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A Gift Of The Emperor (excerpt)
by Therese Park

excerpt from "A Gift Of The Emperor "
(an account of 'comfort women' inducted into the Japanese WW2 military)

Publisher: SCB Distributors 1997
ISBN: 1-883523-21-4
available from Amazon Books, $10.95

A Gift From The Emperor - Therese Park

I cried… I was afraid of becoming a gift of Emperor Hirohito to his soldiers after all.

Sitting in the dark shelter hiding from the Japanese, I was puzzled: who was my enemy? The Japanese had ordered all Koreans to dig a shelter in their backyard, saying that the Americans were going to bomb us. Several nights a week a siren went off, and we moved into the shelter, shivering in the dark. Strangely enough, not a single bomb had been dropped on our village as long as I could remember. My mother stored sacks of grain and bushels of potatoes in the shelter because it was cool in summer and warm in winter.

But now, instead of hiding from the Western barbarians, I was hiding from the Japanese. What does this mean? I remembered General MacArthur's promise: that we Koreans weren't his enemies and that America would not bomb Korea.

One morning in April, an airplane had appeared in the sky, dropped a large dust-ball, then flew over the mountain, its silvery wings glittering like knife blades. As we watched, the dust became thousands of white flyers. I chased and grabbed one on the hill behind our house and rushed home to read it to my illiterate mother. It said: "Dear Koreans: I, General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of American Forces in Asia, solemnly declare that the Korean people are not our enemies and that America will not bomb Korean towns and villages. We will make every effort to deliver freedom to you as well as to other countries in Asia. I urge you to trust us and cooperate with us in any way you can." It was signed by both General MacArthur and President Syngman Rhee: one in English and the other in Korean.

My mother wept when I finished reading. Although she didn't say anything, I knew why she was crying: my father would have been happy reading such a flyer.

My father had been a Presbyterian minister. Our house was next to the church, and I used to hear a carriage stopping in our courtyard in the middle of the night and footsteps running toward the church. On those occasions, my father slipped out of the backdoor like a shadow. One early morning seven armed Japanese policemen marched into our courtyard and ransacked our house. This was after Liberation Army members killed a Japanese policeman who had tortured and killed many Korean activists.

When they couldn't find them, the policemen bound my father's hands behind him with a rope and had him kneel on the bare dirt. A policeman with a mustache yelled at him, asking where the Liberation Army people were hiding, but he didn't respond. It seemed he had been expecting this all along, for he was wearing his white silk Korean outfit that made him appear radiant in the morning sunlight, and was calm.

"Speak, Chosenjin! (Korea was called "Chosen" then) Where are the traitors?" the soldier shouted.

My father didn't answer.

The soldier struck him with the butt of his rifle, barking, "You want to die, you stubborn mule?"

Still, my father didn't respond.

The soldier hit him again and again. With each blow, my father sank into the dirt, spitting blood. I bit my thumb. I couldn't watch him, and yet I couldn't close my eyes, for fear that he might die when my eyes were closed. My mother cried uncontrollably, tearing her hair out.

Suddenly my father lifted his bloodstained face to the sky. "Dear Heavenly Father,” he said solemnly in Korean, “if Thou art ready to receive this worthless servant, let Thy will be done! In Thy mercy we live and die. Come, Lord Jesus, speak to these men to open their eyes and see Thy powerful presence…"

I heard a sharp, metallic thud, and he fell forward, struggling to breathe. I remember only the color of blood soaking the dirt and the saber next to him glinting in the sun. I went numb.

My exile in the dark shelter lasted only six days. I still remember that afternoon so vividly-the sound of a truck rolling into our courtyard and a man shouting at my mother in Japanese, asking where Keiko Omura was, using my Japanese name. I could hear everything, even the soldier's loud breathing. My mother replied nervously in her broken Japanese that she had sent me to my aunt's house in Seoul.

"You stupid liar!" the voice yelled, and I heard Omma crying. More noises followed--maybe a soldier's hand striking Omma and the boots marching toward the house.

Cowering in the shelter with my nose touching the dirt, I thought my last day on earth had come. Holding onto a bushel of potatoes next to me, I cried as I heard the noises of the boots returning. It was too late to think about why the Emperor would send armed soldiers to get his helpers. It was too late for crying, too, but I couldn't help it.

Finally the boots pounded the board above my head. "Here, open this!" a soldier ordered, and the board was removed. Sunlight poured down on me. I pretended I heard nothing and embraced the bushel even more tightly as if it would save my life.

Several hands grabbed me and pulled me up. I saw four pairs of dark eyes looking at me hatefully. One heavily decorated soldier stepped forward and slapped me repeatedly until I tasted blood in my mouth. I hoped this man was the same man who had slapped my mother a few minutes earlier. If she felt this pain, I knew I could endure it too.

Two soldiers savagely dragged me to the courtyard as if I were a wild hog, then to the truck. My mother yelled, “Salyo-juseh-yo! Let her alone!”

The soldier pushed me onto the truck and I climbed up. A dozen girls in the back of the truck looked at me with panic in their eyes. I recognized at least three classmates, but we couldn't speak: no sounds could escape our lips. The truck moved with a loud Brrrrm and began rolling toward the main road, leaving behind our courtyard where a heap of dead chickens and Omma lay still.

Then I saw Omma getting up, wild eyed. I was worried that she would follow the truck, screaming her head off, and that the soldiers might shoot her. But instead, she ran toward the opposite direction where the church was. What is she doing?

As the truck sped down the dirt road, I looked back at the neighborhood through my tear-filled eyes. The church steeple, the windmills, and the hills seemed to be flowing on a river. Then everything froze. Our church bell was tolling. It must be Omma who was pulling the rope with all her might, desperately trying to bring her daughter back.

A thought struck me hard: I might never see her again! I might never see those gingko trees and weeping willows either. Cupping my hands, I shouted as loud as I could, “Ommaaa, take of yourself, you hear?” My voice cracked and I cried like a dog howling at a full moon.


February 11 , 2005