Testifier: Yun Geumseog (Male)
Date of Birth: 08/13/1954 (26 at that time)
Occupation: Owner of a tailor's (Currently running a tailor's)
Date of Testimony: May, 1989
He heard about the uprising in progress while he was in Haeje, Muan and joined the demonstrators. He travelled around many places such as Yeong-am, Mogpo with his colleagues. He got arrested on June 23 and released on Dec. 30.
The following is his remarks.
I was born in Haeje, Muan. I have two brothers and two sisters. Since my father died when I was four. I don't remember his face. My mother raised us by herself, cultivating a small piece of land. So, when I was a kid, I knew well what being poor meant from my own experience.
I got kicked out of the school because I couldn't afford the tuition that was only 1,350 won at that time. I was then a first grader in a middle school. The fact that it was all about money hurt the feelings of the little boy so much. I then rode on a bus for the first time in my life just to forget the unbelievable truth and to get some fresh air, with 150 won in my pocket. I went to the town called 'Hagdari' by bus, and there I saw a train for the first time.
Later, I went to Seoul and started working at a tailor's. I was interested in nothing but saving money and acquiring the skills of tailoring. I was not interested in clothing myself well. One of the wishes I had was to have a 100,000 won check in my hand. However, some of my friends continue to visit me and to hang out together, which was quite a financial burden to me. So I decided to move to Busan; Besides, I thought I learned enough of tailoring there. By the time I moved to Busan, I had three 100,000 won checks and a small gold ring in my pocket.
To get a job, I visited almost all the tailor's shops in Gwangbog-dong, Nampo-dong, Dongrae-gu and so forth. Even though they seemed to hire me at first, they consequently turned me down as I told them I was from Jeonnam province. I kept looking for one, hoping that there had to be some place for me, but I failed to get a job.
At the beginning, I slept in an inn and did not skip regular meals in a cafeteria, believing that I would get a job soon. I did not work for one month, and I ran out of money. I had to sleep at Yongdusan Park, helping cooking in the kitchen in a restaurant. I was able to eat there in exchange for peeling off onions and cleaning the place.
I was out of job for three months and 23 days to be exact. And I was finally able to work at the small tailor's run by a guy from my home province. The place was not exactly a tailor's shop. He went around to take orders from other shops. And then he did the work in his house. When he hired me, it happened to be around Korean Thanksgiving Day, the period when a great number of orders poured in. He must have needed an extra hand. And I assumed that he hired me because I was from the same province as he was. In fact, the people from Jeonla province had no other choices but sticking with each other since the people in Gyeongsang province discriminated against us, We always helped each other. For instance, when we found one of us beaten by a guy from Gyeongsang province, we all went together to beat him. I thought it's better going back to my hometown to open my own shop after a while because of the discrimination. As a result, it seems that living outside my home province helped me to build the love for my home province.
Seizing Weapons in Haeje
At last, I came back to my hometown in 1976. I borrowed some amount of money, and I opened my own tailor's. And I got married through matchmaking. I was the happiest man on earth in those days, having a daughter and running the profitable business.
In May of 1980, I liked 'student demonstrators'. They concurred with my personality. So, I got along well with student demonstrators and Christian demonstrators. Through them I was able to hear a bit about the unstable political situation. In addition, I got some stories from the shop owner and customers at the Chungho drapery store in Chungjang Street. I used to buy materials for my tailoring in that store. I also witnessed some demonstrating scenes. Everytime I saw people demonstrating, I assured myself that they were doing the right thing.
I heard the rumor that people had been demonstrating since May 16. Until then, I didn't know the details. The time that I found the situation in Gwangju precisely was when one student from Joseon University came to Haeje and told us about it on May 20.
He said, Soldiers moved into Gwangju and subdued the demonstration in a brutal manner. They arrested, beat them, and sometimes killed whoever looked like students. That is why I ran away from the city. It wasn't easy for me to get out of there because the checkup of the martial army was so strict. Anyhow, most of the citizens participated in the demonstration.
After hearing what he said, the young guys who were close friends of mine accepted my proposal.
In case the matter gets more serious, your lives would not be guaranteed. Only those who are willing to sacrifice everything will come with me to Gwangju.
On May 21, the bus route from Muan to Haeje was working, so we decided get to Muan separately. Eight people including I Nambeom got on the bus and arrived at Muan Bus Terminal. As we got there, we saw many vehicles from Gwangju, full of demonstrators. We got on a Gwangju Express bus. Meanwhile, there had been one man appointed each vehicle as a commander and a retired lieutenant was the man in charge of the bus I was in. He explained the need for arming ourselves.
We definitely need guns. Let's go find them.
Let's go to Haeje Police Substation.
Let's do it.
As we were about to head for the police station, some ladies provided us with baskets of rice balls and boxes of bread, milk and soda. I assumed that they were from a private organization or a church.
The amount that they gave us was more than enough. So we gave some of them away to the owner of the small store in Unnam near Mang-un, shouting Free supplies! At Haeje Police Sub-station, there were not many people guarding the place. So we easily obtained weapons without any conflict. It seemed that most of the policemen were called to Gwangju. Unfortunately, however, there were breech-blocks missing in all the guns. It was that the police kept them separate from the guns for safety.
The Vehicle Demonstration in Yeong-am
We returned to Muan and decided to go to Gwangju. On the state road, the vehicles of the demonstrators kept on passing by. At a bridge near Naju, one vehicle remained crashed and the scene was gruesome. Even though it was clear whether it was caused by an accident or by the attack by the martial army, we got frustrated at the scene. Astonishment and rage dominated us. As we were again heading for Gwangju, not very far from the bridge, some cars were coming from the opposite direction, honking.
The paratroopers fired at us over there. We can't go through. We've got to go back.
The information instantly terrified the people in the bus. We assumed that moving around this way was too dangerous. We decided to go to Gwangju later after gathering more people in Yeongam and Mogpo. Yeongam was the place where I had never been to. We circled around the town, shouting the slogans.
Jeon Duhwan, step down!
Release Gim Daejung!
Fight for democracy!
We not only shouted the slogans, but also sang the national anthem and the Song of Fighters. There was a national flag on each vehicle. The windows of the vehicles remained shattered.
When we arrived in Yeong-am, the residents welcomed us, waving their arms. The welcoming men and women of all ages proved to me how difficult it was for the poor and the powerless to survive under the dictatorship. Some ladies from the town provided us with some food. While going around many places, we never attacked a single police station.
The Demonstration in Front of Mogpo Train Station
We headed for Mogpo from Yeong-am. On the way, we ran into a couple of vehicles with demonstrators on and exchanged words such as Be careful. or Good luck. We often got pedestrians to ride the car with us. By the way, there were two rifles in our bus and they were from Naju Police Station. It was that a group of demonstrators robbed the station and some of them handed the guns to us, while we were heading for Mogpo. The number of the vehicles of demonstrators reached up to approximately 20 to 30.
When we arrived at Mogpo Train Station, we were welcomed by the citizens as in Yeong-am. The police substation beside the Mogpo Train Station had already been half-burnt by molotov cocktails and Mogpo Internal Revenue Service was completely burnt down. I asked the guy next to me, thinking that there shouldn't be financial losses like this.
How come did they burn Internal Revenue Service?
It was because they exploited the people by taxing in a wrong way.
There were citizens and students demonstrating at the square in front of Mogpo Train Station. We got off the bus and joined the rally. We were with them until it was late at night and checked in at a motel. Almost every room in every motel was full, so we had a hard time finding one.
Next day, we went back to Muan and I came across my wife. She came there to tell me of the rumor that the demonstrators were all killed. As I didn't come back home, she walked all the way to Muan to find me, bearing a child. We decided to walk back to Haeje because the public bus was suspended from that day.
At the checkup point Hyeongyeong before Haeje, we were stopped by riot policemen. They asked for my resident card.
Did you join the demonstration, didn't you?
Yes, I guess.
They must have known it right away since my voice was hoarse. Nevertheless, they just let me go. I assumed that it was maybe because I admitted it.
Taken to Muan Police Station
Rumor had it that the police were searching for the people who had demonstrated while I was staying home. So I hid myself in my friend, Jang Gwangho's house in Nag-weol Island, pretending that I was going there to collect rocks; By the way rock-collecting was one of my hobbies.
I returned to Haeje on June 23, hoping that things would have calmed down by then. One evening, a police deputy visited me, saying I came to see your collection of rocks. May I come in?.
I wasn't sure whether someone reported me or saw me coming back home. He was with two detectives from the Homicide department in Muan Police Station.
I was sent to take you in. But, as far as I know, you didn't commit anything illegal. Don't worry. Nothing serious is going to happen.
I thought likewise, so I followed them to the police station. But as soon as I stepped in, the beating started right away, and it continued in a random manner.
Are you Yun Geumseog? You little piece of shit! Are you out of your fucking mind?
Don't you ever touch me!
I angrily talked back because I had never been beaten by anyone before the incident. But the more I resisted, the more brutal the beating became. I was also put a deposition and a written statement on record there. Apart from that, they verbally abused me and others countlessly. 'You guys will be dead meats for sure if you are transferred to Sangmu army base. So, just shut up and put up with everything. If you had been born long ago, your family and your relatives would have also been executed, not to mention of yourselves.'
Four people including me were taken to the station: I Heungsig, I Nambeom, an anonymous guy, and me. We just hoped to be transferred, with the hope to escape the deadly beating. Three days after I was arrested, the news came to me that my wife gave birth to a boy. So my wife was not able to visit me. Anyway, even family members were not allowed to visit me. However, a few days later, a Gwangju Ilbo reporter named Gim Ogjung helped us meet our families. Although we were not dangerous criminals, they restricted the visiting of our families and even watched us during the whole meeting time. My wife, though weak from delivery, came to see me with my three-year-old daughter, who repeatedly said to me, Daddy! Daddy! knocking on the window of the detention room. And that broke my heart.
Transferred from the Sangmu army base to a Prison
After 56 days, the decision was made to move us from the police station to Sangmu army base. I was loaded into a regular bus with the other four, handcuffed.
In the Sangmu army base, the check-in procedure was pretty simple; they just went over the personal informations filed in Muan Police Station and asked us simple questions such as Did you commit this? Then I was moved into a prison cell which was so packed with people.
Since one room was occupied by approximately 150 people, we all had trouble with finding a place to sleep. Additionally, it was very chilly in the cell despite that it was around summertime. The building was constructed with bricks and the sunlight came only through one tiny window. A lot of people were suffering from a skin disease. The meals were just like dog food. I was very picky about food, but 13 days later, I was accustomed to eat there. Also, I was able to go to stool after 23 days and the excrements were as black as those of goats.
The guards were so whimsical; they allowed us to feel comfortable when they felt fine, but they often gave us a hard time when they felt something annoying. For instance, they forced us to touch our forehead to the floor, while kneeling down and spreading our legs. And for those who couldn't touch the floor, they pushed them down. That was very painful. They called the roll in the mornings and in the evenings and whenever we didn't get it right, and they punished us collectively.
Young people managed to endure, but old people like Professor Myeong Nogeun, Mr. Yun Yeonggyu, and Mr. Yun Gwangjang seemed to suffer a lot. Above all, locking civilians in the military stockade was a nonsense. And they treated us terribly. For example, they gave us overcooked noodles.
Here's one good story to illustrate how badly they treated us. The squad leader of the Special Service Agency, Bag Chunseog, who was the meanest person in the world as far as I remember, caught a guy who hid a few match sticks inside the Bible to smoke, He hung the guy up side down and beat him for two days. As we witnessed the scene, judging that it was not right at all, we collectively reacted to it.
Feed us good!
No more beating!
We protested with these conditions. And since the protest, they treated us much better.
When I was moved to the civilian prison, I found that the facility was just like a home sweet home, compared with the military cell. It was warm inside and nobody bothered me. However, I was still hungry there. Even if I had money, the purchase was prohibited. 100 won bread was something that I wanted most. Maybe I was too hungry: as hungry as I could die for the bread. Considering that I was relatively old, I can assume how hungry the young kids would have been. One day, fried sweet potatoes were offered and everybody suffered from diarrhea. And that gave us a reason to protest against them. Since then, the purchase was allowed and we had more things to eat accordingly.
I got released on Dec. 30, 1980. It was found that my wife sold the shop and was in some kind of sales business, paying off the debts created when setting up the tailor's. She had no choice because I was in prison. She went to as far as the place called Jido in Sin-an to sell dining tables, and marbles and toys to children, with the baby boy on her back.
Now I own the tailor's shop which I opened it after being released at the same location as the previous one with the money I saved and borrowed from my friend. For the first several years, my life wasn't easy in every aspect due to the negative thoughts about the people regarding the Gwangju Uprising. But, everything's back to normal now, with people treating me much better than before.
Although I was not deeply involved in the uprising, I am still proud of myself. The facts that we demonstrators didn't commit anything wrong or illegal, that we cared about one another, and that we cooperated with one another make me feel so proud. And another truth is that we strongly demanded for the release of Gim Daejung and eagerly shouted for democratization. We simply tried to realize what most other people wanted to.
Ever since I got out of the prison, I have tried to organize a movement of young people, intending to do something meaningful. But since people were too afraid to follow my intention, and I failed. Later, seeing the Declaration on June 29 was made by No Tae-u, I judged that it was the proper time for forming the group. So I searched for young people who were bumming around without any jobs and persuaded them, saying 'Let's do something fun and meaningful together.' As a result, I gathered 400 people and organized the group called 'Haeje Democratic Youth.' Affected by the group, Haeje was ranked first in the supporting rate of Gim Daejung in the presidential election (99.7%). We also raised 3,000.000, won and sent 1,500,000 won to Gim Daejung, and decided to keep the rest for our expenses. The support was originated not from the personal preference, but from the hope that the political party that he was with would be more likely to speak for the people. In the meantime, the supporting rate of the congressman, Bag Seogmu with the Democratic Party in the congressional election was high as it was predicted. Even though the other candidate, No In-ug was from Haeje, people supported Mr. Bag saying, Not the guy with the party! No matter how good the person may be, the party will pollute him and corrupt him in the long run. Meanwhile, I believe that actualizing democracy needs the politicians not in pursuit of their personal interests in the first place.
Although I am a member of Prisoners' Association of May, I often miss the meeting in Gwangju because I am constantly busy. Nevertheless, some members pay me a visit from time to time. We care a lot about one another. Anyhow, we are all looking forward to seeing the new era, the time when a real democracy will be realized for us, common people.
(Inquired and Edited by Jang Oggeun)
Source: http://gshin.chonnam.ac.kr/cnu518/3witness.htm#6. People Dying
Rights: The May 18 Institute/Prof. Shin