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Sun Myung Moon, The Early Years, 1920-53

By Michael Breen

Chapter 9
The Refugee Trail

As Sun-myung Moon and his two companions sat down at the side of the road and ate some lunch, a few miles to the north, Communist troops were marching into Pyongyang. After a brief rest, the three men, unaware that the city had a]ready been taken, continued on their way. In the late afternoon on that first day, they stopped at an abandoned house. Kim and Pak were anxious about the uncertainties that lay ahead.

"It may seem dangerous, but don't worry," Moon said. "Because we are united as a trinity, God is with us. The path we are travelling now is a historical road which will lead to heaven. We must go with a joyful and a peaceful mind." They prayed and slept.

In they morning, they rose early and cooked enough rice for breakfast and lunch. During the first week, they traveled only seven or eight kilometers a day. The weather was bad, and pushing Pak on the bicycle was difficult. As there was no railway line at the point where they had crossed the river, they abandoned any thoughts of jumping on a train. They traveled on byroads, to avoid the main road, which was jammed with soldiers and refugees. The pace was unhurried. They would leave in the late morning, and start looking for a place to spend the night by around three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Pak was the organizer. He planned the food rations. Kim cooked, always measuring out slightly larger portions than Pak had instructed. If Pak noticed, he didn't say anything.

On the seventh day, they came to a spot between the towns of Heug-gyo and Hwangju, where the road rose steeply up a hill. They stopped, unable to push Pak on the bicycle any further. Pak sat down on the side of the road.

"It is impossible for you to get me up this hill," Pak said. "Why don't you go ahead, and do your mission without me? You have so much to do. Because of me, you won't be able to reach the South yourself. I'll try to find some way to manage."

"No," Moon said. "Won-pil, you push the bike and I'll carry Chong-hwa." They made it up the hill, Moon carrying Pak on his back for part of the way and dragging him up the rest. That night, Moon said that, to keep God's protection, they had to stick together and not contemplate separating, whatever the circumstances. "We must unite as a trinity. Then God can be with us. This is just a small tribulation compared to what is to come in the mission ahead. So we must overcome this," he said.

On the tenth day they reached the town of Sariwon, where they expected to join the main road to Seoul. But the road was being restricted for military use, and refugees were being diverted along the coastal route, which ran through the town of Haeju. The road was jammed with a mass of escaping refugees, who pushed slowly, but anxiously onward. Parents strapped babies and possessions to their backs. Many older children became separated from their families in the crush. American planes attacked the columns of refugees three times, following intelligence reports that north Koreans, who by now were in control of the area, were using the refugee flow as cover for infiltrating behind the lines. With each attack three to four hundred people were killed.1 The refugees stepped over the bodies, and pushed on southward. In one attack, the people directly in front of Moon and his companions were killed.

Moon tried to calm the other two. "Heaven is protecting us" he said. In Hungnam, God promised that no one would be harmed near me. Don't worry."

With the United Nations forces in full flight, local Communists were already reasserting control of towns and villages in preparation to welcome north Korean forces. Pak had served in the Sariwon area and knew the road well, and was worried that they might be turned back.

"There is a point in Haeju where this road narrows so that just four soldiers could block it," he said. "I think we should go another way, by Cheongdan. It would be safer " They decided not to follow the flow to Haeju. Later they heard that the refugees who went to the town, were sent back to their villages by the Communist authorities.

On the way to Cheongdan, they heard some escapees were planning to go to Yongmae Island to take a boat to Inchon. Moon said they should go there. He had a friend from his student days in Japan, whose family had a fishing business on the island. When they arrived at the shore, they found at low tide that they could walk the few hundred yards across to the island. Moon told Kim to go ahead with the bicycle, and he put Pak on his back and carried him across to the island. They went to the house of Moon's friend and found it deserted. They spent the day there, and ate little balls of rice with salt and cooked up some rice for the next day's journey. The family had left a boat behind, which the three men decided to use for their escape to Inchon.

They slept the night in the boat and in the morning, on the incoming tide, it began to float. Other refugees began to appear, and soon there were about a hundred and fifty people on board. Before they could cast off, south Korean soldiers came and requisitioned the boat to evacuate soldiers and policemen and their families. They were ordered out. Shattered, they walked back to the mainland and headed for Kaesong.

On a back lane near Cheongdan, four peasants blocked the road. "Where are you going?" one asked. The men were armed.

"We are refugees. We're going south."

"We have to check you out. You, show us your ID, " he said, looking at Moon. With his shaved hair still not fully grown back, they must have thought he was a soldier.

"I don't have any," he replied.

"Come with us. You, too," the man said, pointing at Kim.

Pak stayed with the bicycle, and the men led his two companions away. He waited. The thugs were probably self-appointed police, he thought, anti-Communist peasants with guns, who robbed refugees and, no doubt, killed any they considered to be Communists. He became worried. They were on an empty road that ran through fields, and there were no houses in sight. An hour and a half later, Moon and Kim returned.

Won-pil had tears in his eyes. "They beat him," he said. The men had taken them to a nearby village, and questioned them. Moon had told them he was a minister, and that he had just been released from prison, but they didn't believe him, even when they found his Bible in his pack. Finally, one said, "If you're a minister, what is John 16:1?" He recited the verse and the vigilantes, convinced he was telling the truth, let them go.

"If I had a gun, I would shoot them," Pak said.

"You don't need to think of revenge," said Moon. "We must be patient in heart. This is just a small tribulation. In one more day, we will come to a place where we will be served wonderful food." Pak thought he was just trying to make them feel better.

The next day, they came upon a house situated by a pond. In the distance, they noticed a man going in and out of the house, as if he was looking for someone. As they approached, the man called at them to come in. Inside, a table of food had been prepared, with a sheet of white paper over the food to keep the dust off. The man and his wife courteously invited Moon to sit where the under floor heating was warmest. Normally, Pak, being the eldest, would have been given the honored spot, but the couple, who said they were deacons at a local church, explained that they had both dreamed two days earlier that some important guests would come, and that they should serve them well. The three men were exactly as they had dreamed, they said. They knew that Moon had to be treated as the elder.

Kim and Pak were amazed at the story. They deepened their resolve to trust Moon. For Pak, a natural administrator accustomed to leadership, the experience was humbling. Kim, who had always been in awe of his spiritual leader, felt that his own faithlessness and his need for constant encouragement had somehow been the cause of Moon's beating the day before. During the journey, he came to the simple realization that Moon suffered the same hunger and discomfort as everyone else.

"I didn't realize you had the same feelings as ordinary people," he told Moon one day. "If I had been one of Jesus' followers two thousand years ago, I might have felt the same about him, and if he were hungry, I might not have offered him any food to eat. I would have supposed he never needed food, and maybe because of me, he would have died of starvation."

They stayed the night at the Christian couple's home, and continued their journey in the morning.

Each night, when they stayed in an empty house along the way, Kim made a fire to warm up the under floor heating. One night, he used the poles of a stretcher, which he had found beside a nearby hillside tomb, to set the fire. The family, he thought, had most likely used the stretcher to carry the body to the grave, and just left it there. While Kim stoked up the fire, the other two lay down to sleep in the next room.

"What is that wood you're burning" Moon called out to him suddenly.

"I looked everywhere for something to burn, but there wasn't even any dry grass. Then I found these poles by a tomb on the hill . They were part of a stretcher."

"Not all wood should be used as firewood," Moon said. He knew, Kim thought, that the wood had come from a grave site.

They began travelling with increasing urgency. Pak was still unable to walk and had to be pushed on the bicycle, but they were nevertheless able to cover fifteen to twenty miles a day. One night, after supper in an abandoned house in Jangdan, a town close to the Imjin River and the United Nations' lines, Kim and Pak flopped down exhausted and slept.

"Wake up. We have to go." Moon shook Pak.

"Can't we just stay here tonight?" Pak asked. He had been asleep for less than an hour.

"No, we must go." Won-pil was in a deep sleep and was difficult to wake. "We must go now or something terrible will happen," Moon said urgently. Both men believed him. They quickly gathered what little they had, and left. They hurried along in the freezing, early morning air, and soon reached the river. It had not completely frozen over, but they were able to float across to the southern bank on a wide ice flow.

On the other side, an American guard stopped them, and took Moon and Kim away for interrogation. Pak waited for over an hour on the bicycle. They returned wearing United Nations-issue gloves. South Korean soldiers had told them of a plan that morning to erect barriers to prevent north Korean and Chinese troops from crossing the river. They were told they were the last refugees who would be officially allowed across.

North Korean refugees are screened by American soldiers in South with mine detectors (Yonhap News Agency, Seoul)

"Now do you understand why I woke you up?" said Moon.

They made their way to Munsan, then on to Seoul. On Christmas Eve, they crossed the Han River and arrived in Heuksok-dong, where Moon had attended school ten years earlier. Pak and Kim were shocked at the devastation of the ruined city. For both, it was their first experience of southern Korea.

"I have many friends here, friends of faith," Moon said to encourage them. He took them to the house of Lee Kee-bong, his former landlady. Some of her family were in the courtyard, as Moon stepped through the gate.

"Where are my wife and son?"2 he asked, without any formal greeting.

"Look who it is. Come in. She's in Pusan," they said.

Moon and his companions stayed for one week, but as the two room house was too crowded, they moved to the empty house of his old friend, Kwak No-pil, who had taken his family to Pusan. They spent the next four nights in the house. By now, they had run out of food. Kim knocked on the door of several houses. All were empty. He broke into them and, in one, found some rice. Elated, he returned to Kwak's house and began to prepare the food.

"Where did you get this?" Moon asked.

"In an empty house," Kim replied.

"If you take something from somebody, you should determine to return to him three times as much as you took," Moon said. "If you make this promise to yourself, you may take the food, but you should still try to give it back substantially at some point."

On New Year's Day, 1951, some policemen came and took Moon and Kim away. The government was conscripting able-bodied men, particularly refugees, to form local volunteer army units. Because of his broken ankle and his age, Pak was exempted. Kim was told to present himself for a medical check-up, and Moon was taken to a police station near Piwon, in downtown Seoul for questioning. Once again, his short hair aroused suspicion. He was held overnight and in the morning interrogated again. In the morning, Kim came to see him.3

"If I cannot see you any more, how can I continue? How can I maintain my faith? What can I do by myself? Please give me advice." Kim asked, fearing that they would be separated.

"Follow your mind, your original mind," Moon answered. "Your original mind will guide you, and you should direct your life according to it.

Kim tried to explain to one of the policemen that Moon was his teacher, and that he had been jailed by the Communists, and that they had come south together as refugees. The policeman looked at the gentle Kim with his wide lips and smiling face and high-pitched voice, and wondered if he wasn't a woman, probably the prisoner Moon's wife, dressed as a man.

"Come here," he said, leading him to an empty room. "Take off your shirt." Kim obeyed. Satisfied with the story, the police released Moon, and ordered both men to sign up for the army. The application process began with a medical check-up. Soldiers instructed those who were sick to line up separately Moon, although a fighter in his childhood and no stranger to physical hardship, knew his mission would be finished if he shed blood in warfare. He joined the sick line, and called Kim over. Kim had a bad back, the result of a fall from a roof when Moon was in prison in Pyongyang, but he doubted the excuse would convince the examiner. In front of them, a man with one eye and another with hemorrhoids were drafted.

Moon explained his recent imprisonment and poor condition to the soldier and was declared unfit. Kim explained about his back and, to his surprise, was also deemed unfit. In fact, neither man had needed to exaggerate. Both were extremely run down and exhausted from their escape, and in far worse shape than the other city dwellers and refugees in the line who had come south by train. They were issued with disqualification certificates.

"You would have worried too much about us if we'd been drafted, but fortunately heaven helped us," Moon said, when they saw Pak Chong-hwa. Other young men recruited into the National Defense Corps from among the refugees that winter were less fortunate. Much of the money for the five hundred thousand-strong force was misappropriated, with the result that supplies never reached the troops. Thousands suffered from exposure and several hundred are estimated to have died from starvation. In the spring of 1951, leaders of the Corps were tried and shot.4

The three men went to the police station with Mrs. Lee as a witness, and obtained proper papers, which identified them as refugees.

Chinese and north Korean forces, meanwhile, were closing on Seoul. The jittery south Korean authorities began executing prisoners and political opponents.5 The capital, bombed out and hardly functioning, was about to change hands for the third time. On January 3, UN troops pulled out of the city.

A visitor dropped by Lee's house. Moon recognized the voice and came out to greet him. It was Kim Hee-son, who had been the deacon at the Myongsudae church, which Moon had attended as a student.

"Do you still go to the church?" Moon asked him.

"No, I stopped." Kim had fallen out with the minister, Kwon Duk-pal. "Rev. Kwon used to get so angry with people for being late. He'd lock the church door after the service started. He's gone north now."6

"We are going to Pusan. Will you come with me?" Moon asked him.

"I can't. I've got nine family members to take care of," Kim said. He helped make some documents, showing that Moon had been a resident of Heuksok-dong.

They left, taking quilts and food from Kwak's house.7 The main route went south through Suwon, but they traveled south-east through Ichon, Yoju, Wonju and Jechon, where one of Pak's sisters lived. They fell into the same pattern as the first leg of the journey, except that there were fewer empty houses along the way. Many old people were staying in their homes. They had to ask if they could stay and had to carry, or buy, their own food. Pak's sister's house was empty and they spent one night there. The further south they traveled, the more frequently they were asked to show their identity papers. Even in the small villages, patrols had been organized. Refugees without proper papers were sometimes beaten and killed.

From Jechon, they took the old road, which used to be the main communication link from Seoul to the south-east in the days before the railroad. It took seven to eight hours one day to struggle over the Moongyeong Pass, at the boundary of North Chungchong and North Kyongsang provinces. Kim carried the bicycle, and Moon carried Pak up the steep, icy track, which was covered in fresh snow. At the top of the pass, they walked through the ancient gate. They stopped at the town of Caun. Pak's leg was improving and from here, he was able to ride the bicycle without being pushed.

The next day at Jeomchon, Moon asked Pak to go to a nearby house, offer the family some money and ask them to make some rice cakes. Pak told the people they were refugees and that they had been traveling for two months. The people made enough rice cakes for ten. They were so hungry, they ate the lot. They stayed in the town for four days, before continuing their journey.

At a place called Yeongcheon, Moon produced a letter from inside his coat. He explained he had written it in Hungnam to a follower, who was in prison in Pyongyang, but that it had been returned unopened. Ok Se-hyun, on one of her visits to him in Hungnam, had told him the person had refused to accept the letter. He had kept it for almost three years, hoping the follower might change and accept it. He prayed and tore the letter up.8

At a few towns, Moon used some of the meager money they had brought, or begged on the way, to buy fruit. Occasionally, in small villages, people offered them dinner one particular evening, they arrived at an empty house. They cleaned out a pot to cook the rice in, and Kim went off to look for firewood. He returned a little while later saying he couldn't find anything to burn. Moon closed his eyes for a moment. "Go up the hill past some bushes and you'll find some," he said describing a location nearby. Kim returned with some wooden planks. They cooked the rice.

"How did you know?" Pak asked after they had eaten.

"The wood came from a burial site," Moon said. He explained that the spirit of the man who had been buried there came and told him. "If a person has not done enough good deeds on earth, it is much more difficult for him in the spiritual world to make his spirit grow. People in the spiritual world try to grow through people who are alive, who have physical bodies. Many people in the spiritual world cooperate and help me in order to achieve spiritual growth."

With Pak now able to walk, they traveled rapidly southwards through Andong, Uiseong, and Yongcheon. They arrived one evening at Koncheon near the historic town of Kyongju. Pak was looking for a house to stop in and he saw a church. He approached a large house. thinking the occupants would be Christians and more charitable. He told the owner they were refugees, and asked if they could use a room for the night and cook their rice.

"Please come in the man said. "I am a deacon at the church. Two days ago I dreamed that three important guests would come. Please come in." He showed them to a room, and there was food already prepared. "I will be your host and will serve you well." he said.

The next day they went on to Kyongju, arriving at night. They found a room to stay in, but had no light, no candle or electricity. Kim went out to buy cuttlefish, and made soup with it in the dark.

"Seeing as we have such nice soup, why don't you take some to the owner of the house?" Moon said. Kim took some to him and came back. After they had drunk the soup, the owner came to the room with a candle in his hand.

"What kind of soup is this?" he asked.

"It's cuttlefish. We bought it and made it here."

"Before you cook it you're supposed to remove the ink. Look." He held the candle over the soup so they could see. The soup was black. They all laughed. After they had spent four days hl the house, the owner, who was a carpenter, told them they would have a very difficult time in Pusan, because the city was now overflowing with refugees.

"Why don't you two young people go on to Pusan and Mr. Pak stay here and I'll take care of him?" the man suggested.9

Moon agreed, and he and the young Kim Won-pil continued on to Pusan, a fishing port on the east coast. There they bought train tickets, and traveled the last fifty kilometers of their journey to Pusan in two hours. As there was no room in the passenger coaches, they rode up front, clinging on to the front of the engine, the warmth of the steam engine on their backs and a biting winter wind freezing their faces. They arrived at Choryung Station in Pusan, cold and hungry, on January 27, 1951.