A slightly revised version of the speech follows:
While listening to Mr. Hwang tell the story of his father a few months ago, I was reminded of the plight of the first person I met who had escaped from North Korea.
That person was not a North Korean defector. He was a prisoner of war. On June 9, 1953, Yoo Young-Bok, a South Korean soldier, was captured by Chinese forces.
He was one of an estimated 60,000 prisoners of war that North Korea did not release following the armistice that effectively, if not technically, ended the Korean War.
On June 13, 2000 – 47 years after his capture, the hopes of Mr. Yoo and the few surviving prisoners of war were raised when South Korean president Kim Dae-jung visited North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-il at an historic summit.
Mr. Yoo and other surviving prisoners of war felt certain that their president would at least speak on their behalf and at best secure their release.
Their hopes were dashed when no mention of them was made in joint statements issued following that “historic” summit. The Sunshine policy did not brighten their lives.
I’d like to quote just five words from Mr. Yoo’s book Tears of Blood that describe his feelings when his 47-year long illegal detention had been yet again ignored.
The five words form a rhetorical question: “Have they really forgotten us?” His sad and unbelievable answer to his own question was: “Yes, they have”.
Across that river in that fenced-off country, I’m sure Mr. Hwang has asked himself that same question many times over his own 47-year long illegal detention.
“Have they really forgotten us?” We are here today to help Mr Hwang’s son say five words of his own: “I have not forgotten you”.
One hope I have for today’s event is that somehow Mr Hwang will learn that his son stood here today and said: “I have not forgotten you”.
Another hope I have is that the United Nations and the government of South Korea will be reminded of that which they have perhaps forgotten.
On July 27, 2000 – 47 years after his capture – Mr. Yoo crossed the Tumen River into China with the help of a young woman,
“She did for me what my own country could not do – she freed me from North Korea.”
May the stories of all those illegally detained across that river in that fenced-off country – be they South Korean, North Korean, Japanese, or from other countries – end the same way.
And for those whose stories have already ended differently, and for those whose stories will end differently, may they at least not be forgotten.
On August 30, 2000, a plane carrying Mr. Yoo landed at Gimpo Airport.
Amongst those waiting to meet him was a frail 94-year-old man in a wheel chair.
Mr. Yoo approached him and said: “Father, it’s me. I’m home.”
May Mr. Hwang’s story end the same way.
May Mr. Hwang one day stand this side of that fenced-off river and say to his son: “Son, it’s me. I’m home.”