Yoon Chung-ja

Mother of a casualty of the Cheonan sinking

Yoon Chung-ja, the mother of Sgt. Min Pyung-ki, one of 46 crew members killed in a North Korean torpedo attack on the South Korean naval ship Cheonan, remembers very clearly when she first heard news about her son’s ship on the night of March 26, 2010.

Yoon Chung-ja: That night, TV news reported that a ship had exploded in the West Sea. I asked my husband, ‘Honey, is our Pyung-ki in the West Sea or East Sea?’ He said, ‘Pyung-ki is in the West Sea.’ When I heard him say this, my heart started to pound. I felt extremely anxious and nervous.

I saw an explosion and a column of water rising. The rescue team said that they were trying to find survivors and rescue them. I kept feeling anxious. Then, the list of names of those who had not yet been found came out, so-and-so, so-and-so, and so-and-so, and then, the fifth name, ‘Min Pyung-ki’ was called out.

Min was among the 46 Cheonan crew members killed in the torpedo attack. His body was found and returned to his family a month later.

Yoon: I thought I would see everything, but they didn’t let me see my son. I asked them, ‘Why is that? I need to see him.’ They showed me a couple of hours later. My son was covered with the Taegukgi (South Korean flag). Only his face was uncovered. His face hadn’t changed at all. His body was not swollen from the seawater. The seawater must have been so cold.

Her longing for the son she lost so suddenly is indescribable.

Yoon: I have been taking insomnia medication for 12 years now. There are times when I miss him so badly. Then I would just sit down and weep and cry. I didn’t know where all my tears came from; there was no end. But now, my tears are all dried up. My heart aches with longing for him, but no tears come out anymore.

Instead of remaining sad, Yoon resolved to do something tangible to strengthen South Korean navy ships. From the compensation for her son’s death, she donated 100 million South Korean won (US$75,000) to help pay for machine guns. The South Korean navy spent 500 million won, which includes Yoon’s donation, to purchase 18 K-6 machine guns and installed two on each of the nine ships of the 2nd Fleet.

Yoon: They told me they would name the machine gun ‘Min Pyung-ki.’ I said no. Why is my son killing people? They can just install it if it’s a machine gun. But I didn’t want them to label it with my son’s name.

In the 12 years since her son died, Yoon’s black hair has turned gray, and the wrinkles on her face and hands have deepened. Her son, who was reborn as a machine gun, seems to be firmly protecting her, she says.

Yoon: It would be nice if I donated more guns. I feel sorry for not donating more. I hope the guns don't break down, but show their power. That will at least ease my mind. Please don't break down.