A defector’s struggle; Soldiers learn full value of defending freedom

by Staff Sgt. Heather A. Denby, 35th ADA Public Affairs
Osan Air Base

A middle-aged North Korean woman sits in the Osan Community Activity Center with her hands wringing as she speaks to a small group of U.S. Army Soldiers.

“I was fooled by my country,” she said. “When I was a kid, I was educated that the reason the North and South are not reunified is because of the United States but after I came here I learned that this was not true.”

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, spoke with Soldiers of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade about her life in North Korea, how she escaped and eventually found freedom.

“This woman’s strength is so inspiring,” said Pfc. Lettie Tinnon, a signal support systems specialist assigned to 35th ADA Brigade. “She literally had nothing, except her child and the determination to make a better life for the two of them.”

In 1999, the woman escaped by swimming across the Tumen River while balancing her daughter in a small float behind her. The woman was taken back to North Korea after her companion reported her status to authorities earning him a modest compensation. The woman was sent to prison, but her daughter remained in China with hospitable neighbors.

“There were 20 of us that had to dig a hole in the ground for ourselves so that when we died the prison guards did not need to use effort to bury us,” she said. “It was then that I decided that I would escape from North Korea once again.”

“I wasn’t treated like a human being,” she said.

The Soldiers listened to the woman’s story and were offered the opportunity to ask questions.

“I was shocked to learn that men and women serve in the North Korean military for so many years and still suffer from such great hunger,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Vicki Dimoff, 35th ADA Brigade property book officer. “It truly put my service to my own country in perspective.”

The woman has now lived in South Korea for seven years and while she says that she enjoys her life, she is saddened by the thought of people in North Korea that suffer.

“Still this occasion was quite a surprise for me,” she said. “I couldn’t think of facing U.S. Soldiers and talking about my life, but honestly I feel reassured meeting with the people who protect the freedom of not just themselves but others as well.”

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