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북녘 | [Reminiscences]Chapter 11 5. Choe Hyon, a Veteran General

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[Reminiscences]Chapter 11  5. Choe Hyon, a Veteran General

  

   


 

5. Choe Hyon, a Veteran General 

 

We made a major stopover on our way rom Nanhutou to Mt. Paektu at the rear base of the Independent 1st Division of the people’s revolutionary army, located in Mihunzhen on the Mudan Mountain Range along the border area of the Dunhua\and Antu Counties. At one of the large\and small secret camps sprawling in the vast forest, we planned to discuss measures to implement the policies adopted at the Nanhutou meeting with Wang De-tai, Wei Zheng-min\and other high-ranking commanders of the 2nd Corps.


Mihunzhen is situated in a mountain,\where even a man who has been there once\or twice can lose his way. The mountain peaks\and valleys are so similar, that strangers to the place used to find themselves in a maze there. I marvelled at the wit of the ancient folk, who had named this primeval forest Mihunzhen (maze—Tr.).


At first we were also at a loss on how to find the camps. Fortunately we came across the 1st Company of the 1st Regiment of the Independent 1st Division at Niuxindingzi which Pak Song Chol belonged to,\and asked them to show us the way to Mihunzhen. But they refused, saying that typhoid fever was rampant there. They explained that there were dozens of typhoid patients in that valley\and that it was dangerous for cadres to visit the place.

 

They added, “Many of them have already died. We cannot take you, General, to such a place. We cannot allow you to run such a risk.”


They flatly refused to show us the way. In those days epidemic diseases took a heavy toll of lives in the people’s revolutionary army. Eruptive typhus\and typhoid fever, which broke out in guerrilla zones, harassed us even after the evacuation of the guerrilla zones, mercilessly taking precious lives. These diseases seriously weakened the combat ability of the people’s revolutionary army.


“As typhoid is borne by man, it can also be controlled by man. Man can defeat epidemics. Epidemics cannot defeat man. So there’s no great need to be afraid of them. You’re making a mystery out of typhoid.”


I thus reproached them for their fear of epidemics. However, they continued stressing the typhoid danger\and insisted that I should not go there.


“What do you say, General? Can man defeat epidemics? No. These diseases don’t discriminate between the weak\and the strong. No man is immune to them, just as no mouse is safe rom a cat. You know how strong company commander Choe Hyon is! But he’s been bedridden with typhoid for weeks now in Mihunzhen.”


“What? Has that steel-like soldier contracted the disease? If so, all the more reason for me to go\and see him. I’ve come as far as Niuxindingzi\and if I turn back here\and go to Mt. Paektu without visiting Mihunzhen owing to fear of the disease, then imagine how disappointed he’ll be, when he learns of it some day! You worry about my safety, but I’ve already suffered rom epidemic fever in Wangqing. I’m immune, so don’t worry.”

 

Only then did the commanders of the 1st Company detach a platoon as our guide\and escort. They begged me not to enter the patients’ ward on any account even if I visited Mihunzhen.


To be frank, I was very disappointed to hear that Choe Hyon was ill. Although I said that a man could control typhoid fever, it was really a horrible disease. That cursed disease would even afflict a commander of the revolutionary army. It would naturally grow more rampant among such hot-tempered men as Choe Hyon. It would attack anyone, but used to play more havoc with hot-tempered\and impatient people. I had the premonition that the life of my precious comrade-in-arms was at stake.


“What’s happened to you, Commander Kim? Are you worrying about Comrade Choe Hyon?” asked Wang De-tai, as he saw me walking silently, in low spirits. Although a brusque, unsociable, taciturn military commander, Wang had an amazing ability to read people’s minds.


“Yes, but how’d you know?”


I was grateful to him for breaking my silence. A man keeping silence is liable to be haunted by all kinds of trivialities.


“Why shouldn’t I be able to guess? Your silence in the company of a friend like me indicates that you’re preoccupied with the fates of people.”


“You’re right. I’ve been thinking of Choe Hyon all the time. I hope he’ll be alright, but I feel very uneasy about him.”


“Please don’t worry. Choe Hyon will survive. He’s a man of strong will.”


“You think so? Then I’ll be very happy!”


“Well, Choe Hyon is a very happy man. How happy it must be for a man to appear in other people’s dreams, be remembered by them\and live in their concern!”

 

Wang’s simple\and yet profound reasoning moved me. I fully agreed with him.


“That’s very profound. But I’ve never thought about it.”


“Perhaps Choe Hyon is yearning to see you at this moment. He’s missed you so much in daily life that I was almost jealous of you. As far as I can remember, you’ve met one another only once, so how come you’re such devoted friends?”


“I can’t explain it myself. Two nights in his company was equal to about ten years of friendship. I was charmed by him at that time. I wonder if I’m carrying a torch for him.”


“Oh-ho, you don’t say! Since his experience at Macun he talks about you all the time.”


By Choe Hyon’s experience at Macun, Wang meant his visit to Macun in Xiaowangqing\and his interview with me. My first interview with him has already been mentioned in the Reminiscences of the Anti-Japanese Guerrillas\and briefly in Volume 3 of my own reminiscences.


It is generally known that the battle of the Dongning county town occasioned that meeting. Choe Hyon arrived late at Macun owing to the messenger’s carelessness\and belated delivery of my\orders for Choe Hyon to take part in the battle. He regretted it immensely on learning that the battle was over. He swore at the messenger furiously,\and then, recovering his composure, asked me, “As only the good-for-nothings in Yanji were dawdling away, not even approaching the gates of the county town, when the NSA boys as well as those rom Wangqing\and Hunchun fought in the battle, how could I stop myself rom giving vent to my anger? General, have you a plan to attack any other place, sir?”

 

“Please don’t say ‘sir’ to a young man. Please call me by my name, Kim Il Sung.”


My humble request frightened this tried veteran as much as if something serious had happened.


“What does a man’s age matter here? I’ve long since regarded you, Commander Kim, as the top man of the Korean army. So it’s natural that I address you respectfully.”


“If you extol young people in that way, they’ll soon become self-conceited\and giddy. If you keep on extolling me in that way, I’ll not keep company with you any longer.”


“For all my courage, you have the upper hand. rom now on I’ll not call you ‘sir’, just as you wish.”


He changed his way of addressing me. He was a typical soldier, who would do anything he said he would. It was only on official occasions that he addressed me politely. This freed our friendship rom bothersome etiquette\and formalities; it stressed the truthfulness\and\originality of our friendship.


In the days, when each comrade we rallied through our “pearl-diving” efforts was treasured as a prime mover of our revolution, indispensable for its progress, it was evidently a noteworthy event\and good fortune in my life to have found such a stout companion as Choe Hyon.


My interview with him at Macun afforded me enormous satisfaction rom the very beginning.


My first impression of him was too strong to even express. Strangely enough, however, Choe Hyon, though a new acquaintance, seemed like an old friend. His voice, his features\and manners were familiar to me. I even felt that at some time in the past I had discussed the anti-Japanese, national salvation struggle with this sturdy man.

 

Choe Hyon gave me this impression, probably because he had all the characteristics of the typical soldier I had thought up\and perfected in my mind up to that time,\and also because I had heard a lot about him since I had come to Jiandao.


Choe Hyon was born in Jiandao, a foreign land, in 1907 when the national crisis was at its height. The year 1907 was a grievous year, which witnessed many tragic events in the history of our nation. That year Ri Jun committed suicide in The Hague by disemboweling himself, King Kojong was dethroned,\and the Korean army was dissolved. It was also the year, when the right of home administration passed into the hands of the Japanese imperialists, because of the “Jongmi Seven-Point Treaty”\and “government by under-secretaries”.


Choe Hyon’s parents, who had brought him into the world in a land, which was struck down by an economic crisis with an unprecedented destructive power, were anxious about his future. The “annexation of Korea by Japan”, the March First Popular Uprising\and the massive “punitive” atrocities in Jiandao in the year of Kyongsin (1920 —Tr.) were dramatic events which made young Choe Hyon’s blood boil.


The Independence Army, which was offering armed resistance in difficult conditions in a corner of Jiandao, gave him a ray of hope in those despairing, dark days. Hong Pom Do\and Im Pyong Guk were his seniors\and mentors. His childhood was linked inseparably with these brave, indefatigable veterans. He learned marksmanship\and horsemanship rom them. When he was eleven years old, his father Choe Hwa Sim, who was an Independence Army soldier under the command of Hong Pom Do, began to assign him to deliver messages. That year his father presented him with a pistol.

 

The massacre of 1920 drowned all the Korean settlements in Jiandao in a bloodbath. Choe Hyon lost his mother in the massacre. He followed Im Pyong Guk to the Maritime Province of Russia with his father. Although a stranger to the place, the people\and their language, he resolved to fight the Japanese imperialists all his life. Commander Im Pyong Guk appointed him as his\orderly\and sent him to one of his detachments. An excellent horseman, Choe Hyon faithfully carried out his duty, riding between the detachment\and the headquarters on horseback. When the thirteen-year-old, small boy rode like an arrow on horseback through the plain, the Russian people admired\and envied him.


At one point he rushed to the front line on horseback amidst a tirade of bullets with his three colleagues. The three were killed\and he was wounded in the arm. But he rushed on boldly through the hail of bullets without caring for his wound,\and dutifully delivered the message to the command post. Applying a bandage to his arm, Im Pyong Guk praised him, saying that he would become a general of the Independence Army.


After the routing of the Independence Army unit, he returned to Jiandao\and joined the General Federation of Korean Youth in East Manchuria, thanks to the good offices of Yun Chang Bom, commander of the Independent Regiment in later days. His days in the GFKYEM can be described as the period, when he changed rom a nationalist to a communist. It was during his seven-year term in the Yanji prison that the process of his change was expedited. The reactionary Chinese warlord authorities arrested him abruptly in 1925\and sentenced him to a term of life imprisonment on a charge of raising funds.


After the waves of the May 30 Uprising\and the harvest\and spring struggles swept the land, the Yanji prison was overcrowded with pioneers of the revolution\and patriots in Jiandao who had led the masses in the forefront of the struggle. The small society of these vivacious optimists, who lived honourably, although their freedom was restricted, was a tempering school, which played a decisive role in his growth\and development. He joined the Anti-Imperialist\union\and the Red Guards, the secret\organizations inside the prison. His trials in prison finally transformed this former\orderly of the Independence Army into a fully-fledged communist.


Anecdotes about him\and the breathtaking risks he took in Yanji prison, referred to by the warlord authorities as Jilin Prison No. 4, were well known in all the guerrilla zones in east Manchuria.


His life in prison started with a showdown with Gangtour, the “Emperor” of the cell. The Gangtour in his cell was a criminal, guilty of murder\and robbery. He was taken to molesting the inmates. Each time a new prisoner was thrown into the cell, he robbed him of everything he had\and made them his own. He used to grab the food portions of other people to fill his own stomach.


Determined to teach him a lesson, Choe Hyon put a high-quality cigarette of the Kal brand between his lips\and purposely gave one to each inmate except the Gangtour. It was a wordless challenge aimed at provoking him.


Angered, the Gangtour\ordered him to give all his belongings to him. Instead of answering, Choe blew out a mouthful of smoke, thus enraging him. As the Gangtour threatened to beat him, Choe Hyon leapt over some of the inmates\and struck him in the face with his two handcuffed fists,\and roared, “You scum! Whom are you talking such nonsense to? You’ve committed murder outside\and you’re harassing your fellowmen even in prison. Can there be a man more cruel\and sinful than you? You’re the son of a commoner like us, aren’t you? I’ll be lenient\and forgive you this time, but behave yourself rom now on. Get down,\and take your seat by the commode. This upper seat’s mine.”


Realizing that he was no match for Choe Hyon, the Gangtour sat beside the commode, as he had been told,\and crouched there cautiously. The inmates, freed rom the Gangtour’s oppression, followed Choe Hyon as their benefactor rom then on.


Not long after Choe Hyon’s life imprisonment the warlord authorities frequently sent student visitors to the prison rom the Taesong, Tonghung, Yongsin\and Unjin Middle Schools, the Yongsin Girls’ School\and several other schools in Longjing. In this way the enemy planned to benumb revolutionary consciousness\and break the fighting spirit of the young\and students in this area,\where the ideological enlightenment\organizations\and anti-Japanese, anti-warlord\organizations were forming one after another\and carried on brisk work.


Choe Hyon contacted all the other cells\and told them to prepare water pistols. When the students looked around the prison they squirted stinking urine at the reactionary teachers\and prison warders who were guiding the students. He shouted at them, “You rascals! Why have you brought these students here?”


The reactionary teachers, taken by surprise, led the students away\and fled rom the prison.


The prison authorities tried hard to find the mastermind, but to no avail; every prisoner asserted that he was the prime instigator.


During his days in Yanji prison, he worked in a shoemaking factory as a shoemaker, in a print-shop as a compositor\and in a clothing factory as a tailor of high-quality suits. He also worked as a carpenter at a woodworking shop\and cut the hair of the warders, chief warder\and even the head of the prison, as well as that of the prisoners. In all actions, he never pardoned people who molested\and harassed him without reason, whoever they might be; he meted out severe punishment to them. One day he was caught by a superintendent of a workshop in the prison in the act of making chessmen with buckthorn to be used for the manufacture of desks\and chairs\and was beaten mercilessly. The superintendent thought it his daily job to beat the prisoners. Outraged, Choe Hyon struck him hard with the leg of the chair he was assembling. The prison authorities inflicted on him a week’s confinement as punishment. But after that incident, the superintendent did not commit outrages on the prisoners any more.


Prison escapes constituted his most outstanding achievements in his struggle in the prison. With Yun Chang Bom\and his other comrades, he succeeded in helping Im Pyong Guk, his former superior in the Independence Army,\and other revolutionaries to escape. A man of inborn audacity\and tough training in a wild world, Choe Hyon was ready to burn himself\and jump off a high cliff, for the sake of justice.


After his release, he joined the Red Guards in Taiyangmao\and, after arduous struggle, joined the Communist Party; he subsequently became a company political instructor of the Yanji guerrilla unit of the people’s revolutionary army.


This amounted to everything I had known about this courageous man by the time I met him in Macun.


After greeting each other at our first meeting, he said,


“As things have come to this, I’ll stay in Wangqing for about two days\and have a chat with you before going. Will I bother you?”


I agreed to talk with pleasure.


We talked all night unaware that day was breaking.

 

Next morning the sentry warned headquarters that the enemy was about to attack the guerrilla zone. I manned the unit on the heights\and, before climbing the mountain, said to Choe Hyon,


“Please wait in the barracks. I’ll be back after a bit of fighting.” He leapt up on hearing this.


“Am I to wait in the barracks when I finally have a chance to fight? Choe Hyon is not a man to stay behind, instead of following you, Commander Kim. Even Heaven seems to understand me today. I wanted to fight under your command at least once, so please take me with you to the heights.”


“If you’re so eager, then let’s fight together.”


He kept on smiling as followed me up to the heights.


The enemy did not attack the line\where the guerrillas were lying in ambush; they only fired some shots rom a distance\and then began to set fire to the grain stacks, permeated with the sweat\and blood of the people in the guerrilla zone.


I\ordered the guerrillas to mercilessly mow down the enemy by long-range sharpshooting,\and said to Choe Hyon, “By the way, I’ve heard that you’re a crack shot. Will you show me your skill?”


With a rifle he hit an enemy soldier approaching a grain stack with a fire stick with a single shot. We were about 500 metres away rom the enemy, but he killed each of the enemy with one bullet. His marksmanship was really admirable.


“Well, do you feel a bit better now after such regrets about missing the battle of the Dongning county town?” I asked when the enemy had been repelled.

He shook his head, licking his lips,\and said, “A little, but I’m still not satisfied.”

 

That night too, we talked until late mainly about the immediate tasks of the Korean revolution\and ways of carrying them out. The allied front with the Chinese anti-Japanese nationalist armed units, the anti-Japanese national united front, the founding of a new Party of a Juche type,\and some other important matters relating to the political line were topics of our practical talk.


Choe Hyon was very satisfied with the results of that conversation. “Now, my regrets at missing the battle of the Dongning county town have been eased more\or less by events in Macun.”


On seeing him off, I gave him four Dataigan (a large-calibre pistol—Tr.) captured at the battle of Dongning county town\and an amber cigarette-holder, as souvenirs of our first meeting. That cigarette-holder became his favourite one.


Whenever concentrating on decisive battles\and campaigns, his cigarette-holder would belch out thick smoke. There were many heavy smokers around Choe Hyon, who kept a covetous eye on it. They all tried to get it by various methods, ranging rom force, sweet words, barter to snatching it greedily rom the owner’s pocket when he had a bit too much to drink. But they all failed.


In the days after liberation some habitual smokers among the high-ranking officials of the Party\and Government even tried to strike a bargain with him, saying, “Comrade Choe Hyon, they say your cigarette-holder sweetens cigarettes like honey. Won’t you let me have a try at it? I’ll pay liberal ‘rent’ for it.” Such a bargain did not work with the stubborn owner either. Only Kim Ik Son, who was his close roommate in a holiday home in Rajin, managed to borrow it for one day.


The cigarette-holder is now displayed in the Korean Revolution Museum. At first the museum’s officials thought that they could obtain it easily rom him by a little persuasion. But that was a miscalculation. When he learned that they wanted the cigarette-holder, which he held dearer than jewellery\or gold for decades, Choe Hyon blazed with fury\and turned them away, saying, “You’re going to display this cigarette-holder in a museum, eh? It isn’t public property; it’s my private property. Our General gave it to me for my own use, not to make it common property for every one to see\and touch. If you ever want anything rom me, pull off my moustache\and take that.”


The officials were dumbfounded, but they did not give up hope. They visited him persistently. They only managed to persuade the stubborn veteran on their fifth visit. The veteran, who had been roaring like a tiger just a few days before, was a changed man; he treated his guests with hospitality.


“From today on this cigarette-holder is not mine. It’s the property of the entire people. I’ll give it to you after smoking one last cigarette, so please wait.”


He stuck a cigarette into the holder, lit it\and drew in a mouthful of smoke, one after another with relish before exhaling. The veteran’s half-shut eyes were gazing blankly at a distant sky in the north. The sky covered Macun, the historical site of our first meeting,\and the theatre of war reeking with powder fumes he had trekked, with a Mauser at his side, until he had almost reached forty in the days of the guerrilla struggle.


Those memorable two nights\and three days, which linked him\and me\and made him my lifelong companion, had built up an impregnable iron fortress, which guarded our friendship.


I got the strongest impression at our first meeting that he was very straightforward\and frank. He spoke as he had seen things\and thought.

His ideas\and feelings were reflected on his face at different moments. Lies, tricks\and diplomatic dealings do not work with such a man. His childlike simple mind purified other people’s minds with magical power. Fascinated by that bewitching power, I opened my inmost thoughts to him.


As soon as I arrived at the secret camp in Mihunzhen, I immediately went to the dug-out which housed about 50 fever patients, including Choe Hyon, whom I was so eager to see.


When the supply officers, who had been guarding the camp, flung open the door to announce my arrival, he got up rom the bed with difficulty\and crawled to the door.


His face, reduced to skin\and bones, had become so haggard that at first glance I did not recognize his former expression which had been engraved in my memory in Macun.


“I say, Commander Kim. Don’t come in for mercy’s sake. You mustn’t!”


He looked at me with blazing eyes, waving his arms, so I hesitated for a moment at the door.


“Well, it seems the people here are rather inhospitable. I came here to see Choe Hyon,\and yet you’re turning me away at the door.\where are your manners?” I said jokingly.


However, he would not listen. “It can’t be helped, even though you say I’m inhospitable. Don’t you know that this is a gate to Hell?”


“Ha, ha! You said you’ve shot a hundred boxfuls of cartridges, but I didn’t know that you’re such a cry-baby.”


Realizing that his words had no effect, he swore at the supply officers who had brought me there.

 

“You fools, why did you bring Commander Kim here? Is this the way to attend to him?”


The supply officers standing by the door became frightened\and ran away. While he was reviling them, I strode to the middle of the room.


“You were as hard as a birch club, so why all this fuss about typhoid?”


As I took my seat beside him\and held out my hand to shake his, he hastily hid his hands under the blanket.


“My body is full of typhoid germs, Commander Kim. Please don’t touch me, for God’s sake. Why did you come to this storehouse of epidemic germs?”


“Why did I come here? To see you, Choe Hyon. It’s strange to see that you’ve contracted an infectious disease.”


I pushed my hand under the blanket\and took his hot hand\and held it for a long time. His eyes immediately filled with tears.


“Thank you, Commander Kim. I’m not worth... I thought I’d die without seeing you.”


Although he had previously begged me not to come near him, he now gripped my hand tightly\and would not let go. Choe Hyon was at that moment like a child.


He asked some questions about the second expedition to north


Manchuria\and explained for some time the damage typhoid had caused.


I changed the conversation to personal affairs, related to his fate.


“I’ve heard that you suffered severely rom suspected involvement in the ‘Minsaengdan’. Is that true?”


“Yes, it’s true.”


He nodded his head sadly\and explained in haste how he had come to be suspected.

 

“In Macun you told me a lot about the united front. I believed it was the only correct line in the world. On my return to Yanji, I explained it to my comrades in the unit,\and even Wang De-tai, the corps commander, said that the united front was vital to us. But I was accused of being a ‘Minsaengdan’ member, while trying to realize the united front.”


After our leaving for the first expedition to north Manchuria, Choe Hyon, leading his company, had proceeded to the border area between Dunhua\and Huadian Counties\and carried on energetic political\and military work to expand the area of guerrilla activities. Expansion of the guerrilla zone in this area was dependent on good work with the Chinese nationalist anti-Japanese armed units encamped at the dead end of the Dahuanggou valley.


There were two mountain rebel units, each comprising 80\and 100 men, in the valley at the time. The unit with 80 rebels was well disposed towards us, for the operatives rom the guerrilla army had conducted a great deal of anti-Japanese propaganda. This unit maintained friendly relations with the neighbouring self-defence corps units. The self-defence corps units in the area had switched rom pro-Japanese to anti-Japanese troops\and gave active assistance to the rebel unit in various forms\and ways.


But the other rebel unit was given to robbing the people of their property\and preparing to surrender collectively to the enemy, while maintaining secret contacts with them in Liushucun. Antagonism between the two rebel units, one aspiring to fight the Japanese\and the other ready to surrender, was precipitating a bloody armed clash. If the unit trying to surrender had been left to its own device, it would have been impossible to lead the other rebel unit on to an anti-Japanese road\or manage to effect the anti-Japanese allied front with it.

 

Choe Hyon gave a banquet, allegedly to help to reconcile them. The commanding officers of the unit, who wanted to surrender, were also invited to the banquet. When they arrived, Choe Hyon’s company disarmed them by surprise. But he did not touch the other unit\or attack the self-defence corps unit, which was on friendly terms with that unit.


The fact that Choe Hyon did not attack the self-defence corps unit was fair\and reasonable, as it conformed with the line of a united front. But the head of the political department of the corps headquarters\and other Leftist superiors incriminated Choe Hyon, publicly saying that as he had not attacked the enemy, he had actually surrendered to them. They dismissed him rom his post of company political instructor\and deprived him of his favourite Mauser. This measure was so unjust that even Wang De-tai protested, saying, “If Choe Hyon is a ‘Minsaengdan’ member, who is not a ‘Minsaengdan’ in our 2nd Corps?” Choe Hyon was demoted to private,\and subsequently worked as head of the supply department of Wang De-tai’s corps headquarters for a year. He only became company commander at the end of 1935.


“I was saved, thanks to your efforts, Commander Kim. If you had not spoken out in our defence at the Dahuangwai meeting, at the risk of your own life, I would have been forced to live like a mole as a ‘Minsaengdan’ suspect. Please tell me, Commander Kim, was it a surrender not to have attacked the self-defence corps?”


He sprang up rom his bed\and gazed straight into my eyes. His serious face flushed scarlet all of a sudden.


I held his two hands in mine with affection\and shook my head. “How could that be a surrender? It was a just\and good thing to do for the anti-Japanese front... Your demotion on a charge of involvement in the ‘Minsaengdan’ was preposterous.”

 

“That’s right. I’m the last man to be a member of the ‘Minsaengdan’. Damn those bastards! I can hardly repress my surging anger!”


“It’s shocking that thousands of people have been punished like you\or killed on a false charge of involvement in the ‘Minsaengdan’.”


“They talked nonsense. How can such revolutionaries as Yun Chang Bom\and Pak Tong Gun be ‘Minsaengdan’ members? They chose\and executed only the hard workers\and good fighters,\and swaggered about, putting on airs, as if they’d performed some great exploit. If that had represented the communism that we’re after, I wouldn’t have come to Jiandao rom Maritime Province.”


“The anti-‘Minsaengdan’ struggle was a tragic event, which should never be repeated in the history of our anti-Japanese struggle. How many Korean communists were murdered! Fortunately, the Comintern officially pointed out the correctness of our opinions, expressed at the Dahuangwai meeting\and the ultra-Leftist error committed in the anti-‘Minsaengdan’ struggle by the east Manchuria Party committee,\and assigned us the task of taking measures to correct the situation as quickly as possible”.


He shed tears while listening to me.


“If that’s true, I want to give three cheers. Thank you, Commander Kim.”


“What’s important is how to make up for the wrongs done to comrades-in-arms who were murdered on a false charge\and how to make up for the tremendous loss sustained by our revolution. Don’t you think so?”


“You’re right, Commander Kim. We must do our best to make up for the loss. As survivors, we must become seeds.”

 

I was very satisfied with his answer. He was well-versed in military affairs\and politics. During subsequent work with him over the next decades, I realized clearly that he was not only a master of military operations but also an able political worker with an opinion of his own. He was skilful in military operations\and, at the same time, efficient in political work\and agitation. He was experienced in military diplomacy\and breaking up the enemy forces rom within. The soldiers\and police of Manchukuo under his influence supplied him with ammunition\and weapons regularly\and frequently informed him of enemy movements.


Regarding Choe Hyon as only a soldier is a short-sighted view. One day the veterans of the anti-Japanese war saw the Soviet film, Chapayev,\and gave their impressions. One of them said, “That Chapayev is just like our General Choe Hyon. General Choe Hyon is a model Chapayev, in his way of speaking, moving, thinking\and fighting....”


Choe Hyon retorted in anger, “So I’m Chapayev, eh? Choe Hyon is Choe Hyon\and no one else!”


His answer diverged rom the views of his colleagues who were accustomed to seeing him as a man who commanded battles by rule of thumb. It is not correct to identify Choe Hyon with Chapayev. When one estimates Choe Hyon, one should always bear in mind that he was not only a military officer; he was also a competent political worker who had been political instructor in the guerrilla army\and a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.


Looking trustingly at his eyes, which blazed with ardour\and confidence, I put my hand on the back of his hand\and continued:


“If the seeds gain ten, one hundred\and one thousand people\and if those one thousand seeds gain ten thousand people, then we’ll soon be rich in manpower. This is a great job that the Korean communists should undertake first\and foremost. For this work, we must move to the Changbai area bordering the homeland\and the Mt. Paektu area as we stressed at the Nanhutou meeting,\and build new types of guerrilla bases.”


He straightened his body up hastily at the mention of the phrase, new types of guerrilla bases,\and twitched his eyebrows several times.


“Why do you talk about building guerrilla bases again when we’ve just evacuated them?”


I explained the need to build new types of guerrilla bases\and the differences between these bases\and the former ones. His keen political mind which enabled him to understand everything quickly\and digest things promptly, was really wonderful. Choe Hyon expressed his absolute support for the policies adopted at the Nanhutou meeting: policies which would act as a strong lever in developing the Korean revolution on a Juche-oriented line. The decisions adopted then saved Choe Hyon\and all other typhoid patients in the secret camp in Mihunzhen rom the abyss of despair.


Choe Hyon said, “I’ve gone through many deadly crises in my sickbed. On such occasions, I even wished I were dead. I was deluded into thinking that if I died, everything would come to an end\and I’d forget the pain. But this reunion with you, Commander Kim, has chased away this foolish idea rom my mind. It makes me want to live\and fight to the end.”


As he spoke highly of our reunion, I gave it a profound meaning. “You say you’re encouraged by seeing me, but I’ve gained strength from seeing you. I’m very happy that you survived the ‘Minsaengdan’ fuss, for survival itself is a great achievement in that situation.”

That day I went all around the whole secret camp with Ri Tong Baek.


The medical conditions\and food situation in the camp were deplorable. The 7th Company of the 1st Division not far rom Mihunzhen brought provisions they managed to obtain now\and then, but they were far rom enough to feed the dozens of people here. When food grain ran out, even gruel was unavailable; they then rubbed the rotten husk of maize, poured boiling water over it\and drank it. Even that coarse food was not enough to go round.


A man named Kim ran the camp, but he was a coward, who only cared about his own safety. On arriving at the hospital under escort, Choe Hyon asked him to look after the affairs of the camp. But Kim neglected them on one\or another pretext. In the autumn of 1935 Choe Hyon had buried a great deal of grain\and subsidiary food in the vicinity of the camp, which he had captured rom a landlord in the Dunhua area, but Kim whined that there was no grain there; he served patients with bean gruel once\or twice a day, but not on a regular basis. Leaving the patients to the care of a few sewing-unit members, he himself went to another camp almost three miles away, so that he wouldn’t contract the disease,\and lived in luxury on rice\and meat.


Kim also kept women guerrillas on guard duty.


Kim Chol Ho, Ho Song Suk, Choe Sun San\and other women guerrillas underwent a great deal of hardships at that time, nursing the patients. There were the supply officers Kim, Kwak\and Ryu, of course, but they were fully preoccupied by external activities. They were, therefore, unable to look after the patients. The women guerrillas did the sewing, stood sentry\and nursed the patients in turn.

 

The typhoid patients, who were extremely nervous owing to never-ending pain, were hard on their nurses. They almost went crazy rom desire for cold water. For some unknown reason, it was rumoured among the soldiers of the people’s revolutionary army at the time that for typhoid patients drinking cold water was tantamount to committing suicide by taking poison,\and this rumour was applied to their treatment. Taking the rumour as truth, Choe Hyon declared a ban on drinking cold water in the hospital\and threatened to severely punish the patients if they disobeyed.


But the patients, who were going mad rom thirst, cried for cold water despite everything. Some of them picked off the icicles hanging on the eaves\and ate them behind the nurses’ backs. They had been so obedient to the discipline of the guerrilla army, but they lost patience out of their thirst\and behaved like unbridled horses. When the women guerrillas offered them gruel instead of cold water, they would fling the bowls away, raining foul language on them. However, the women guerrillas flatly rejected their demands,\and kept vigil in turn\and watched over them so that they would not drink the cold water rom the jar.


One night a messenger with the peculiar name of Maeng Son, unable to bear the thirst, crawled to the jar. Ho Song Suk was on duty that night. As soon as she saw him, she rushed to the jar\and snatched the dipper rom his hand, scolding him loudly, “Comrade Maeng Son, have you forgotten the\order? Do you want to die? Go back to your bed at once.”


At his wit’s end, he took up a piece of firewood lying in front of the stove\and hit her hard on the leg with it; then he greedily drank the water. He lay in bed through the whole night with the blanket pulled up over his face, as if he were dead.

 

Ho Song Suk thought he was dying\and consequently kept vigil by his side all night, even after she had been relieved of duty. Other patients were also worried that he would have a hard time of it. At daybreak, however, Maeng Son, whom everyone thought would have died, pushed the blanket aside, got up,\and hugged Ho Song Suk.


“Thank you, Comrade Song Suk. I’m alive. Thanks to your conniving at my drinking the water, my fever subsided.\where has my fever gone?” “It’s gone through the sweat pores of your body. Look! The blanket is steaming hot.”


Holding high the blanket, wet with perspiration, she looked around the ward. The patients awoke\and gazed at the blanket.


As a result, the ban of drinking cold water was withdrawn,\and the patients began to drink as much water as they wanted. Many of the typhoid patients in Mihunzhen escaped death with each passing day. Patients who recovered cooked the food together with the women guerrillas just as if it were for a festival.


We found, with supply officer Ryu, the large amount of rice\and meat captured by Choe Hyon in Dunhua in the vicinity of the camp. rom that time on the meals in the camp began to improve. The soldiers, who had been trained in the expeditions\and battle, stood sentry every day instead of the women guerrillas, without wilting rom the fatigue, which had built up during the long expedition.


When everyone was again on his feet with the joy of recovery, Wang De-tai, Wei Zheng-min\and I held a meeting of the military\and political cadres of the people’s revolutionary army in Mihunzhen\and took practical measures to implement the policies put forward at the Nanhutou meeting. Kim San Ho, Pak Yong Sun, Kim Myong Phal,\and many other cadres above the level of the company political instructor of the people’s revolutionary army attended it.


The decisions adopted at the Nanhutou meeting were strategic tasks to be implemented unfailingly in the latter half of the 1930s by the Korean communists, who had evacuated the guerrilla bases as fixed, liberated areas\and begun to expand the theatre of operations to the region of Manchuria\and the Korean peninsula. We had to take some relevant tactical measures to implement these tasks.


We had devised a plan to make the Mt. Paektu area the strategic base of the Korean revolution\and, by moving freely to north\and south Manchuria\and deep into the homeland, raise to a higher plane the anti-Japanese national liberation struggle\and the communist movement of our country via active military offensives\and political activities by large units. In other words, we had decided to enlarge the theatre of our operations. To put this plan into practice, we had to solve first\and foremost the manpower problem in three sectors—the Party, military\and nationwide united front forces. We had to build them up in\order to advance the revolution onto a higher plane.


We debated at the Mihunzhen meeting the reorganization of the people’s revolutionary army units to meet the demands of the times\and decided on the areas of activities for the divisions\and brigades which were to be established.


First of all, the meeting decided to set up a new division\and an independent brigade in\order to amplify the combat forces of the people’s revolutionary army rom two divisions to three divisions\and one independent brigade. On the basis of this decision, the meeting allocated an area for each unit’s activities; the 3rd Division (later renamed the 6th Division) to be newly formed was to operate in the border area along the Amnok River, centring on Mt. Paektu, the 1st Division in the areas of Fusong, Antu\and Linjiang,\and the 2nd Division in Jiandao\and north Manchuria. The new brigade was to gradually proceed to the area along the Amnok River, after mobile operations in north Manchuria\and keep the enemy forces appearing in the boarder areas under control. This was a militant decision, requiring the swift doubling of the combat forces of the people’s revolutionary army by lightning measures.


The military\and political cadres attending the meeting appraised the reorganization of the people’s revolutionary army as a step forward in the overall anti-Japanese armed struggle,\and enthusiastically supported this measure. However, not all problems were solved smoothly. When debating ways of implementing measures, an irrelevant opinion was advanced, which slowed down the meeting—on the shortage of cadres.


It was quite reasonable that some people were apprehensive over the reorganization of the people’s revolutionary army, owing to the lack of cadres, while welcoming the reorganization in all circumstances. During the anti-“Minsaengdan” struggle, a considerable number of military\and political cadres had been removed rom the ranks of the people’s revolutionary army. The aftermath of ultra-democracy in the army was another factor which engendered the shortage of cadres. There were many cadres on the active list who had not even been freed rom the stigma of the “Minsaengdan”. Many units of the people’s revolutionary army frequently requested commanding officers.


We mapped out a plan for appointing cadres for the new units to be\organized on the principle of boldly trusting people\and unhesitatingly promoting them. According to this plan, the 3rd Division was placed under my direct command. An Pong Hak remained the commander of the 1st Division\and Choe Hyon was promoted to commander of the 1st Regiment of the 1st Division.


The meeting at Mihunzhen also debated the\organization of a preparatory committee to found the Association for the Restoration of the Fatherland.


While the Nanhutou meeting was a milestone between the first half of the 1930s\and the second half, the Mihunzhen meeting was, figuratively speaking, a stepping-stone, along with the gatherings at Donggang, Xigang\and Nanpaizi, leading the Korean revolution to the great events of the 1940s. The “express”, departing rom Nanhutou ran at full speed to Xiaohaerbaling via Mihunzhen, Xigang\and Nanpaizi, those memorable “stations” on our historic advance rom Nanhutou to Xiaohaerbaling: throughout this time our friendship, our hearts\and souls had so profoundly been devoted to the journey.


I congratulated Choe Hyon on his promotion to regimental commander\and bade him farewell.


“Next time let’s meet in the Mt. Paektu area. I wish you health\and success!”


He gripped my arm\and, like a child, beseeched me urgently:


“If you don’t take me with you, I won’t let you go. I, too, want to go to the Mt. Paektu area\and fight under your command.”


“Why are you supposing that I like saying farewell to you, Comrade Choe Hyon? I, too, want to do the same, as a tender-hearted man. If all of you come over to my side, then what should we do with the other units? It’s only when such commanders as you, Choe Hyon,\and Choe Yong Gon, Ri Hak Man\and Han Hung Gwon take charge of big fronts\and fight, that our revolution will advance at a fast pace in wide areas. I want to see the Choe Hyon who has become a tiger, not a chicken.”

 

“Can I become a tiger? Oh, my!”


He repeatedly exclaimed “Oh, my!”\and gazed at something far off, with narrowed eyes.


“Then, I’ll not persist any more today. But it’ll be different next time. Don’t forget me even in your dreams. I, too, will dream that I’m beside you.”


I met him for a third time at the secret camp of Yangmudingzi, Xigang, Fusong County. Of course, he again tried to strike the same bargain which had remained unsettled in Mihunzhen. But, his wish was not fulfilled then, either. As soon as he came up to me, he requested that I transfer him to the main unit, but his attempts ended in failure.


He wanted to be at my side all his life\and tried his best to make this come true. But each of his attempts gave way to other temptations, which were stronger\and more realistic than his own desire. In other words, he was impelled by his crystal-clear conscience\and spirit of devoted service to come to the forefront of my concerns\and interests.


Keenly aware that, despite his wish to assist me by my side, he should be the first to give way\and take the brunt in response to my call, he thereby demonstrated his loyalty\and the charm of his character. These two wishes were involved in a continual tug-of-war in his mind throughout his life. Although these two wishes were dear to him, he always left me with the firm resolve to do his bit, by taking up the post which I regarded as important in a difficult situation.


This was evidently a pleasant contradiction, which ran throughout his life. Apart rom his later years, when he assisted me as Minister of the People’s Armed Forces\and Minister in the Administration Council, he had lived all his life amidst powder fumes on the front line. He had fought hundreds of battles in the latter half of the 1930s. Hundreds of battles—large\and small—including the battles at Sandaogou, Wudaogou, Xiaotanghe, Huanggouling, Jinchang, Pulgunbawi, Komuijari, Jiansanfeng, Naerhong, Laojinchang, Mujihe, Fuerhe, Weitanggou, Tianbaoshan, Dashahe, Dajianggang, Yaocha\and Hanconggou, were all associated with his name\and fully demonstrated his talent\and unparalleled bravery as a distinguished military commander.


The nickname of “Tough Fellow”, which we often see in classified documents left by the Japanese imperialists, was given to Choe Hyon. The Japanese army\and police trembled at the mere mention of “Sai Ken’s unit” (Sai Ken is the Japanese pronunciation of Choe Hyon—Tr.). “Sai Ken” became synonymous with an invincible general, who struck terror into the enemy’s heart.


In the days after liberation he helped build a new country by force of arms at the forefront on this side of the 38th parallel.18 During the war against the US imperialists, he commanded an army corps in the eastern sector of the front. His confident words of command, calling on the soldiers to charge, always reverberated across decisive battlefields, which the fatherland\and people were watching.


The farther he was rom me, the closer\and dearer he was in my mind. Just as the saying has it that even a thousand miles seem only a hailing distance to bosom friends, I think space\and time do not matter to friends who love\and respect each other. Choe Hyon was a loyal man who assisted me more than others, although he was farther away rom me.


Ever since the early days of construction of the new country, he carried along everywhere my photograph in the folds of his pocketbook. The photo was the size of a matchbox. Funnily enough, I had no idea how he obtained it. Apparently he coaxed Jong Suk to give the photo to him when leaving for the 38th parallel as commander of a brigade, but I can’t be sure. When he formed a second front behind the enemy lines\and fought guerrilla warfare, he looked at that picture whenever he missed me.


One day he decided to give an official commendation on his own to a squad leader, who had performed distinguished services in the enemy area. The squad leader’s name was Kim Man Song. During the operations behind enemy lines the squad had captured 50 vehicles—22 three-quarter-ton trucks\and 28 gun carriers—and killed\or wounded about 150 enemy soldiers. The exploits deserved the highest decoration.


But the corps headquarters, out of contact with the Supreme Headquarters, had no decorations\or letters of commendation. But Choe Hyon, who would not hesitate once he had made up his mind to do something, called the squad leader\and conferred on him my photograph, which he had been carrying since liberation.


“This is a higher commendation than a decoration. You know that General Kim Il Sung is the head of our country? When we were fighting guerrilla warfare in Jiandao, the General was our leader. At that time we yearned for him very much. If you keep this photo next to your bosom, no bullet will pierce your heart.”


These were the words Choe Hyon had used, when conferring the photograph on him.


He subsequently reported back to me at Supreme Headquarters. I provoked him gently.


“But, you are just Choe Hyon\and no one else. However, the squad leader, Kim Man Song, suffered a great loss. Can a photograph the size of a matchbox be equal to a decoration?”

 

“That’s stingy of you. Who, if not Choe Hyon, would confer such a commendation? General, the photo is one thing, but you have to give him the award. I mean in the name of the Supreme Commander.”


This was a surprise counterattack. I was taken unawares by this master of allurement. The warm heart of this broad-minded “Uncle Corps Commander”, who held his men very dear, almost moved me to tears.


“Yes, I will. The photo was your commendation. I will thank him\and also confer a decoration on him in the name of the Supreme Commander.”


From this detail we are able to get a deeper understanding of Choe Hyon. The story contains his noble outlook on the world.


This is roughly the kind of man Choe Hyon was.


I do not know what else to write to give a more faithful deion of his human appeal. His autobiography, stained by powder fumes\and weathered by storms, included too many facts\and events to provide a full deion.


Choe Hyon was an optimist, who knew no disappointments all his life, a tank-like man, who pushed straight ahead in the face of all adversities.


What kind of people did he love? He loved frank,\ordinary, industrious, daring, faithful\and imaginative people\and also others who did not backbite\and knew how to make the requisite decisions.


He did not like sycophants, cowards, idlers\or chatterboxes. He was always guarded against people who were enigmatic\and masqueraded.


The whole country knows that he was mad about chess. When he lost even one game, he would become so furious that he lost his appetite. For all this, he became even angrier if his opponent purposely lost a game\or played for a draw just to soothe him. Choe Hyon was also a rare film lover. He was so fond of films that\organizing Secretary Kim Jong Il presented him with a film projector. Choe Hyon liked war films best. But he hated seeing war films,\where too many people were killed.


During his last days on his sickbed I visited him several times. Weak rom fighting his ailments, he looked so fragile,\and unsightly that he reminded me of a boy in his early teens.


I even wondered if this was Choe Hyon, veteran of a hundred battles\and “Tough Fellow”, who had struck terror in the enemy during two wars.


His hands, which used to be as stiff as a plank, were as soft as a child’s hands, after losing their muscles\and roughness. I gripped those hands\and said, “Look here, Choe Hyon! Can the tiger-like ‘Sai Ken’ fall down like this?”


All of a sudden, his lips twisted\and he burst into tears. I wiped the tears away with my handkerchief\and calmed him down.


“Don’t cry, Comrade Choe Hyon. Tears only make you weaker.”


“I cried, Leader, because I was reminded of that day at Mihunzhen. The day when you also gripped my hand like this.”


“Mihunzhen? Yes, I did. Somehow I miss those days. The times were hard, but we were vivacious young men in our twenties. By the way, you were thirty years old at that time, weren’t you?”


“You’re right. I was twenty-nine according to today’s calculations. I remember making a pledge with you, hand in hand, ‘Let us share life\and death together!’ Do you remember?”


“Yes,\and why not?”


“I’m afraid I can’t keep the pledge\and I’m going before... I’m sorry.”

 

“There’s no need. It’s I who should feel sorry. If I had taken better care of you, you wouldn’t have come to this pass. But I made you work too hard all the time, making you do only hard jobs. I regret it so much.” “Don’t. On the contrary, I’ve given you much trouble all my life. When I die, you must remain healthy\and reunify the country. Please take care of yourself, Leader. This is my last wish. The worst thing is


that you don’t care about your health.”


Apparently he talked about me all the time until his last minutes. Whenever my assistants visited him to inquire how he felt, he used to ask, “Is the leader well? Is\organizing Secretary Kim Jong Il fine?”


I so regretted overworking him all his life that I\ordered a film about him, which was circulated across the country. The title of this film is A Revolutionary.


His merit in family life is that he taught his wife\and children to be single-heartedly loyal to the Party\and the leader.


His wife Kim Chol Ho was an indefatigable fighter who had devoted her whole life to the revolution. She conducted underground activities in enemy-held areas\and fought shoulder to shoulder with us. It was far harder for a woman to fight severe battles against the enemy, carrying weapons for 10 years in the steep mountains\and the sea of forests\and snow in Manchuria in 40°C below zero than go on an arctic expedition. Hearing the guns of the enemy’s “punitive” forces, she gave birth to a baby on a snowbank. She cut the umbilical cord herself without the help of a midwife\and there\and then fired at the enemy who were pursuing her. She fought like a phoenix. She considered all the hardships she had suffered in the days of the guerrilla warfare so valuable, that she used to cook uncrushed maize gruel once\or twice a month for her children until the day she passed away.

 

Whereas Choe Hyon was an unfailing engine, leading Kim Chol Ho along the bright road, the latter was a ray of warm sunlight, who covered the latter’s tumultuous career with beautiful flowers.


Together with her husband, she brought up her children strictly, as if she was raising them in the snowstorm of Mt. Paektu. Her sons now work hard in posts, appointed by\organizing Secretary Kim Jong Il to add lustre to our style of socialism, which regards the popular masses as supreme\and educate the third\and fourth generations of the revolution as loyal people.


Their son Choe Ryong Hae, the general commander of the youth, performed a great exploit, by ensuring the holding of the 13th World Festival of Youth\and Students, which would remain a grand monument in the history of the communist movement in our country. When his mother Kim Chol Ho died he stayed at her funeral ceremony for some minutes\and then went to the People’s Palace of Culture to attend a meeting of the international preparatory committee to make the festival a success. On receiving a report about it, I thought, “Like father, like son.”


It is an immutable law of nature that an apple tree bears only apples\and a pear tree only pears. There is no difference between this law\and the law of society. Accordingly a new generation, born with the soul of Mt. Paektu, grows up on the land of Mt. Paektu. It is indeed a matter of pride that the second, third\and fourth generations, under the leadership of\organizing Secretary Kim Jong Il, are inheriting\and consummating the Korean revolution in a spirit of loyalty\and filial devotion, the revolution, initiated\and developed by the first generation, who devoted heart\and soul to the cause, amid snowstorm\and raging winds. I am convinced that our younger generation will remain loyal to the last to the cause of their forebears. It is only natural for an excellent new generation to emerge rom the embrace of excellent forebears.



 Related articles

[Reminiscences]Chapter 9. The First Expedition to North Manchuria 6. In the Bosom of the People

[Reminiscences]Chapter 10. With the Conviction of Independence  1. A Raging Whirlwind

[Reminiscences]Chapter 10. With the Conviction of Independence  2. A Polemic at Dahuangwai

[Reminiscences]Chapter 10. With the Conviction of Independence  3. Revolutionaries Born of the Young Communist League

[Reminiscences]Chapter 10. With the Conviction of Independence  4. An Answer to the Atrocities at Sidaogou

[Reminiscences]Chapter 10. With the Conviction of Independence  5. The Seeds of the Revolution Sown over a Wide Area

[Reminiscences]Chapter 11. The Watershed of the Revolution  1. Meeting with My Comrades-in-Arms in North Manchuria

[Reminiscences]Chapter 11. The Watershed of the Revolution  2. Strange Relationship

[Reminiscences]Chapter 11. The Watershed of the Revolution  3. On Lake Jingbo

[Reminiscences]Chapter 11. The Watershed of the Revolution  4. My Comrades-in-Arms to the North; I to the South



    

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