Division commander ordered troops to enter raging flood waters before Marine died, survivor says

Posted on : 2024-04-26 16:44 KST Modified on : 2024-04-26 16:44 KST
The Marine was caught in the same flood waters during a search for missing persons as a corporal surnamed Chae, whose death is at the center of an alleged coverup
Korean Marines carry out a search and rescue operation after torrential flooding hit Yecheon County in North Gyeongsang Province on July 18, 2023. (Baek So-ah/The Hankyoreh)
Korean Marines carry out a search and rescue operation after torrential flooding hit Yecheon County in North Gyeongsang Province on July 18, 2023. (Baek So-ah/The Hankyoreh)

A Korean Marine who survived being caught up in the same raging waters that killed a fellow Marine while searching for flood victims in July 2023 has submitted a written opinion to investigators refuting the claim by the 1st Marine Division commander that he never ordered the search party to enter the waters. 

The individual is claiming the search party carried out such a dangerous search and rescue operation under division commander Lim Seong-geun’s direct orders.
The Center for Military Human Rights Korea stated Thursday that “Marine K,” a survivor of the dangerous search operation, submitted a written victim’s opinion to the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials and the Gyeongbuk Provincial Police Agency to be considered in the investigation of Lim and the commander of the 7th Marine Brigade for alleged occupational negligence resulting in death.
Marine K was swept up in flood waters while searching for missing persons in Yecheon County, North Gyeongsang Province in July 2023 along with a corporal surnamed Chae, who later died. Marine K filed charges against Lim on Oct. 25, 2023, shortly after being discharged from active military service.
Through the center, the former Marine stated, “I was outraged to see Lim claim that he ‘never ordered the soldiers to enter the water,’ but in fact ‘repeatedly ordered them to not enter.’ I intend to inform various investigative agencies of the disingenuity of Lim’s claims by using testimonies I have managed to obtain through various sources.”
According to the written opinion, Lim hosted a video teleconference at 8 pm on July 18, 2023, during which he berated his soldiers by saying, “Merely looking from afar is not how you should conduct a search and rescue operation,” and, “You need to go down to the scene, wade through the bushes, spread out evenly amongst yourselves to poke around everywhere thoroughly. That’s how the 71st Brigade managed to find the missing people,” essentially ordering them to carry out search operations without regard for their own safety.
The account provided detailed description of the orders, describing how Lim gestured to his chest and said that “the people who go down [should wear] those rain boots, what are they called again?” and someone telling him that they are called “waders.” After the meeting, the brigade commander asked for an inventory of the number of waders available.
“Some regions had waterfronts while some did not. At that time, there were very few waterfronts due to the mass floods, but ordering soldiers to go down embankments to search the area thoroughly is ordering them to search underwater,” the Marine wrote in his account. Several officers told the military prosecutor’s investigation that they took Lim’s order as an underwater search order.
Marine K also refuted Lim’s claim that he never reprimanded his subordinates during the flood damage operations by referring to a situation in which the 7th Brigade commander, who was conducting field guidance for Lim at around 4 pm on July 18, criticized the attire as well as the lack of discipline of his subordinates.
“There were many instances in which the commanders reprimanded the soldiers’ behavior during the operation, which pressured the battalion to push themselves to undergo straining underwater searches. Lim’s claim that no such criticisms took place are lies made to protect himself,” the Marine wrote.
“Although nine months have passed after the death of Chae, the soldier’s comrade-in-arms, the state has yet to determine the cause of death, the division commander responsible for the tragedy is brashly claiming his innocence while distorting the truth, which is leading the surviving soldiers to feel frustration and outrage about the fact that there is nothing that they can do,” the Center for Military Human Rights Korea stated. 

“We hope that the investigative agencies and the National Assembly will respond swiftly to the appeal of this outraged survivor.”

By Kim Ga-yoon, staff reporter

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