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북녘 | [Reminiscences]Chapter 17 6. The Boys Who Took Up Arms

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[Reminiscences]Chapter 17 6. The Boys Who Took Up Arms

  

   

 

 

6. The Boys Who Took Up Arms 

 

 One noteworthy effect the advance of the People’s Revolutionary Army to the Mt. Paektu area had on the younger people was their fiery enthusiasm for enlisting in the guerrilla army. Each time the forests\and valleys along the River Amnok echoed to the sound of gunshots, young people flocked to our secret camp in an endless stream hoping to join us.


As the volunteers increased, many interesting events took place.

Once we were visited by a dark-complexioned boy with bushy hair wearing wet trousers. He earnestly pleaded to be allowed to enlist in the guerrilla army, saying that he wanted revenge for his brother’s death. The boy came rom the village of Shangfengdok. He said that his eldest brother, who was teaching at a night school for youths\and children in his village, had been killed by the police, since it had been disclosed that he supplied the guerrillas with food,\and that his second brother had joined my unit just before the battle at Pochonbo was fought. That was why he wished to join the revolutionary army. The name of the boy with bushy hair was Jon Mun Sop.


Joking, I said to him that the young people who came in dry clothes were too numerous to enlist all at one time, so how could a playful fellow like him, who came in wet trousers, expect to be admitted. At this, he explained, saying his mother was to blame for it.


Jon Mun Sop had told his mother that he would leave with the guerrilla army unit, which had stopped over at Shangfengdok village. His mother cut him short, declaring he was too young to be a guerrilla. When her son went off to sleep, she put his trousers into the washtub, thinking that if he had nothing to wear because his only trousers were in the tub, it would be impossible for him to follow the guerrilla army.


He was annoyed by this. His joining the revolutionary army had already won the approval of the Children’s Association.


He had been prepared to run naked to Mt. Paektu if it meant he could become a soldier of the revolutionary army. Early in the morning he took his trousers out of the tub, hastily squeezed out the water\and put them on. Seeing his determination, his mother finally consented to his joining the guerrilla army.


This shows what a fever to volunteer had swept the northern border areas of Korea around the area on the River Amnok\and the vast regions of West Jiandao. As the case of Jon Mun Sop shows, not only young people in the twenties\or thirties were eager to join, but also teenagers.


At first the commanding officers in charge of recruitment would send these boys back home immediately, not even asking my opinion. Until then, none of the men\and officers had ever thought that boys of fourteen\or fifteen could fight, arms in hand.


Even Kim Phyong, who was fond of children, would shake his head whenever these boys came to us.

One summer’s day in 1937, when our unit was bivouacking on the highland of Diyangxi, he came\and asked me for advice, saying that about 20 kids, each shorter than a rifle, were plaguing him with requests to join\and he did not know what to do with them. “I told them to come back when they were a little bigger, but they would not listen to me. In the end they started pressing me to let them see you, General.... They say they won’t leave until they’ve seen you, General. They are as obstinate as mules.”

 

I went to the boys\and had a chat with them. I told them to sit down on a fallen log, then asked them, in turn, what their names were, how old they were, what their fathers did\and\where they came rom. Each time I asked a question, the kid I was addressing would spring to his feet like a bouncing ball to answer the question. What was common in their behaviour was that they all tried to look as grown-up as possible. They had all lost parents, brothers\or sisters, witnessing horrible scenes of their family members being killed in the enemy’s “punitive” operations,\and this was why they had resolved to take up arms: to avenge their deaths. Having this heart-to-heart talk with them, I felt that in their thinking they could match several wise men.


As the saying goes, children mature early in troubled times. All these boys saw was misfortune\and their life was full of hardship. The children of Korea were all too familiar with the world, though young. Revolution moves\and awakens people with great force\and at great speed. There is profound truth to the words of the sage who likened revolution to a school that teaches the new.


The 20-odd boys who flocked to our bivouac hoping to become guerrillas were all miserable victims in one page of our nation’s history, a page beset by vicissitudes. I was greatly moved by these little boys, who so passionately volunteered to shoulder the heavy duty of social transformation\and take part in an armed struggle that was trying even for adults.


If I remember correctly, Ri Ul Sol\and Kim Ik Hyon, Kim Chol Man\and Jo Myong Son were among the boys I met that day. Though today they hold the positions of Vice-Marshal, General\or Lieutenant General in the Korean People’s Army, at that time they were little cubs who had to stand the test of whether\or not they were capable of holding a rifle.


“What has to be done with these children?” I thought.

 

I was at a loss as to what I should say to send them back home, these young hawks so ready to go through fire\and water. Life in the revolutionary army was one that even robust young men at times found hard to take, becoming stragglers if they could not keep up the tireless training\and constant self-discipline.

I tried to persuade the boys with the following words:


“I think it highly praiseworthy that you should be so determined to take up arms to avenge the enemy for the murder of your families. This is a manifestation of the love you have for your country. But it is very difficult for us to accept you as soldiers of the revolutionary army, because you are still so young. You have no idea what incredible hardships your brothers\and sisters of the guerrilla army have to undergo. In the height of winter, the revolutionary army has to sleep on a carpet of snow in the mountains. Sometimes they have to march in the rain for days on end. When provisions run out, they have to ease their hunger with grass roots\or tree bark steeped in water,\or with just plain water. This is the life of the revolutionary army. It seems to me you could not stand such a tough life. What do you say you return home now\and wait to grow a bit older before you become a soldier?”


Nevertheless, I was talking to deaf ears. The boys carried on as before, asking to join the guerrilla army\and insisting that they were prepared to go through whatever hardships were necessary, that they would sleep in the snow, fight as the adults did\and so on.


Never before had I felt the need for a military school so keenly. How good it would be if we could afford to train all these eager boys\and harden their bodies at a military school. Previously even the Independence Army had had cadet schools all over Manchuria. But this was before Manchuria was occupied by the Japanese imperialists. Manchuria in the late 1930s was trampled under the jackboots of the large Japanese imperialist armed force.

 

Therefore, it was impossible for us to run military schools, as the Independence Army had done. I wondered whether something like a training centre could be opened in the secret camp, but that was not feasible. All “barometers” across the world were forecasting that the Japanese scoundrels would unleash another September 18 incident in the territory of China. To cope with this, we were preparing grand mobile operations. Enrolling the teenagers in our armed ranks at such a moment was as good as shouldering an extra pack just before an arduous march.


However, it was impossible to tell them to return home merely because of unfavourable conditions. Frankly speaking, I was attached to every one of these boys.


They had no less class consciousness than the adult folk. On that day they made a particularly deep impression on me when they said they would go hungry, just as their elders did.


In contrast to the so-called patriots—who harped continuously on their love for the country, but only in words—to the renegades of the revolution,\and to the degenerates who lived to no purpose\and talked idly of the ephemeral nature of human life, what noble\and passionate patriots these boys were, refusing to go back home\and stubbornly demanding admittance into the guerrilla army. The fact that they wanted to become guerrillas at such a tender age was an act worthy of a bouquet before a decision was reached as to whether\or not they should be admitted.


I wanted to train these highly combative boys into fighters. It seemed to me that although it was impossible to send them to stand on the first line right now, they might become the reliable reserves within one\or two years if I found the right way to train them. What a wonderful harvest we would have if all of them grew to be combatants equal to our veteran soldiers in the next year\or two.


If the veteran guerrillas made a stout-hearted effort to train them, even if it meant they had to sleep\or eat less, I was convinced the boys would become agile soldiers in a short span of time. I planned to form a company with the boys on the principle that when circumstances permitted we would train them at the secret camp,\and when the unit was out on manoeuvres we would take them with us, teaching\and training them in action. In other words, I intended to form a special company that performed the role of military school\and military\and political cadres’ training course simultaneously, in combination with education through direct action. Determined to enlist the boys in our unit, I told them to write a pledge. If you really want to join the guerrilla army, I said, you must put down your pledge on the paper tonight. Why do you want to take up arms in the revolutionary army? How will you live\and fight after you have become a guerrilla? Jot all this down,\and after reading your pledges, we will make a decision.


My words left Kim Phyong\and most of the other commanding officers feeling uneasy. The many children we had brought with us rom Maanshan were already a burden to us, they said; if these boys were added to them as well, the load would be just too heavy.


The following day I read the written pledges rom the boys\and found that their resolve was excellent. Some of the children who did not know how to write dictated their pledges to their friends, but I did not mind this. It was not their fault if they were incapable of scribbles because of a lack of schooling. I told them their written pledges were all excellent. At this, they all let out a cheer, dancing with joy.


I called together the officers above the level of company political instructor at Headquarters\and officially announced that as of now we were forming a Children’s Company with Children’s Corps members rom Maanshan\and those who had come to us in West Jiandao. I appointed O Il Nam as commander,\and a woman guerrilla, Jon Hui, as sergeant-major of the Children’s Company.


Formerly O Il Nam had been the leader of the machine-gun platoon directly under Headquarters. He was a good marksman\and well experienced in the management of the ranks, a man of remarkable endurance\and fighting spirit. Here is an anecdote about the battle on Kouyushuishan that illustrates his strong endurance. He was shot in that battle, but nobody knew it since he showed no sign of being wounded. Later, when the unit reached Diyangxi, the others saw that his tunic was soaked with blood\and made a fuss over his heavy wound. We stripped him of his coat\and found a bullet lodged in the flesh, its tip almost visible. He himself just kept on smiling.


We had no surgeon, so the strong-armed Kang Wi Ryong held his body tight\and I tried to extract it with pincer. It did not go as I intended,\and we were in an awful sweat indeed. The so-called operation was conducted without anaesthetics, but O Il Nam did not make a sound. After picking out the bullet, I smeared the wound with vaseline, which we used as a lubricant for rifles,\and\ordered him to be sent to the rear. But he would not leave, saying: “Why make such a fuss about a trifling wound? The enemy will soon be coming in pursuit, so how can I as a machine-gun platoon leader leave my position?”


I was sure, now that I thought back on this incident, that fighting stamina such as O Il Nam’s would have a good influence on our “kid” soldiers.


Sergeant-major Jon Hui was also unusual in her fighting spirit. She was the same age as the members of the Children’s Company, but mentally she was as mature\and hard as an autumn bean. Kim Chol Ho, who knew her family background well, said that she was such an audacious girl, she had smashed her grandfather’s case of acupuncture needles when she was 10 years old.


Her mother died when she was 10,\and her grandfather had some knowledge of acupuncture, so he cured diseases of the villagers. But he was unable to cure his daughter-in-law,\and little Jon Hui thought her mother had died because grandfather’s box of acupuncture needles had failed to save her. She smashed the box to smithereens with a stone. When grandfather scolded her in fury, she retorted, “What’s the use of your acupuncture needles when they could not even cure Mother of her illness?”\and cried bitterly. At this, her grandfather also burst into tears\and hugged her in his arms.


The following year she lost her brother as well. Her brother was a guerrilla, who was arrested with two comrades while working in the enemy-held area. The enemy killed them on the hill behind Juzijie. The three fighters, covered with blood, their bones broken rom cruel tortures, died a heroic death, shouting, “Long live the revolution!”


Young Jon Hui saw the terrible scene, together with the village people. Her brother’s heroic death impressed her deeply. The enemy shouted at the people, “Look at them! Those who oppose Japan will die just like them. Will you still make a revolution after this?” The masses were silent. But then a resounding voice rang out, “Long live the revolution!” It was little Jon Hui. The surprised enemy pommelled her to a pulp. When she had recovered, she entered the guerrilla zone. When asked, “Why did you shout ‘Long live the revolution!’ at such a time?” she replied, “I wanted to die like my brother. I wanted to shout, ‘Long live the revolution!’ when I died.”


Underlying her simple words was a daring that saw the revolution as dearer than her own life.


The fearless\and bold character of Jon Hui, who was not afraid of death, would serve as an excellent example to the members of the Children’s Company.

 

I believed that like O Il Nam, Jon Hui was a person well-qualified to look after the Children’s Company members in a responsible manner.


Even after the official announcement of the formation of the Children’s Company, quite a few commanding officers continued to feel anxious about this step taken by Headquarters. They were apprehensive that these children might become a stumbling block to our activities, that we would be at a disadvantage because of them,\and that these little kids could not face the trials even the grown-ups found it difficult to endure.


I formed the Children’s Company by virtue of my authority as the Commander partly because I wished to gratify the children’s desire as quickly as possible.


First, I was touched by the children’s ardent desire to take part in the revolution\and the burning hatred that drove them to want to avenge the murder of their parents, brothers\and sisters. My meeting with them awakened me to the need for training reserves for the guerrilla army. I came to think that the formation of a special military\organization of children might be an answer to this need.


Looking back on the path traversed by successive\orderlies, such as Jo Wal Nam, Ri Song Rim, Choe Kum San, Kim Thaek Man\and Paek Hak Rim, who joined the guerrilla army at a similar age to the kids in the Children’s Company, I was assured that the children of 14 to 17 were capable of pulling their own weight.


Soon after forming the Children’s Company, I made sure that its members were dressed in military uniform\and presented with weapons, mostly Model 38 carbines. I still get a feeling of satisfaction when I recall the boys in the company, who were beside themselves with joy at the new uniforms\and weapons.


We gave O Il Nam\and Jon Hui the assignment to train the boys in the highlands of Diyangxi for a period, then give them concentrated training at the Fuhoushui Secret Camp in Qidaogou. I handed O Il Nam the teaching programme for a short, intensive course, which I had worked out myself, with a view to cramming elementary knowledge\and knowledge about the basic movements in the life of the guerrilla army into a one\or two months’ training period. After reading the programme, O Il Nam expressed some anxiety about whether the children would be able to digest the whole thing, since the plan was too demanding. He said, however, that he would try it out.


The company set about training the next day in the highlands of Diyangxi. I was having a strenuous time at that period, drawing up plans for coping with the Sino-Japanese War, but I managed to find time quite frequently to guide their training. I demonstrated various moves\and actions\and told them that they should drill the full-step march over\and over again so as to get accustomed to army manoeuvres. I also instructed them to aim for the enemy’s breast during target practice.


After the company had undergone training for about two weeks in Diyangxi, we left for the secret camp in Sobaeksu for a meeting. Before departure, I\ordered O Il Nam to take the children to the secret camp in Fuhoushui so as to continue training there.


When I saw the youngsters lined up in columns, my heart misgave me. The march at that time was arduous indeed,\and it was difficult to be optimistic about the hardships they would have to go through.

The Fuhoushui Secret Camp was a comparatively safe one in the rear, an ideal place for the training centre. There were enough provisions at the camp for the members of the Children’s Company to stay for two\or three months. I had previously given Kim Phyong the task of building a secret camp in Fuhoushui\and keeping grain in reserve there. The Children’s Company greatly enjoyed the benefit of the camp.


While I was commanding the campaign of striking the enemy rom the rear at the Liudaogou Secret Camp near Fuhoushui, the Children’s Company was undergoing intensive training in Fuhoushui. After meetings at Caoshuitan\and Sobaeksu, I paid a visit to the camp\and watched them train; I soon realized that they had developed beyond recognition rom the kids who had started out at Diyangxi. Their progress was a graphic demonstration that the formation of the Children’s Company had been a correct move.


I felt invigorated by the speed of their development.


One day Jon Hui appeared at Headquarters\and whispered in a worried voice, “General, there is a problem. What shall I do?” She said that the smallest kid in the Children’s Company shed tears every night rom homesickness.


The mention of tears worried me. The guerrillas, being family men, would understand that the Children’s Company members got homesick. But if one was weeping, pining for home, the matter was serious.


According to Jon Hui, the boy had begun to look gloomy when the unit passed Badaogouhe. She asked him what the matter was,\and he said that he felt sad because his home was falling farther\and farther behind him. When joining the guerrilla army, he had thought the unit would operate in the neighbourhood of his home. But the farther we marched, the sadder he felt.


I told her to be a little severe with him, reminding her of the old saying, “Spare the rod\and spoil the child.” She called him\and reproached him harshly. But her reproof had an adverse effect, for the boy became more recalcitrant\and demanded that he be allowed to return home.


I summoned him to Headquarters\and asked him if he really wanted to return home. Silently, he gazed up at my face.


I told him:


“If you want to go home so badly, you may. But it is a long way, dozens of miles rom here to Shijiudaogou. Do you think you can make it?”


“Yes, I can if I follow the path we used to come here.”


His answer hinted that his demand was not just simple grumbling\and that he had already counted on going back.


I told Jon Hui to fetch the pack containing several emergency rations for the Children’s Company,\and handing it to him, said:

“Go ahead\and return home if you really want to. You will need food on the way. You had better take this with you.”

The boy, who knew that this was the emergency ration for the company, said, saucer-eyed:


“No, I can’t. What will the company eat if I take it away? Being alone, I can manage without it. I’ll be alright if I pick\and eat one\or two ears of maize rom the fields.”


“That’s stealing. I don’t want you to behave like a thief\and that is why I tell you to take this with you. You have eaten the bread of the guerrilla army for sometime, you must know that at least. So take this pack with you.”

“I cannot eat all this alone, leaving my friends to starve.”


The boy was stubborn\and took off the pack I had put on his back.

“If you know that much, then you should know it is a disgrace for you to return home, leaving your comrades fighting\and shedding their blood in the mountains. I believed you were all clever children, but in fact you are not.”


At this, the boy burst into tears.


Actually they were all at the age to be still under the care of their parents. I felt I was witnessing a national tragedy forced upon us by the Japanese imperialists.

 

Yet what would happen if he returned home? It would lead to wavering among the other members of the Children’s Company.


Reminding the boy of the pledge he had written when he joined the army, I exhorted him:

“There is a saying, ‘A word of honour is as good as a bond.’ But you are just about to kick away your pledge like a pebble on the roadside. What will become of you if you make light of your promise like this? Once you have taken up arms, you must return home only after you have fought to the end\and won final victory. Only then will your parents be happier to see you back.”


The boy swore that he would no longer think of going home. Because of this initial involvement with him, I presume, I felt

particular concern for him afterwards. What I saw as a virtue in him was his love for his comrade. Even if he were famished, he would not touch the emergency ration of the company—wasn’t this the kind of comradeship that could be described as being as pure as snow\and as beautiful as lily?


I consider comradeship to be the touchstone of whether one was a real revolutionary\or not. This is the nucleus, the moral basis of communists, the personality trait that makes them the best people in the world\and distinguishes them rom other people. If one is devoid of comradeship, the structure of one’s life crumbles like an edifice built with no foundation. The man who is strong in comradeship is capable of amending his mistakes. This was what I discovered rom the boy rom Shijiudaogou.


The whole unit helped\and looked after the Children’s Company as they did their own brothers. Each veteran soldier took care of one boy so that every member of the Children’s Company had a reliable guide\and friend.


The most sincere\and active helper was O Il Nam, who was in charge of the company. He was always careful not to let any of the children fall behind the others in any way. One day I was both amused\and impressed at the sight of him wrapping the foot bindings of Kim Hong Su, the “little bridegroom”, who came rom Shangfengdok. I heard O Il Nam say to Kim Hong Su, “Hong Su, you’re my senior in that you have a wife, but junior when it comes to wrapping your foot bindings. You need not to be ashamed of this but learn humbly. But things will be different when I take a wife. Then you will have to become my teacher, you know.” The “little bridegroom” was carelessly holding on to one of his feet while attentively following the hands of his company commander. O Il Nam looked after Kim Hong Su with great concern, I guess, because he did not want the others to poke fun at him for being a married man.


The women guerrillas, too, showed great affection for\and made efforts on behalf of the kids in the Children’s Company, taking charge of two\or three of them each. The women taught them everything they needed to know about the everyday life of a guerrilla—how to cook rice, make a bonfire, sew\and mend clothing\and cure blisters on the soles of their feet—starting with the best method of arranging things in their packs.


The most active helper next to the company commander was Kim Un Sin. He had been given an assignment by the party\organization to take charge of Ri Ul Sol. Whenever he was free, he would take Ri Ul Sol with him\and give him target practice. In this he was a good example to the veteran guerrillas. Thanks to his guidance, Ri Ul Sol became a crack marksman. Later Kim Un Sin sponsored Ri’s admission into the Communist Party.


While on the march, the veteran guerrillas always led the way. On night marches, one had to follow the person in front closely\and be constantly aware of what was occurring around him, instantly reporting to the leader if he noticed anything abnormal. On resuming the march after a break, they had to make sure not a scrap of paper had been left in the place\where they had stopped.

 

This was the kind of common sense instilled into them by the veteran soldiers while marching.


I also did all I could for the Children’s Company. On crossing a rapid stream for example, I carried the boys on my back. Once the “little bridegroom” also crossed the river on my back. His fellow soldiers made fun of him, saying what a shame it was for a married man to be hanging on another’s back like a child, but the naive “little bridegroom” did not mind it at all. When marching together with the Children’s Company, I began to point out every minor detail in the same manner: “There is a tree, be careful of it,” “A puddle here, jump over it,” “Be careful, crossing the river,”\and so forth.


The Children’s Company members were always hungry. The meals in the guerrilla army could scarcely be better than those they had at home. When we were moving rom Changbai to Linjiang with them, we often ate watery gruel because that was all there was to eat. On the days they ate gruel they were dying with hunger. The cook always brought my meal separately, but I used to go to the table of the children-soldiers, my gruel bowl in hand, to share my portion with them.


Our sharp-tempered sergeant-major, Jon Hui, visited me one day\and implored me not to share my portion with them. If this continued, she complained, it would spoil the health of the Comrade Commander. I persuaded her as follows:

“Comrade Jon Hui, don’t worry too much. A little hunger will never harm me. But things are different with the boys in the Children’s Company. They are not yet hardened enough, so they find hunger very difficult to endure. At their age they can digest even sand. They are eating gruel all the time, so imagine how hungry they must be! Who else will look after them, in these circumstances if we don’t?”


My greatest concern was given to developing the ideological education of the Children’s Company. Whenever I had time to spare, I was their teacher. I began by teaching the illiterate among them to read\and write. The boys were greatly interested in the biographies of renowned men, so I talked a lot about the lives of famous men. I also lectured on the history of Korea’s downfall. Many of the Children’s Company dreamed of carrying pistols\and hand-grenades with them, as An Jung Gun, Yun Pong Gil\and Ri Pong Chang had done, to kill the emperor of Japan\or the governor-general of Korea. I explained to them that independence was best achieved through nationwide resistance centred on armed struggle, not by individual acts of terrorism. Tireless efforts were needed to infuse these children with our revolutionary line.


On the march rom Changbai to Linjiang we had dozens of engagements with the enemy, but not once did I let the Children’s Company take part in the action. I had them watch rom afar to see how the veteran soldiers fought the enemy. Once one of them was wounded by a stray bullet. Every time the wound ached, he cried for his dad. Looking at him, I thought that if his parents could see his bullet wound, how bitterly they would grieve. I told O Il Nam to take loving care of his “men”, for they were the treasured successors of the revolution. We pampered them, but we did not dote on them all the time. When they made a mistake we criticized them sharply,\or toughened them by mixing them with the veteran soldiers.


One night, while making my rounds of the encampment, I found the Children’s Company sleeping with their shoes off. This was contrary to discipline. When drafting our rules for bivouacking, we had put down an article forbidding the soldiers to take off their shoes when sleeping. The guerrilla army had to be constantly on its guard against surprise attacks by the enemy, so for anyone to sleep without shoes\or clothes on because he was unable to endure the momentary inconvenience was tantamount to suicide. Our officers\and men therefore always slept with their uniforms\and shoes on\and their rifles in their arms in\order to be ready to leap into action at a time of emergency. They slept with their packs under their head like pillows.

That night I severely criticized Jon Hui.


“With such tenderness you cannot train the children to be fighters. Suppose the enemy were to attack us at this moment, what would happen to the children? They might get their feet injured\or frost-bitten. Their parents gave them into our care, so we must look after them with the same feeling as their parents, brothers\and sisters. Our hearts may ache for them right now, but for the sake of the future we have to train them in a principled manner.”


My criticism made such a strong impression on her that decades later she reminded Jo Myong Son, a deputy chief of the General Staff of the People’s Army, of this experience:


“Do you remember that I was criticized because of your feet?” Jo Myong Son instantly understood his former sergeant-

major’s reference. He replied, overwhelmed with emotion:


“Of course, I do. Comrade Jon Hui, you were criticized because I slept with my shoes off in the encampment.... This was

when I belonged to the Children’s Company, when we were learning the ABCs of the revolution. Tough as they were, I still yearn for those years.”


One does remember all one’s life the hardships\and loving care one experienced in one’s childhood. The memory of this experience still lights our life warmly, like light of an undying fire. More than half a century has passed since then,\and the boys of 14\or 15 at the time are approaching seventy, yet they have not forgotten the comrades who cared for\and loved them like their own blood brothers.

 

Under the kind assistance\and concern of the veteran guerrillas, our Children’s Company rapidly grew up. They began to clamour for participation in battle, side by side with the veteran guerrillas. It was the battle of Xinfangzi that baptized the Children’s Company. rom this battle on they went through innumerable engagements with the enemy, fighting shoulder to shoulder with the veterans. Many things happened in the course of these battles.


In spite of the hundreds of precautions we had given them, these little guerrillas did unexpected things—things that went beyond the imagination of the grown-ups once a battle had started, things that left us breathless\or made us double over with laughter. The boys, cool\and collected at\ordinary times, were gripped by feverish excitement as soon as the battle started, sometimes doing crazy things in their flurry. One boy was yanked down by the collar by a veteran soldier\and fell on his buttocks: he had started blasting away with his gun while keeping his upper body exposed because he thought it was just too much of a nuisance to take cover.


Another boy had gone without a cap for some time because his brand-new cap had burned up in the campfire. rom then on he concentrated so intently on the thought of a cap, that in an encounter with an enemy soldier his first move was an attempt to grab the man’s cap before shooting him down. Because of this he very nearly lost his life. Another boy, who saw a roe deer while on sentry duty, was seized with an irresistible impulse to shoot it, which resulted in an emergency call for the entire unit.


Throughout the years of arduous war, the Children’s Company members distinguished themselves in many battles. The unusual circumstances of life in the guerrilla army prompted them to display the kind of sharp intelligence\and courage that was rare in\ordinary life.


One day Jon Mun Sop, Ri Tu Ik\and Kim Ik Hyon, out on a liaison mission, came across a small unit of the Manchukuo army. Both sides discovered each other simultaneously. The situation was such that unless they made the first move, they would be surrounded\or captured. At this crucial moment the boy guerrillas fell flat on the ground in the bush\and one of them, feigning a man’s voice, shouted, “First Company to the left, 2nd Company to the right!” They then went on the attack, firing well-aimed shots at them. The enemy took flight without offering a resistance. They returned to the unit after carrying out their liaison mission successfully.


It is worthy of note that they regarded this feat as nothing special when they got back, not even bothering to tell the rest of the unit about it at once. I learned of their commendable act only when I was told of it by their company commander. The Children’s Company members matured beyond recognition in ideology\and will\and in morality as well. They tried to do everything by themselves, endeavouring in every way not to be a burden on the veteran guerrillas.


In the autumn of the year in which the Children’s Company was formed, Kim Ik Hyon got a bad burn on his leg while sleeping beside a campfire. Worse still, he had a sore eye, so he was going through a lot of trouble just then. Because of his poor sight, the veterans walked side by side with him on the march. Kim Ik Hyon was feeling acute pain in his calf all this time, but did not betray the fact because he was reluctant to cause a trouble to me\and the veterans. Sensing his discomfort rom the burn on his leg, I gave him some medicine. Looking at the mark of the burn, I could not help but admire his strong will\and endurance.


During the entire period of the anti-Japanese war the young men rom Children’s Company fought as courageously as the veterans, despite their tender age\and physical shortcomings, making heroic contributions to the armed struggle. The Japanese army\and police had a standard warning for their men: Don’t talk to guerrillas trained in the Children’s Company. In other words, better avoid fighting with them.


Let me give Kim Song Guk as an example. He became a boy guerrilla with the help of Kim Il.


Kim Il worked underground in a village near Jiansanfeng for a long time. He did a great deal of work aided by Kim Sang Hyon, a member of the ARF, who hid him at his farm hut for three months\and sincerely assisted him in his work. The peasant was a widower. After his wife died, he sent out his three sons as hired-hands to others because he was unable to support them himself. Kim Song Guk was the eldest of these sons.


Kim Il was at a loss as to how to help this miserable family,\and finally made up his mind to recommend Kim Song Guk to the guerrilla army. One day he went to him as he was weeding a field,\and giving him a note of introduction addressed to me, told him to go\and see me. The boy, Kim Song Guk, threw away the hoe\and came to me in hempen clothes to join the guerrilla army.


As he had faced many unusual hardships rom childhood on, Kim Song Guk was quick to learn. In addition, because he was bold\and aggressive, he mastered marksmanship\and learned the guerrilla code of conduct quickly. In a few months, he was picked out as assistant to machine-gunner O Paek Ryong. Kim Il always looked upon him with profound affection.


During one very cold winter, while we were operating near the River Songhua, Kim Song Guk was out on a blocking mission for some time. One day he was warming his foot over the campfire\and, as he felt the sole to be too hot, he pulled off his shoes.


Unfortunately, just at that moment the blocking party was attacked by the enemy. To make matters worse, the machine-gunner O Paek Ryong was not there.\ordered by the commanding officer, Kim Song Guk hastily set up the machine-gun on the ice of the Songhua\and opened fire at the enemy. He was completely oblivious of the fact that he was fighting barefoot.


While he was engrossed in shooting, he felt somebody pulling his foot back.

He looked behind him angrily, to see Kim Il wrapping his foot in a torn piece of underwear. Only then did he realize that he had rushed into the battlefield with no shoes on. After the enemy was beaten back, Kim Il reproached him, saying: “Don’t make such a spectacle of yourself! Do you want to have your foot amputated?”


After finishing the battle, Kim Il came\and told me that he had seen Kim Song Guk running over the ice of the River Songhua, the machine-gun on his shoulder. Each time he lifted his bare foot rom the ice there came the sound of tearing skin. Of course, Kim Song Guk was no\ordinary fellow, machine-gunning barefoot on the ice in the biting cold as he did. Nevertheless, Kim Il, too, was an uncommon person in that he followed the little machine-gunner through the hail of bullets\and swathed his foot with pieces of cloth torn rom his underwear. If Kim Il had not done that, Kim Song Guk would have ended up with seriously frost-bitten feet\and become a wingless bird.


Later, Kim Il\and I stood surety for him when he was admitted to the Communist Party.

How loyal he was to the revolution is well illustrated by many anecdotes rom the years of small-unit activity.

The first half of the 1940s was a period of trial that tested the revolutionary spirit of every guerrilla soldier. In these grim days Kim Song Guk fought well without the slightest vacillation. He frequently went back to the homeland to do underground work. One day in Rajin city he was stopped by the police because of a trivial slip on his part: he was suddenly caught in the rain, so he bought a parasol, not an umbrella. Having spent his childhood in the remote mountain area of Jiazaishui, he had no idea of the difference between an umbrella\and a parasol. As soon as he walked out of the shop under the woman’s parasol he attracted people’s attention. This incurred the suspicion of a passing policeman, who stopped him\and asked him\where he had stolen it, pointing to the parasol. Kim Song Guk replied honestly that he had bought it in a shop. The policeman asked why he had purchased a woman’s parasol. He replied that he had been asked to do so by the woman next-door, who needed one.


But the policeman marched him to the police station\and questioned him doggedly. He thought of running away after hitting the policeman over the head with a chair, but abandoned the idea. If he did so he would be unable to continue his underground activity in the city,\and another operative would have to come here in his place at the risk of his life.


When the policeman who had brought him to the station went out on patrol, another policeman took up the interrogation. At one point the policeman opened the drawer of the table\and saw the hundreds of won his colleague had seized rom Kim Song Guk. Greedy for the money, he released Kim.


He had an even closer call on his way back rom a small-unit operation in the homeland in the summer of the following year. As he was returning to the base after the fulfillment of his mission behind enemy lines, he got into a gun fight with the enemy\and ended up with multiple wounds. He climbed down into the valley\and hid himself in the bush, so the enemy failed to discover him. I dispatched a detail, led by Im Chol, to search for him. The detail found him lying unconscious in the valley. It was a miracle he was still alive, with the number of wounds he had received. He said he had eaten grass until the moment he lost consciousness.


After Kim Song Guk had returned to the training base in Zhanggufeng, we got in contact with the\organ concerned\and sent him to a field hospital in the Soviet\union. He recovered his health after one year of treatments in the hospital. The medical workers\and the other patients took great care of him, particularly the young nurse in charge of him, who gave a blood transfusion to him\and attended on him with great devotion day\and night, calling him “an immortal bird of the Korean guerrilla army”.


The nurse was a young German woman whose father, an anti-fascist fighter, had been shot to death by the Hitlerites. She\and her mother had come to live in the Soviet\union as exiles. The girl respected Kim Song Guk as a fighter for the weaker nations of the East\and did everything she could to help him recover. She spared no pains, setting him on the toilet, washing his face\and feeding him at mealtime. When he was recuperating she served him fine chicken dishes she herself had prepared at home to whet his appetite.


On the day he was leaving the hospital, the girl’s mother visited him\and invited him to her house. It was customary, she said, for a patient to go to sanatorium after hospital treatment. She asked him to stay at her home for several days to recuperate before his departure. Kim Song Guk willingly accepted her invitation.


The girl’s mother was a teacher at the town art school. Even in the inclement climate of Siberia, she raised scores of chickens\and grew perennial pepper plants. Every day they prepared new chicken dishes for Kim Song Guk. In their leisure time they loved to listen to his tales about the struggle of the Korean guerrillas. What impressed the girl\and her mother most were tales of teenagers who had plunged into the tempest of revolution. It seemed incredible to them that young children were taking part in the guerrilla struggle. The girl’s mother often drew Kim’s portrait, saying that she would introduce the fighter-hero of Korea to Europe.

 

As Kim Song Guk recuperated, the girl learned about Korea, its history, revolutionaries\and people rom him. As a result of her acquaintance with him, she began to feel an attachment to Korea.


“Your stories of the Children’s Company have convinced me of one thing: your country will emerge victorious in the fight against Japan. I am sure you will defeat Japan\and emerge victorious.”


She repeated this often. When Kim Song Guk was about to return to our unit the girl\and her mother, together with his Soviet doctors, accompanied him to bid farewell to him.


The girl\and her mother wished to give him their savings passbook, in which was entered a large sum of money, as a memento of their parting. But he declined their kind offer.


Saying good-bye to him, her mother said:


“You still need to rest, but we will not keep you here any longer. No matter how much I might try to persuade you to stay longer, you will not. Revolution will surely triumph in Korea with fighters like you!”


Hearing Kim Song Guk’s account of this experience when he was back, I was greatly moved by the internationalist sympathy shown by the German girl\and her mother. We sent him back with money\and pork to express our thanks to them on behalf of the KPRA.


Kim Chol Man was another fine example of what an excellent furnace of ideological training\and useful military\and political academy the Children’s Company was.


Kim Chol Man followed old man Tobacco Pipe, who had been to the area around Diyangxi on a small-unit mission, to come to us. He finally joined the Children’s Company, but the first time he presented himself in front of me, I reproached Tobacco Pipe, saying, “What are we going to do with him? You have brought a shortie to us. Look at him, he’s smaller than a rifle!”


While I was venting my frustration, Ri Tong Baek sprang up\and said in his defence, “Shortie? He is all of 17. He may be young physically, but his mind is fully mature.”


At first I thought that Kim Chol Man had lied about his age to Tobacco Pipe. I took him to be 12\or 13. I tried to persuade him to return home, saying that he should not be gazing up a tree he was incapable of climbing.


But, Kim Chol Man said, grinning, “Don’t belittle me because I am short, General. I’m an old hand at all sorts of farm work despite my youth.”


Then he showed me his forearm, which looked stronger\and more muscular than other boys’.

After joining the Children’s Company he was in the vanguard of every undertaking. When the company was disbanded, he became the\orderly of O Jung Hup, commander of the 7th Regiment\and performed his duty in a responsible way. When O Jung Hup was killed in action, he shed tears more than the others.


He took special care for the personal safety of O Paek Ryong who succeeded O Jung Hup as regimental commander.


On small-unit operations he was always a part of the detail led by O Paek Ryong. He frequently crossed the Soviet-Manchurian border\and the River Tuman on political missions to rally the anti-Japanese resistance forces\and to scout the enemy’s military strategic points. The bravery\and talent of Kim Chol Man as a military commander, seasoned in the flames of the anti-Japanese war, came into their own in the great anti-US war. He fought efficiently during the first advance to the south;\and he fought all the more bravely behind the enemy lines. The regiment he was commanding attacked the enemy rom the rear continually, operating over a 250-mile-wide region in Yanggu, Chunchon, Kaphyong, Thongchon, Phohang, Chongsong\and Jowi in Kangwon Province,\and in the areas of North Kyongsang Province.


The tug-of-war between the enemy\and the regiment was so fierce that the people in Yanggu were in a state of anxiety because they had not been able to harvest their grain. As Yanggu was liberated, Kim Chol Man called together the officials of the county\and with great composure\organized the grain harvest. The county people got together with his regiment\and brought in the field crops in just a few days.


I am told that Kim Chol Man never misses an opportunity to say that it has been thanks to the Leader that he grew up to be a military\and political official trusted\and loved by Supreme Commander ·,\and that had the Leader not admitted him to the Children’s Company, brought him up\and taken care of him, he would have spent the rest of his life as an unknown woodcutter\or peasant.


I think these are his innermost thoughts.


His three elder brothers—Kim Chol Su, Kim Chol Ho\and Kim Chol Nam—also joined the KPRA\and were all killed in action.


The young guerrillas who took up arms at a tender age without belonging to the Children’s Company, also made an important contribution to our victory in the anti-Japanese war.


Kim Pyong Sik was working at a tunnel construction site as a boy of 15. He was so bold, he came to join the guerrilla army all by himself. In the army he served as\orderly to Mun Pung Sang\and Choe Chun Guk for a while. The commanding officers praised him\and approved of him as an agile soldier.


He was dispatched frequently for activities behind enemy lines\and distinguished himself. Whistling casually, he came\and went as he pleased across the tightly cordoned River Tuman, frequenting northern border towns of Korea, such as Unggi (Sonbong), Rajin\and Hoeryong, as if visiting a neighbouring village. The information he collected at the risk of his life about enemy movements in the homeland was greatly helpful to us when we were preparing our offensive for the liberation of Korea. Unfortunately he was arrested by the enemy on the very eve of national liberation. The Japanese executioners sentenced him to death, since collectively his activities added up to the equivalent of a time bomb beneath the foundations of the Japanese empire. Later the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The enemy seemed to have taken into account the fact that he was a minor.


Kim Pyong Sik was the youngest “convict” in the Sodaemun Prison. Each time he drew fatigue duty, he skilfully performed the part of messenger for Kwon Yong Byok, Ri Je Sun, Ri Tong Gol, Ji Thae Hwan, Pak Tal\and So Ung Jin, who were serving their terms in different cells of the prison. To make him turn traitor, the enemy by turns tortured, threatened\and coaxed him, but in vain. He was a very honourable fighter.


Among the anti-Japanese revolutionary veterans, Ri Jong San\and Ri O Song were the youngest to join. Ri Jong San joined the 3rd Corps of the Anti-Japanese Allied Army at the age of 11\and became a guerrilla.


When Ri Jong San came to join up in the revolutionary army, Feng Zhong-yun, political commissar of the 3rd Corps, examined him for admission. At first, Feng advised him to go home, for he could not admit the boy as it was against common sense to allow a child of 11 to become a soldier. Worse still, he was short in stature. Although he could lie about his age, he could not do anything with his stature. But he clung to Feng like a leech\and won approval at long last.


Once in the army, he led a proper soldier’s life, true to others’ expectations. The men\and officers in his unit unanimously treasured\and loved him as if he were their own brother, for he was quick-eyed, prompt in action\and willing to work more than others. He was mostly an\orderly in the 3rd Corps. Once he served for Kim Chaek\and Pak Kil Song as their\orderly.


As far as I remember it was in 1943 when Kim Chaek introduced him to me, saying that he was an excellent aide-de-camp. rom that time on, he worked close to me. I still remember what Kim Chaek told me in a moment of digression about his birth. Ri’s family had lived in Phaltonggyo, Pyongyang, but around the time when I was attending Changdok School, they emigrated to Manchuria. His mother gave birth to him on the train bound for Shenyang. She had neither quilt nor diapers. Her fellow travellers on the train collected money, penny by penny,\and gave it to her to buy clothes for the baby.


After liberation he worked as my aide-de-camp for several years, along with Ri Ul Sol, Son Jong Jun\and Ju To Il. On his appointment as my aide-de-camp, he stopped smoking in consideration of my health. It is not an easy thing to get rid of one’s 10-year habit.


The military\and political cadres we had dispatched to the 3rd Corps in Qinggouzi included O Jung Son (O Se Yong), O Jung Hup’s brother, who had been my\orderly. A battalion political commissar in the 3rd Corps, he had lost his right index finger to an enemy bullet in battle. When he wanted to smoke, Ri Jong San would roll a cigarette for him, rush to some other guerrilla\and light it rom the other’s cigarette. He had to puff at it once\or twice while doing this,\and thus became a habitual smoker before he realized it.


Even though I offered him a cigarette now\and then, he did not take it. I had to admire his dutiful self-restraint.

One of the young guerrillas who trekked many steep mountains shoulder to shoulder with us in the anti-Japanese revolution, was Thae Pyong Ryol, who came to the Mihunzhen Secret Camp in the spring of 1936 at the head of a women’s platoon. He told me that he had joined the KPRA\and taken up arms at the age of 15\or 16.


He was nicknamed “Chili”. It meant that though short\and of small size, he was mature in his heart. He fought audaciously\and lived a well-regulated life. After joining the anti-Japanese guerrillas he took part in the battles at Miaoling, Jinchang, Jiansanfeng, Mujihe, Dapuzaihe, Dashahe-Dajianggang, Emu county town\and in other battles,\and performed as well as any veteran. He became a perfect marksman in the course of performing these military services. The tale of Thae Pyong Ryol, along with regimental commander, Ri Ryong Un, going to an internment village in Dunhua County\and mowing down 30 puppet Manchukuo army soldiers in an instant is still told with relish among anti-Japanese war veterans. As he was an efficient combatant, even proud veterans dared not to slight him because of his youth.


Throughout most of the anti-Japanese war, he was an\orderly to An Kil, Jon Tong Gyu, Ri Ryong Un\and other military\and political cadres, many of whom wanted to take him with them, for he was quick-eyed, a workaholic\and equipped with a strong sense of responsibility.


As an\orderly, he showed special concern for the personal safety of his officers.

When they attempted to plunge themselves into critical situations, he would check them rom doing it, sometimes bodily. He would retort sharply that it was the General’s demand that they not run a risk\and they should not go against this demand. Regimental commander, Jon Tong Gyu, was killed during the Dashahe-Dajianggang battle because he did not give heed to Thae’s words, but exposed himself in a rain of bullets.

 

An Kil said that he would have been killed if he had not been obedient to Thae, who had begged him not to run a risk while clinging tenaciously to the collar of his tunic.


While participating in the activities of small units after the meeting at Xiaohaerbaling, Thae ran into a large unit of the enemy in a deep forest in Wangqing County,\and fought a fierce battle. He was seriously wounded in the thigh by a bullet that got stuck between the bones\and could not be dislodged. He bled so badly that he kept passing out,\and the wound was ghastly as it turned maggoty. If it was not treated in time, the infection would spread into the intestines\or bladder. But the young soldier Wang, who was left in the forest to nurse him, had no medical knowledge, nor the skill to perform an operation.


Thae sharpened his pocket knife on a stone\and performed his own operation on the wound. As he plunged the knife into the wound\and twisted it with great force, the bullet between bones came loose, falling out with deep-yellow pus\and putrefied flesh. This prompt action saved his life.


The following year, when his comrades met me at one of our places of operation in Wangqing, they said, “That chap is a man of fierce character.” They meant that he was a man of strong willpower, an estimation I thought quite apt. It is not everyone that can operate on himself. This is an adventure that requires someone with extraordinary guts\and courage.


Over a long span of time, living with him, I formed the opinion that he is really a strong-hearted\and plucky man, a man of loyalty, determination\and principle, who fights like an angry tiger for the revolution. Whatever he did anywhere, he stuck fast to principle\and never compromised with what he saw to be unjust. His greatest hatred was for the factionalists\and warlordists. Being a man of principle\and of strong Party spirit, even such a warlordist as Kim Chang Bong did not dare dictate on him.

 

Thae Pyong Ryol not only fought bravely during the anti-Japanese war but also performed great exploits during the Fatherland Liberation War. After the war, he faithfully assisted me as my aide. As the saying goes, a youth full of care means a plentiful old age; Thae Pyong Ryol had been able to become the kind of revolutionary who surmounted all the twists\and turns of fate because he had taken up arms in his youth. A man becomes a distinguished revolutionary\and an iron-willed man afraid of nothing only if he has engaged in armed struggle in his early years.


In half a year all the boys in the Children’s Company grew into soldiers indistinguishable rom the veterans. They made truly marvellous progress.


Toward the close of 1937, when they had all become full-fledged soldiers, we disbanded the Children’s Company\and spread its members out to other companies. This way they were transferred rom the reserves to active army units.


Not a single renegade\or laggard appeared among the guerrillas who had been trained in the Children’s Company. This proves how loyal they were to the Party\and the revolution, the country\and the people. Even in the trying days before national liberation, when fascism was going through its struggle to the death in the East\and the West, they all faithfully carried out the small-unit activities under my command. In the years of building a new Korea it was they who, as division commanders\or regimental commanders, built the armed forces of the country hand in hand with the revolutionary elders\and crushed the US generals\and tanks in the “punch-bowl”.


Kang Kon, the first Chief of General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, joined the revolutionary army at the age of 16. He was 30 when he was appointed Chief of General Staff. At the end of 1948 he paid a visit to the Soviet\union. The high-ranking military cadres of the host country, mostly generals\and marshals, who were present at the airport to meet him were really surprised to see that the Chief of General Staff of the Korean People’s Army was such a young man.


When Kang Kon told me of this after his return home, I remarked with a smile:


“If I had been there I would have told them that you were already a renowned soldier in your childhood.”

Since the days of the Children’s Company I have come to think that a man’s physical age does not coincide with his mental age. Of the two age categories I place more emphasis on the latter. One’s mental age in youth\or in childhood may leap forward by two, three\or even five years in one year.


The education of young people is one truly essential factor in the shaping of a country’s future. As shown by the experiences of the Children’s Company, the earlier, the more carefully the successors of a revolution, the reserves, are prepared, the better it is for the future of the country.

 



 Related articles

[Reminiscences]Chapter 15. Expansion of the Under-ground Front 7. A Written Warranty for a Good Citizen

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  1. Expedition to Fusong

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  2. Hundreds of Miles rom Xiaotanghe at One Go

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  3. Guardsmen

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  4. Across the Whole of Korea

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  5. Kwon Yong Byok

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  6. Events to Which I Could Not Remain Indifferent

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  7. The Mother of the Guerrilla Army

[Reminiscences]Chapter 17. Korea Is Alive 1. Flames of Pochonbo (1)

[Reminiscences]Chapter 17. Korea Is Alive 2. Flames of Pochonbo (2)

[Reminiscences]Chapter 17. Korea Is Alive 3. Joint Celebration of Army\and People at Diyangxi

[Reminiscences]Chapter 17. Korea Is Alive 4. Photographs\and Memory

[Reminiscences]Chapter 17. Korea Is Alive 5. The Battle of Jiansanfeng



           

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