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Some continue to raise doubt despite conclusive findings

Two years have passed since the South Korean warship Cheonan was sunk by North Korea, but the soldiers who survived the attack continue to be haunted by the incident.

“I think of Sergeant Cha Seok-gyun the most. We served together on the Cheonan, and he was a dong-gi (people who have graduated from or joined an organization at the same time),” said Petty Officer First Class Kim Hyo-hyung, who was a weapons petty officer of the sunken warship. He added that he continues to feel deep sorrow for the families of the dead.

“I lost a good comrade and a good friend. I keep in touch with (Cha’s) family, and I treat his parents as I would my own.”

Such sentiments were echoed by Petty Officer First Class Gong Chang-pyo. He currently serves aboard a speed boat in the harbor support unit of the Second Fleet. Gong was injured during the attack when a fragment of the torpedo hit him in his right knee. He received treatment for three months before returning to active duty.

“Even now the comrades appear in my dreams, and I can still picture them vividly,” Gong said. When asked about whom among the dead he thought of the most, Gong named a handful of soldiers before trailing off, his eyes tearing up.

According to Navy Lieutenant Park Youn-soo, while the majority of the crew who survived has now recovered from stress-related conditions, a small number continue to suffer. Park was the strategy officer of the Cheonan when the ship was hit by the North Korean torpedo.

The Navy conducts an annual psychological checkup in February, and soldiers who want additional treatments are provided with the necessary services according to their requests.

Including Park, some of the survivors have chosen to return to serve aboard navy vessels despite objections from those closest to them.

“I served on land for one year and returned to a ship in July last year because I felt that I needed to be in a position that will allow me to respond directly should the North carry out another act of provocation,” Park said. He is currently the vice captain of the Namyang, a warship of the same class as the Cheonan.

“My family opposed the idea, but I made the decision as an officer of the Navy.”

For Park and the others remaining in active duty, surviving the incident appears to have strengthened their resolve as soldiers.

“The North has not only not apologized, but is once again carrying out acts that threaten the security of the Korean Peninsula such as the rocket launch,” Park said referring to the supposed satellite launch Pyongyang plans to carry out in mid-April.

“Such incidents have reaffirmed that the North is our main enemy who cannot and should not be forgiven.”

Gong, Kim and Senior Chief Petty Officer Heo Soon-haeng echoed Park in saying that they were ready to retaliate to the full should Pyongyang provoke South Korea.

Heo was Cheonan’s communication’s chief, and currently serves with the Second Fleet’s maintenance unit.

Dispute lingers

Although investigations conducted by the government, military and civilian experts have concluded that the sinking was the result of a North Korean torpedo attack, some continue to harbor doubts.

Many lawmakers of the opposition parties have disputed the findings from the outset, and such doubt appears to have been taken up by some of the public.

According to a survey conducted by a local daily, only 55.8 percent of those in their 20s and 30s said that they trusted the findings announced by the government, while 74.3 percent of those in the 40s said that they trusted the government on the issue.

In contrast to the younger generations, 85 percent of those aged 50 and above said that they believed the government.

“That is ridiculous, some people who claimed to have expert knowledge fueled suspicion, which some people have chosen to believe,” an Army officer said. He added that left-leaning teachers affiliated with the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union giving young students biased information could be partially to blame.

“Some people even claimed that we (the military) planted the remains of a torpedo as if something like that is possible. They are raising objections for the sake of objecting”

While the government and the military held a series of events to commemorate the sailors of Cheonan throughout the week, others had different ideas in the week running up to the second anniversary.

On Thursday, the non-governmental organization People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy called for the National Assembly to reinvestigate the incident, and suggested a multinational probe with North Korean participation, saying that “the truth has not been revealed yet and that finding the truth is an essential step in recovering democracy and South-North relations.” 

By Choi He-suk
Korea Herald Youtube