South Korean parliamentarians, history researchers and students have visited families who lost loved ones in a massacre by South Korean soldiers in central Quang Nam Province 55 years ago.
At 10 a.m. on Monday, a bus carried 27 South Koreans to a memorial stele built to commemorate 20 victims killed by South Korean soldiers in Tra Chau Village, in Quang Nam, in 1968.
“100 meters away from this stele towards the west, South Korean soldiers murdered 20 civilians and injured 16 others, including 11 children, on Sept. 1, 1968,” according to words inscribed on the stele, which is in the shape of a lotus flower.
Koong Jung Wook, 26, a master’s degree student of Vietnam’s modern history at the Vietnam National University of Hanoi, brought along a bouquet of chrysanthemums and gave each member of the delegation one flower.
Holding a burning incense stick and a flower, each member of the delegation bowed their heads for a moment of silence.
A South Korea man prays as he offers flowers and burning incense at a memorial stele built to commemorate 20 victims killed by South Korean soldiers in Tra Chau Village of Quang Nam Province, February 13, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
As Kwon Hyun Woo, who goes by the Vietnamese name Vu, talked about the massacre, the members of the delegation listened carefully. Kwon is the office’s chief of the Korea-Vietnam Peace Foundation, a non-governmental organization.
Leaving the memorial, Koong said in Vietnamese: “I feel much happier and relieved after I finally came here to pray and express my sorrow to the victims from the bottom of my heart.”
He also prepared a box of ginseng to present to Phan Tra, 87, who witnessed the murder of his grandmother, parents, two brothers and one of his children after the South Korean soldiers opened fire in the village.
The old man appeared to be confused when receiving the South Korean delegation, especially when a man approached him, bowed his head, and said, “I’m sorry,” in Vietnamese.
“South Korean people of this generation are aware of the pain caused by the war,” said Tra.
“The South Korean delegation that visited me wished that I live a longer life, and they gave me medicine and a cloth bag to give to my bedridden wife. Those are all signs of love,” he said.
Phan Tra, a survivor of a Vietnam War massacre by South Korean soldiers in Quang Nam Province, receives gifts from South Korean master’s degree student Koong Jung Wook, February 13, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
Watching the South Korea delegation, villager Nguyen Thi Ban, 66, said: “I am moved because after all these years, the descendants of those soldiers have come to commemorate the victims.”
Ban’s grandmother-in-law is one of the 20 people named on the memorial.
Ban said that in 1968 the village suffered a heavy flood and so many villagers flocked to a temple in the village to take shelter.
Around that time, South Korean soldiers, who were stationed nearby to fight alongside the South Vietnam regime and American soldiers, were in turn attacked by Vietnamese soldiers from the north.
Assuming that all the villagers “followed the Communists,” the South Koreans attacked the village, Ban recalled.
During their visit, the members of the South Korean delegation also contributed to a fund to renovate the memorial.
“I hope that more South Korean people will come here,” said Ha Il Ho, 54, a member of the delegation
On Tuesday morning, several members, including parliamentarian Kang Min Jung, attended a ceremony to pay tribute to victims of another massacre by South Korean soldiers in February 1968 in Ha My Village, Quang Nam Province.
During this trip, they visited Nguyen Thi Thanh, 63, a Quang Nam citizen, to congratulate her on winning a lawsuit against the South Korean government asking for compensation.
Earlier this month, a Seoul court ruled that the South Korean government must pay a compensation of ₩30 million (US$23,800) to Thanh, whose family was murdered by South Korean Marines.
Thanh, who said that she was a survivor of the mass killing of about 70 people in Phong Nhat-Phong Nhi Village in 1968, filed a suit against the South Korean government in 2020, seeking ₩30 million in damages. She said that she lost her family members and suffered gunshot injuries during the incident.
South Korea deployed more than 300,000 troops to Vietnam from 1964 to 1973, second only to the U.S. military force.
Around 9,000 Vietnamese civilians were killed by the South Korean military, which also took place in the nearby provinces of Binh Dinh, Phu Yen and Quang Ngai, according to the Korean–Vietnam Peace Foundation.
The foundation was set up in 2015 with 64 members from all walks of life working to raise awareness of South Korea’s historical responsibility in the Vietnam War.
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