Survivors of the massacre of Vietnamese civilians half a century ago by South Korean mercenaries during the American war in Vietnam have never fully recovered from the scars.
This year, tributes honoring the thousands of Vietnamese civilians who were killed in massacres five decades back by South Korean troops during the American war in Vietnam were organized in such central Vietnamese provinces as Phu Yen, Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai, and Quang Nam, a fact ignored by many for decades after the war until South Korean media unveiled the gruesome events in the early 2000s.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper sought to shed light on the agony, obsession, and brooding over lost dreams that have tragically scared survivors from these tragedies.
It took Truong Thi Thu, 78, more than one minute to put her round flip-flop onto the remaining half of her right foot.
During the Ha My bloodbath in Dien Ban District, Quang Nam Province, 48 years ago, shots from South Korean troops tore off her five toes and left multiple wounds throughout her body.
Thu puts on the custom rubber flip-flop, made by her husband, to relieve the burning sensation in her foot when she goes out.
The lady recalled that a Korean man visited her at her home years ago and worked on designing a slipper that might fit what is left of her foot.
With no success, he gave Thu’s grandchild money to order a special slipper with cobblers from Hoi An City, home to the UNESCO-recognized Hoi An Ancient Town, but no shoemakers were able receive the order.
“I can only limp around my home in good weather, and am generally left immobile on stormy, rainy days. The vertical half of my body, from where the toes were, convulses uncontrollably and I suffer acute migraines,” she lamented.
Thu said she has been on medication to relieve her unshakeable pain.
Other survivors said they also suffer relentless headaches in the dry season and aching bones in the cold, rainy.
Among them, Nguyen Tan Lan, 65, sustained multiple grenade wounds on his legs in the Binh An massacre in Tay Son District, Binh Dinh Province.
Medics from Vietnam and Peace operated on him to pull out large grenade fragments; however, smaller chips remain in Lan’s body, as a surgery to retrieve them may jeopardize blood vessels.
Another survivor, Truong Thi Thu, limps on only half a foot around her home. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Lan suffers a severe bout of pain each day. On nights when the pain intensifies, he runs on the field in front of his home to relieve it.
Over the past 15 years, he has slept a mere three to four hours per night, and spent two hours on leg massage before bedtime.
Similarly, Trinh Thi Nam, 75, who now resides in An Nhon Town, Binh Dinh Province, was 25 years old during mass killings and has spent the past 50 years scarred from the event.
Her two children and three relatives were killed simultaneously by South Korean troops.
Nam and her two-year-old baby were fortunate to escape from the ordeal alive.
She recalled holding her toddler with her right arm, while the South Korean men beat her left hip with their gun butts to intimidate her into revealing where the Vietnamese revolutionary troops were hiding.
Her left hip has ached relentlessly since.
Likewise, Do Van Chuc, currently the deputy chairman of Tinh Tho Commune’s People’s Council in Quang Ngai Province, was only three years old when troops from the East Asian nation slaughtered 20 locals.
He said the wound on his right leg still gnaws at him in cold weather.
Lan, Nam and Nguyen Thi Thanh, 56, also from Quang Nam Province, spoke of the headaches, sleep loss, and fears they suffer at the slightest hint of the traumatic ordeal.
Lan sometimes has recurrent nightmares of the bloodshed which bring back distressing images and the sounds of the victims’ haunting screams.
Nam shared that eight years ago she was interviewed by two female officers from Quy Nhon City, the capital of Binh Dinh Province, about the massacres.
Minutes into the interview, the spooked lady suddenly raised her voice at the two women, believing they were scheming to beat her just as South Korean soldiers had many years earlier.
Nam’s daughter explained that the interview bore uncanny similarities to how the South Korean men interrogated her while punching her hip hard with their gun butts before killing her relatives. Last year, Thanh and Lan were invited to South Korea to tell their stories.
Before Thanh left for the East Asian country, Nguyen Duc Sang, 62, her elder brother who had also survived the carnage in Cay Da Du in Dien Ban District, vehemently objected to her trip, as “They will kill you. They killed us right in our country, let alone theirs.”
Trinh Thi Nam was fortunate to escape the ordeal alive. Photo: Tuoi Tre
9,000 civilians slaughtered
According to incomplete statistics by the Research Department under the General Department of Politics of the Vietnam People's Army, more than 5,000 Vietnamese civilians were killed by South Korean troops under the ruling of the later assassinated military leader Park Chung-hee.
Meanwhile, Vietnam's former president Nguyen Thi Binh, the country’s negotiator at the Paris Peace Conference (1968-73), stated that Vietnamese localities had withered under a total of 3,000 massacres during that period.
These numbers are disputed by Ku Su Jeong, whose field trips researching a doctoral historical thesis on the Vietnamese-South Korean ties during and after the American war in Vietnam (1955-2005), along with other archives, indicated that approximately 9,000 Vietnamese noncombatant citizens were killed in a total of 80 massacres by South Korean mercenaries.
A statue, named ‘Vietnam Pieta’ crafted by married couple Kim Seo Kyung and Kim Eun Sung in commemoration of the historical event, was unveiled at a press conference hosted by the Korean-Vietnamese Peace Foundation in April this year.
The statue carries a heartfelt message of apology and repentance of the South Korean people, the artists noted.
An event honoring Vietnamese war victims and the 41th anniversary of Vietnam’s reunification was also held in Jeong-dong in central Seoul the same month.