Memories of pain and loss from the Apr. 3 Jeju Uprising and massacre

Posted on : 2018-10-26 16:54 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Eyewitness accounts and testimonies from victims’ families reveal massacre’s gruesome details
Gwandeokjeong Pavilion Square in Jeju City (left) in its present form. On the right is a restored version of a Joseon Dynasty building. The site was occupied by a police station and military administrative branch for Jeju during the Apr. 3 Massacre. (all photos by Huh Ho-joon
Gwandeokjeong Pavilion Square in Jeju City (left) in its present form. On the right is a restored version of a Joseon Dynasty building. The site was occupied by a police station and military administrative branch for Jeju during the Apr. 3 Massacre. (all photos by Huh Ho-joon

Police gunfire at Gwandeokjeong Pavilion Square in Jeju City on Mar. 1, 1947, proved to be the spark that would ignite the Jeju Uprising on April 3, 1948. Six people were killed and six injured in what was known as the Mar. 1 Incident. The victims ranged from an elementary school student to a 20-something woman holding her newborn child.

But instead of investigating the incident, the police took even harsher measures, plunging the island’s community into chaos. They were the first victims of the Apr. 3 Uprising. This article reconstructs what happened on Mar. 1, 71 years ago, through the memories of the people who were there at the time and the family members of those who were killed.

 Jeju correspondent)
Jeju correspondent)

A gathering outside an elementary school turns into a bloodbath

That morning, island residents gathered to North Elementary School in Jeju City to take part in an assembly on the 28th anniversary of the Mar. 1 Movement. Residents walked to the school from as far as Jocheon to the east and Aewol to the west. The event space was filled with a crowd estimated to number between 25,000 and 30,000, according to various records. Kang Sang-sun, 83, and her younger brother Kang Sang-don, 80, from Ora Village, were among those who gathered at the school.

“About four or five of us went together, including [then 16-year-old] Heo Du-yong, who was the eldest among our group from the same village. The sports field was already packed with people. Du-yong told us to stay outside because we might be trampled to death if we went in. We stood on a wall and watched the crowds before splitting up,” Kang Sang-don said when he sat down with the Hankyoreh on Oct. 20.

“I was taking in the sights near Gwandeokjeong Pavilion Square when I heard gunshots and Du-yong, who was standing next to me, fell to the ground. People scattered, shocked by the gunfire,” Kang Sang-sun said. Heo Du-yong was the youngest of the victims of the Mar. 1 Incident.

A memorial in honor of Heo Du-yong
A memorial in honor of Heo Du-yong

The assembly for the Mar. 1 Movement, which began at 11 am, had been largely organized by Jeju’s left-leaning organizations, and after the assembly was over, the participants joined a street demonstration. But these participants included not only leftist organizations but also large numbers of ordinary citizens and even students.

Around 2:45 pm, a mounted policeman was riding across the plaza in front of Gwandeokjeong Pavilion Square to the adjacent police station when a six-year-old child was kicked by the policeman’s horse. Possibly ignorant of what had happened, the policeman attempted to continue on his way, while outraged participants nearby gave chase. Confused police officers thought the crowd meant to storm the police station and fired a volley into the crowd.

Six people were wounded in the gunfire and six killed, namely Heo Du-yong (16, Ora Village, sixth grade at Jeju North Elementary School), Park Jae-ok (21, female, Dodu Village), Yang Mu-bong (50, Ora Village), Oh Yeong-su (34, Geonip Village), Kim Tae-jin (40, Donam Village) and Song Deok-yun (49, Donam Village). The victims had all gone there to sightsee at the Mar. 1 Movement assembly.

The 59th Company of the US military government, which was stationed on Jeju Island at the time, helped disperse the demonstrators. “The last people were coming out of North Elementary School, where the Mar. 1 Movement Celebration was held, when gunshots rang out and created pandemonium. From where I was hiding, I could see the American soldiers firing shots into the air and a woman [Park Jae-ok] holding a baby collapsing in front of a branch of the Industrial Bank of Korea,” said the 83-year-old woman Yang Yu-gil, who was in the fifth grade of Jeju North Elementary School at the time.

 the youngest victim of the Mar. 1 Jeju Uprising
the youngest victim of the Mar. 1 Jeju Uprising

Actions of US troops recorded in daily briefing sent to US Forces Korea

The actions of American troops on this day were recorded in a daily intelligence briefing sent to US Forces Korea command on Mar. 3, 1947. Park was taken to the provincial general hospital, where she died a few hours later. A bullet had entered her side and exited from her left buttock.

Oh Yeong-su, who had brought his family back from Japan the very day before the celebration, headed to Gwandeokjeong Pavilion Square but returned as a corpse. “One of the older men in the neighborhood told my father that there was an assembly taking place at Gwandeokjeong Pavilion Square and suggested they go together. After eating lunch around 1 pm, My father headed out, and a short time later we got news that he had been killed,” recalled Oh’s daughter, Oh Chu-ja (80, Gyeonggi Province).

“I remember my mother wailing and saying, ‘Why did you bring us back if you were just going to die like this?’ The next month, my mother gave birth, but the baby was sickly and died at the age of four. My other younger brother died of disease, too,” Oh said.

“My mother lived in a seaside village. I’ll never forget her staring vacantly at the ocean, unable to get to sleep.”

Song Yeong-ho, 83, the son of Song Deok-yun, had been in the fourth year of South Elementary School when he attended the Mar. 1 assembly. The crowd had passed from North Elementary School across Sanji Bridge and through Gongdeok Park to Dongmuntong when they heard gunfire.

“When I heard gunshots, I made my way through Nammuntong and back to school. I was on my way back home when I ran into my older brother and people from town. That’s when I heard that my father had been shot and was at the provincial hospital, so we went there together.”

Though 71 years have passed since then, Song vividly remembers the last he saw of his father. “When I got there, I found my father holding hands with a distant cousin and begging him to help. I looked for some water to give him, but couldn’t find any. Eventually, he died, and young men from Donam Village carried him away to the funeral,” Song said.

“The bullet hit him in the arm and came out near his waist. There was a watchtower by the police department back then, and someone took aim and shot him from up in the tower,” Song said. Many hardships awaited Song -- a brother, nine years older, went missing when Donam village was burned the next year, and a sister, three years older, died of disease – but he points out that “everyone in my generation went through a really hard time.”

 who was killed by a gunshot from a policeman.
who was killed by a gunshot from a policeman.
Forgive but not forget

Song insists that the Apr. 3 Uprising must not be forgotten. “Since so much time has passed, it’s okay to forgive each other now, but we mustn’t forget. Both as the victims’ descendants and also as humans, we must never forget the Apr. 3 Uprising,” he said.

After the Mar. 1 Incident, the US military government refused to prosecute the guilty parties and claimed that its actions represented “legitimate self-defense.” In protest, left-wing and right-wing organizations on the island organized a public-private general strike on Mar. 10, while the US Military Administration continued to hold a firm line. Before the armed uprising began on Apr. 3, 1948, more than 2,500 residents of the islands were indiscriminately detained.

By Huh Ho-joon, Jeju correspondent

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