A Father’s Wish: To See His Daughter Before He Dies : Korea: Seoul resident has not seen child since war broke out in 1950, separating the family. Plight is shared by about 10 million people on the peninsula.
At the age of 70, Kim Kab-bae is haunted by the memory of a daughter he has not seen for almost half a century.
As he approaches the end of his life, Kim’s final wish is to see his daughter one last time. He doesn’t know if she is dead or alive.
Kim is one of about 10 million Koreans separated from their families by the 1945 division of the peninsula and the subsequent 1950-53 Korean War. Since then, nearly all cross-border links or contacts between residents of the two countries have been cut.
“I had a dream once of my daughter in North Korea. She was holding a letter in her hand, running to me and crying for her mother,” Kim said.
“The dream always haunts me. I don’t think my daughter has ever forgiven me for leaving her alone in North Korea,” he said.
Kim’s hopes for a reunion rose when the leaders of South and North Korea scheduled their first meeting for July 25-27.
South Korean President Kim Young-sam said the issue of separated families would be addressed at the summit.
“But when I heard that North Korean leader Kim Il-sung had died, my hopes of seeing my daughter died with him,” said a tearful Kim, his voice breaking with emotion.
Kim Il-sung died July 8.
Kim’s story is typical of the wrenching split still affecting about 15% of Korea’s population.
Before the Korean War erupted in June, 1950, Kim was working at a North Korean government office in Kaesong, close to the border with the South.
“When the war broke out, it was chaotic,” Kim said. “It was difficult for me because I was a government officer. People were not willing to hide or help me.”
Kim said he tried several times to head back north to his wife and two children. “But bridges were blown up and there was no way for me to go,” he said, wiping away tears.
Kim’s late wife, Choi Hak-soo, also had traumatic experiences before escaping to the South, an account she related in a book written by the couple.
Choi said that at first she lacked the courage to take her daughter and son through the war-ravaged countryside to the South.
But with help from Kim’s family, Choi found someone to guide her south for 120,000 won (about $150), considered a fortune at the time.
“I paid the person half and promised the other half upon our crossing,” Choi said in the book.
“I knew then I had to escape,” Choi wrote.
She vividly recalled in the book the day she had to choose which child to take. “I couldn’t carry them both. I told my 6-year-old daughter to be good and that I would return for her after taking her younger brother to his father.”
“Who would have thought that would be the last time I would see my daughter? Even now, 40 years later, my heart breaks whenever I think of what my daughter must have gone through.”
Mother and son escaped to Kanghwa, in South Korean territory south of Kaesong. They soon met Kim, who traveled to Kanghwa daily in the hope of finding his family among the cross-border stream of refugees.
“As soon as we met, my wife said she wanted to return to the north for our daughter. But by then the war was over and there was no way back,” Kim said.
An armistice signed on July 27, 1953, ended the fighting, but no peace treaty was signed. To this day, the two Koreas remain technically at war.
Kim said he had hoped to meet his daughter in 1985 when both governments allowed scores of families to hold brief reunions for the first and only time.
“My wife died without ever hearing from our daughter again. I don’t want the same to happen to me. I want to see her, or even know if she’s dead or alive,” Kim said, bowing his head.