On Monday June 6th, 2016, Korea will mark its sixty-first Rememberance Day (현충일). At the 10th hour and at the sound of a siren, Korea will take a minute of silence to honour those who had sacrificed their lives to protect Korea from enemy invasion. In contrast to Canada, Korea marks its Rememberance Day on June 6th because the Korean War occurred on June 25th, 1950, and it was during this war where the greatest number of Korean soldiers lost their lives. Another reason why Korea marks its Rememberance Day in June is that June 6th in the lunar calendar is the most appropriate time to harvest barley and plant rice, and since the Goryeo and Chosun Dynasties, June 6th has traditionally been the day when the bodies of the deceased soldiers were buried. The Korean flag, Taeguek (태극), will be worn at half-mast, and a public ceremony will be held at the Seoul National Cemetery attended by President Park Geun-hye.
In addition to Korea’s Rememberance Day on June 6th, other days of rememberance include “Turn Toward Busan” day on November 11th to honour the sacrifices made by the UN forces during the Korean War, and the memorial day for martyred ancestors (순국선열의날) on November 17th to honour the sacrifices made by the national liberation fighters during the Japanese colonial rule.
The Hungnam Evacuation, December 15th to 24th, 1950
The Korean War was a witness to many acts of patriotism. The miraculous Hungnam Evacuation, which saw the evacuation by sea of 100,000 Korean refugees from December 15th to 24th, 1950, was an event that was made possible by two military officers’ decision to prioritize humanitarian assistance over military strategy. These two individuals were Dr. Hyun Bong-Hak (현봉학 박사), a 28-year old Korean-American doctor who was working as a translator and advisor to US Commander Edward Almond of the “X Corps” division, and Captain Leonard P. LaRue, who was in command of supply ship St. Meredith Victory and decided to evacuate 14,000 Korean refugees at the cost of discarding 300 tons of jet fuel and other military equipment.
Initially, the evacuation of the Korean refugees was not part of US Commander Edward Almond’s military plan as there were already 20,000 US forces, 85,000 Korean forces, and tons of military supply, fuel, food, and heavy weapons that needed to be evacuated. Furthermore, the risk of losing everyone on board by hitting an underwater mine was very present to US Commander Almond’s mind. It was at this moment of hesitation that Dr. Hyun Bong-Hak began to persuade US Commander Edward Almond about the need to evacuate the 100,000 refugees as well. It was apparent to both of them that if the refugees were to be left at the Hungnam port, they would all be massacred by the communist forces. With support from Assistant Commander of the X Corps, Dr. Hyun Bong-Hak succeeded in persuading Commander Almond to evacuate the refugees, and Commander Almond gave orders for the embarking of the refugees.
Although the order was given, the order would not have been followed if the captain of the ships found it impossible to carry them out. On December 20th, 1950, Captain Leonard P. LaRue arrived with his supply ship St. Meredith Victory at Hungnam port. The ship was originally scheduled to carry 300 tons of jet fuel and other military equipment which, as a result, would have made the maximum number of people on board at only 60. However, when Captain LaRue was asked whether his ship could take the refugees, he immediately gave orders to unload the jet fuel and the military equipment and instead instructed his soldiers to bring on board as many refugees as possible. On December 22nd, 1950, at 9:30pm, the embarking began; and by the following morning, 14,000 Korean refugees had been brought on board. The ship left Hungnam port on December 23rd, and sailed for 3 days, arriving at Koje Island (near Busan) on December 25th, 1950.
While on board, no refugee lost his or her life out of starvation, cold or fatigue. Rather, five new and healthy babies were born, and they were nicknamed “Kim 1” to “Kim 5”. In what could be coined as a Christmas miracle, the evacuation of 14,000 Korean refugees by St. Meredith Victory has been recorded on the Guinness World Records as the largest, successful evacuation of refugees. But this evacuation would not have been made possible if it was not for the humanitarian concerns shown by Dr. Hyun Bong-Hak and Captain Leonard P. LaRue. Their love for Korea and the Korean people will be remembered and honoured as Korea marks its 61st Rememberance Day on June 6th, 2016.