Reverend Han Sang Eun

Generation: First Generation
Location: Oakland, CA
Interviewer: Ramsay Liem

Korean War Memories

We lived in south part of Seoul, South Korea…. We lived in very small village. It took them long time to get to us…. North Koreans just came down. It was summertime. I remember it was a horrible feeling. I didn’t know who they are and so on. Just looking at them just frightened me. You know, North Korean soldiers; they were wearing North Korean soldiers’ uniform…. This is, you know, what do you call it, it’s automatic, very round thing, machine gun. So they put on shoulder and the bullet holder, it’s a round thing [bullet magazine]. And it really frightened me. It’s really scary image. Whenever they come to the village, pass by the village, children just get scared, go hide…really frightening. Not because they did something in front of me, but it’s the way they present themselves.

But then later on, each village has a communist party, communist leader. So that I remember. Every night as soon as sun was down, dark, every one of those villagers have to come to one place; they had to gather. If you don’t, they were pointed [out], you know bad time…. Eventually, bad things happen to them. They might be taken away to the front, war, to carry things and labor…work for them.

And so, I guess at the time, I remember my parents, and small children like me had to go there, the meeting center. They had to listen to what they say. I don’t remember what they were talking about but the adults were educated, I think, to what these communists are about—how bad [South] Korean, American, South Korean government people are. It was, I would say, brainwash, brainwash, repeating things.

Korean War Memories
Religious Life

My father was a minister so they were looking for him. And he was hiding in house, you call attic…it was a hot place. We had house and church building and right around the house and church building, there was a bamboo bush—tall, thick bush area. There was a very secret path in this sort of bamboo bush area that continues to the mountain. So, my dad was hiding in the middle of, I would say mountains. And I knew where he was and I had to carry lunch and something to eat every meal. And he comes down in the middle of the night and sneaks early in the morning and goes to that place. So I was only one who knew where he was, so he was hiding there.

The Communists really hated ministers at the time. And all the ministers around the village next to our village were taken to some place. My dad also walked [to my grandmother’s]. At the time there wasn’t very much highways, just walking…but my grandmom, grandmother, my mother’ side, lived quite a way from my house, so he went there. My uncle and grandmother were really surprised at seeing him and also they were scared because if somebody saw him, they would tell, take him, and they would probably kill him. So, they hide my dad…hide someplace…. So he was hiding the whole time. And that’s what my dad told me.

Those who were arrested in that county, I heard of 300 people, were put in a brick, something like a…warehouse-like, small windows. They were all put in brick warehouse. So I heard later, over 200 people died. And it’s too bad because, you know, it’s mostly those actions taken by the locals, local communists, local people who were treated badly before. So it’s the memory of those things; it’s just a nightmare, nightmare. I would say, nothing good about it…. I guess it is probably necessary for them to do it, but I wish, you know…Korean people same blood. I wish they treated people more properly…accept them better. But the whole thing they have done in that county was so horrible, inhumane. So I don’t have anything good [to say] about communist. So, that’s my memory of that.

One way they can support pastor’s family was that each family took one spoonful of rice…everyday before they make rice, they take one spoonful for pastor. Then, a week or two weeks later, they bring the jar to the church. That’s it. That’s a pastor’s living.

Postwar Period

[When I was in the army,] we really hated, hated North Koreans; that was the feeling about North Koreans, so bad. And I don’t think anyone could tell us, “These people, they are Koreans, you know, same people; how could you hate them?” No, no one can even mention North Koreans are same people and we need to get together and love them. So that kind of feeling [that we are the same people] came to me later, very later, when I came to United States.

Life in the United States
Separated Families
Hope for the Future

Yeah. [After I] came to United States, I could see whole picture of ourselves; this is terrible, we hate each other. Well, I guess, because of the tragedy, I see families separated. You know, somehow I could put myself more, like, objectively. When I was in Korea, it was not possible…. But when I came to the United States, it’s different story.

Oh yes, that’s also another concern of mine, personally. I very much, always thought about unification of Korea; and that’s also my prayer subject all the time—unification of Korea, peace,…reconciliation. I’m so happy to see that something happened there, summit [summit meeting between Kim Dae Jung and Kim Jong Il in 2000]. I’m very optimistic about that summit. I don’t know how it’s going to go but at least…so we have to work on that, all people, in Korea, outside of Korea. I think, in Korea, it’s time for reconciliation. Yes, that’s…also another very big issue and concern of Korean congregation and myself. I think this is most important thing for any Korean. You ask anyone, I think.

[Do you and your wife talk about your lives in Korea very much?] Not very much, but whenever we have chance to talk about our history, paths—when I was young, something like that, when I was a boy or girl. Here and there.

Her family, they fled. Whole family and she, her grandparents couldn’t go. So, you know, her parents…they decided to leave the youngest daughter with grandpa. So then they came back, but the youngest daughter always had in her mind then you know—”my family,” you know, “abandoned me.” So I remember few days ago, we talk about that. Yeah, that kind of hurt. She always felt, you know, she was abandoned with grandpa to die there.

War Legacies

[Do your children know any part of this history?] The background? Not very much. They are not in Korea; they’re here, so….

[How would they react if they knew your war experience?] Well, that’s the dad. That’s his life. What’s it got to do with me and United States? I don’t know if the same in Korea, but I’m pretty sure it has to be reminded through the children…. I think it’s just like Jewish people talk about Holocaust all the time. But they are not very interested and proud of it. But I’m pretty sure they can’t identify themselves, identify as Koreans. They have to have background, history. I think that makes it special. My wife and I did tour in Israel couple years ago. I was amazed how Israel did so much to preserve the history