Korean Canadian recalls fleeing war 62 years ago

More than 30 years after the end of the Korean War, which he witnessed as a boy, Joon Young Kim  immigrated to Canada. (PARK_PIC1_E)

For Joon Young Kim, war and remembrance go back half a century and halfway around the world.

“My family was in Seoul (South Korea) and we fled for refuge,” Kim said.

On June 25, 1950, Kim’s parents woke him up with the news that a war had broken out. He was 13 (14 in Korean age; newborns start at one year old in East Asian age reckoning).

“The South Korean military destroyed the Han Bridge to stop the North Korean army, which caused chaos among refugees,” he said. “People rushed into their cars and tried to cross the bridge, but they all fell into the river. My family was able to get on one of the boats … but many people fell off and died.”

Kim, now 75, described his experiences at the office of the Korean Senior Citizens Society of Toronto, during Remembrance week.

The first summer of the Korean War, Kim and his family travelled southward through Janghowon-eup in Icheon, Gyeonggi-do.

“There were many diseases going around and many people, especially little children, died every day,” Kim said. “People were dying everywhere for all sorts of reasons. I didn’t mind the hunger or any other discomforts. I felt so lucky just to be alive.”

In fact, Kim said he would have died without his luck.

“A soldier came up to me, a 14-year-old at the time, and told me to carry a bag of rice to Mungyeong Saejae (a mountain pass that connects two cities—Mungyeong City of North Gyeongsang province and Goesan County in North Chungcheong province),” Kim said.

“Because I was considered young, they sent older boys but told me I would have to go after them. One day, the North Korean army blocked the road to Mungyeong and bombed the area. If I was a couple years older, I would have been sent on the road that day. I could’ve died.”

After surviving the war, in 1986 Kim immigrated to Toronto with his wife and three sons.