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Kim, Sung Shil

My name is Kim Sung Shil and I am a divided family member. I’m currently 83 years old and I live with my daughter in Southern California. I was born in Pyongyang and during the Japanese occupation my family and I fled to Manchuria. I lived there until I was 16, and then moved back to Korea. In Korea, I met my husband and got married at the age of 18. A year later, my husband wanted to study Theology, but it was not allowed in North Korea at that time so we decided to move to South Korea together. But my side of the family did not go to the South because they had a difficult time coming to the North from Manchuria.


In the South, my husband and I had a baby shortly after the Korean War started. Men were getting enlisted into the Navy so I took my baby and escaped without my husband. On the way to South Korea, I reunited with my husband. We were residing at a village until we heard the North Korean soldiers coming. As we ran away, we came upon an old elementary school that housed refugees. Afterwards, my husband decided to join the South Korean army.



Now that my spouse was a soldier, we moved to Pusan because I had a priority citizenship and this was the safest place in South Korea. While living there, we heard the news that the South Korean army was advancing North. A friend that I met at the refugee camp said we should go back to Seoul together because she had left many valuables underneath her home. So my friend, our children, and I decided to go back to Seoul.


There, we felt that the planes would eventually reach our house, scaring us to death, and so we decided to leave our current house and move somewhere else. We were hiding inside a house for a really long time because my friend was injured every time a Chinese or North Korean came to our house. I would hide but she would answer the door saying that she was injured anyways. Since she was already injured so much, the soldiers would feel sympathy and walk away. After a while, all the North Korean and Chinese army were driven away and now my home was occupied by the American army. When I saw the American flag from the plane above I was filled with joy and cried because all my fears were gone. I was safe now.



When the war was over, I lived with my husband who was now a police officer. My husband and I always thought that we would go back to our hometown. He would always pray that he’ll be able to go back before he died, but he never got the chance. After moving to the United States, my husband passed away without ever being able to revisit North Korea.


I always wanted to find my family members that I left behind in North Korea. I just want the 38th parallel to break down, so I can visit my younger brother and my cousin. Since a lot of time has passed, I really want to see my younger brother’s family too. I also hope that the reunification of Korea will come fast. I think as Koreans, we should never forget our heritage. We should identify ourselves as one whole Korea not just as North and South.

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