come the next day.

The night before my scheduled execution the bombs fell like rain in the monsoon season. It was October 13, 1950, and the U.S. forces, having succeeded in the Incheon landing, had come up the peninsula to take Pyongyang and were now pressing against Heungnam. The U.S. military attacked Heungnam with full force that night, with B-29 bombers in the lead. The bombing was so intense that it seemed all of Heungnam had been turned into a sea of fire. The high walls around the prison began to fall, and the guards ran for their lives. Finally the gate of the prison that had kept us in that place opened. At around two o’clock in the morning on the next day, I walked calmly out of Heungnam prison with dignity.

I had been imprisoned for two years and eight months in Heungnam and Pyongyang, so I was a terrible sight. My underwear and outerwear were in tatters. Dressed in those rags, instead of going to my hometown, I headed to Pyongyang with a group of people who had followed me in prison. Some chose to come with me instead of going in search of their wives and children. I could imagine how my mother must be crying every day out of concern for my welfare, but it was more important that I look after the members of my congregation in Pyongyang.

On the way to Pyongyang we could see clearly how North Korea had prepared for this war. Major cities were all connected by two-lane roads that could be used for military purposes in an emergency. Many of the bridges had been constructed with enough cement to let them withstand the weight of thirty-ton tanks. The fertilizer that the prisoners in Heungnam prison had sacrificed their lives to put into bags was sent to the Soviet Union in exchange for outdated but still lethal weaponry that was then deployed along the 38th parallel.

As soon as I arrived in Pyongyang I went in search of the members who were with me before my incarceration. I needed to find out where they were and what their situation was. They had been scattered by the war, but I felt responsible to find them and help them figure out a way to carry on their lives. I didn’t know where they might be living, so my only option was to search the city of Pyongyang from one corner to the other.

After a week of searching I found only three or four people. I had saved some powdered rice I received while still in prison, so I mixed it with water to make rice cake to share with them. On the trip from Heungnam I had staved off my hunger with one or two potatoes that were frozen solid. I had not touched the rice powder. It made me feel full just to watch them eagerly eat the rice cake.

I stayed in Pyongyang for forty days looking for anyone I could think of, whether young or old. In the end I never did find out what happened to most of them. But they have never been erased from my heart.

On the night of December 2, I began walking south. Won Pil Kim and I followed a long line of refugees that extended about twelve kilometers. We even took with us a man who could not walk properly. He had been among those who followed me in Heungnam prison. His family name was Pak. He had been released before me. When I found him in his home, all the other members of his family had left for the South. He was alone in the house with a broken leg. I placed him on a bicycle and took him with me.

The North Korean army had already recaptured the flat roads for military use, so we traveled across frozen rice paddies, heading south as quickly as we could. The Chinese army was not far behind us, but it was difficult for us to move quickly when we had someone with us who could not walk. Half the time the road was so bad that I carried him on my back and someone else pushed the empty bicycle along. He kept saying he didn’t want to be a burden to me and tried several times to take his own life. I convinced him to go on, sometimes scolding him loudly, and we stayed together until the end.

We were refugees on the run who still had to eat. We went into homes whose inhabitants had headed south before us and searched for rice or any other food that might have been left behind. We boiled anything we found, whether it was rice, barley, or potatoes. We were barely able to stay alive this way. There were no rice bowls and we had to use pieces of wood as chopsticks, but the food tasted good. The Bible says, “Blessed are the poor,” doesn’t it? We could eat anything that made our stomachs growl with satisfaction. Even a humble piece of barley cake tasted so good that we would not have felt jealous of a king’s meal. No matter how hungry I was, I always made sure to stop eating before the others. This way they could eat a little more themselves.

After walking a long distance, we were approaching the northern bank of the Imjin River. Somehow I felt it was important that we cross the river quickly and that we didn’t have a moment to spare. I felt strongly that we had to get over this obstacle for us to stay alive. I pushed Won Pil Kim mercilessly. Won Pil was young and he would fall asleep as we walked, but I kept forcing him on and pulling the bicycle. We covered thirty-two kilometers that night and reached the bank of the Imjin River. Fortunately, the river was frozen solid. We followed some refugees in front of us across the river. A long line of refugees stretched out behind us. As soon as we had crossed the river, however, the U.N. forces closed the crossing and stopped letting people across. Had we arrived at the river even a few minutes later, we would not have been able to cross.

After we had crossed, Won Pil Kim looked back at the road we had come on and asked, “How did you know the river crossing was about to be closed?”

“Somehow I just knew,” I said. “This kind of thing happens often to anyone who takes the path of Heaven. People often don’t know that salvation is just beyond the next obstacle. We didn’t have a single moment to waste, and if necessary I would have grabbed you by the scruff of the neck and pulled you across.”

Won Pil Kim seemed moved by my words, but my heart was uneasy. When we arrived at the point where the 38th parallel divided the peninsula in two, I placed one foot in South Korea and one foot in North Korea and began to pray.

“For now, we are pushed southward like this, but soon I will return to the North. I will gather the forces of the free world behind me to liberate North Korea and unite North and South.”

This was how I had prayed during the entire time we walked along with the refugees.

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