Unsung Heroes of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising

Unsung Hero of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising 1980: Respected Mr. Kang Gil Jo

Around 39 years ago, the city of Gwangju faced a bloody massacre by their motherland soldiers. Students, citizens, women and elderly people of Gwangju stood shoulder to shoulder against the brutal military regime of General Chun Du-hwan in 1980. Historically, citizens of Gwangju chanted a slogan to end martial law in Korea, and they marked their history with blood. Lamentably, the repressive military regime of General Chun insanely killed and arrested innocent hundreds of citizens of Gwangju. However, the Gwangju spirit finally defeated the brutal military regime and made it immortal.

Presently, many people around the world know the struggle of the May 18 Gwangju Democratic uprising, but only a few are sentient about the real characters who stood without any personal greed and dispassionately provided humanitarian assistance to victims of Gwangju massacre.  

Chonnam National University and Gumnamno road were the core areas of the Uprising. Many battles took place between barehanded citizens and trained military paratroopers on these localities. The Gwangju Uprising left several untold stories, sacrifices and sad memories in Gwangju. After, Uprising, several unsung and brave heroes lived in the secreted and faced trauma.

Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of these real heroes of Uprising who are still committed with the May 18 Spirit and suffering from psychological trauma due to inhuman treatment by the military regime. These heroes were not an extraordinary person, but they were an ordinary citizen from Gwangju who valiantly, gallantly and voluntarily stood with victims of the Gwangju massacre and among them, Kang Gil Jo is also one who presently lived in Gwangju.

On May 18, 1980, when armed troops surrounded Gwangju, medical services were stopped, and ambulances were not allowed to rescue the injured. In this critical situation, Kang Gil Jo stalwartly and fearlessly used his car and transported Uprising citizens and saved their lives.

On May 18, in front of the Chonnam University gate, students were battling with paratroopers, and I had witnessed that many students were severely injured and they need immediate medical support. Therefore, I decided that these are my son and son of Gwangju. I will not let them die. And, I took my car and helped students to escape and transported them through to safe places.

Because he had a car, the regime soldiers mistook him for a student leader; they smashed the windows of the car and pulled him out. “The soldiers beat me until I lost my consciousness”, said by Kang. “When I woke up, I was on a very slowly moving military truck, and there were several lifeless bodies stapled on top of me. The truck was completely sealed off, and some soldiers sprinkled teargas powder into the truck and amused themselves as they watched the prisoners suffer in agony. “I tried to breathe; my eyes were burning”, Kang retorted.

“After arriving at Gwangju Prison, I saw that there were many dead bodies on the truck”. There was a mock execution done by the regime troops. Life in Gwangju Prison was hell. The prisoners were tortured and systematically dehumanized by regime troops. Soldiers behave like monsters, and they psychologically tortured our souls every day. They don’t provide us with water and food for several days. We were a hungry, thirsty, weak and faced mental breakdown. They treat us insanely, and even I scared to think these horrible memories.

Furthermore, Kang Gil Jo testified that “We appealed for water after having no water for several days. A paratrooper said, ‘Give them piss’. A soldier relieved himself in a glass and handed it to us. One of the citizens grabbed it and drank as if he were drinking cold water. We were no longer human beings; we were animals. We ate and went to the bathroom amidst corpses. We had to crawl to the toilet one by one and come back with excrements on our tongues”.

These exact facts and proved that how our own military regime treated our citizen brutally and dreadfully even worst then Vietcong. Besides, it also shows how Gwangju citizen brotherhood to stand side by side with each other in the dejected situation and never hides against a brutal regime. Kang could be runaway, left and remain unruffled, but he decided to stand against immoralities and with righteous.

Finally, history is witnessed that brutal military regime had died with the Spirit of the May 18 and the real voice of people like Kong are fully roaring and sharing the Gwangju Spirit with ordinary people. On May 18, Kang, several former civil resistant heroes and proud citizens of Gwangju gathered at Gumnamno in Gwangju to commemorate their promise that the people of Gwangju will never surrender against any tyrant and will keep resisting against those who are slandering the May 18 Spirit. The citizens of Gwangju and people of Korea are unanimously standing with the May 18 Spirit, and they will not be allowed any insular self-centred individuals to disparage the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising in Korea.

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