Kang Jin Yi
Machine gun ammunition belts were slung across his shoulders with another 130 lbs. of ammunition strapped to his back but Kang Jin Yi said that he didn’t feel the weight of ammunition, just the weight of a heavy heart during his service in the Korean War.
Yi was 18 years old when he left to defend his country. Years spent toiling in the rice fields had left him stronger than the other recruits and the perfect candidate for carrying heavy ammunition.
He trained for 15 days in Daegu before being assigned to the Republic of Korea Army’s 20th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division in Gwanju.
Just two weeks out of training, the harsh winter weather sent Yi to the rear detachment for medical treatment for frostbite on his feet.
“I begged the doctor to let me go home,” said Yi. “I even promised to make the military a career if I could just see my family and make sure they were okay.”
Yi’s 80-year old grandmother, who had raised him from a small child, his wife and his newborn baby remained in Osan throughout the conflict causing Yi to worry for their safety.
“I thought about my grandmother constantly,” he said. “I craved to be with her again.”
A couple years later, Yi was sent to Daegu to finish his obligated service and decided to visit his family before continuing to his assigned location.
“My grandmother was so thrilled she almost passed out,” he said. “She shouted my name as if she was in disbelief.”
Yi’s family had reason to be shocked by his arrival, they had received a letter from the Ministry of National Defense stating that Yi had been reported Missing In Action. Yi’s reunion with his family helped him cope with the rest of his military service and after three and a half years Yi returned to Osan for the last time.
“It was miserable to see the damage that had been done from the years of fighting across the countryside,” said Yi. “There were no houses and the fields were destroyed from tanks, troops and artillery.”
But his grandmother and the rest of his family endured the conflict.
Yi rebuilt his home and enjoyed three more years with his grandmother before she passed away.
“It was her love and compassion that kept me going,” he said. “Without her, I would not have been able to Soldier on through those tough times.”