Assassins head south, and Chung heads northJan. 21, 1968
Seoul received a surprise gift from Pyeongyang on this date: 31 commandos from the special squad No. 124, specifically trained to take the head of then-President Park Chung Hee.
Taking off from Gaeseong, the North Korean city closest to the Military Demarcation Line, on Jan. 17, these assassins found their way to the Blue House on foot. Crossing the Imjin River across the two Koreas, they broke through barbed wire and stepped into South Korea.
After a thorough and extensive training course, including geography, they moved swiftly at night, surviving on taffy and dried squid. Wearing South Korean army uniforms, they were never stopped by the army or police until they reached Paju, Gyeonggi province, north of Seoul, two days after their departure.
Everything was going according to plan until two local lumberjacks discovered them hiding deep in the mountains. After capturing the two brother woodcutters, the commandos said they were from the South Korean Army. Curiosity, however, led them to question the victims, who eventually detected a hint of a North Korean accent.
After some deliberation, the commandos decided to let the captives go. Leaving the mountain, the commandos warned the locals never to report the encounter to the police, and even said, “We’ll be back soon. Brew some rice wine for our next get-together.”
The woodcutters instead did what they were supposed to do, which was to go to the police. The Seoul police and the army were soon in pursuit of the assassins.
Meanwhile, the North Koreans changed clothes, entered the capital and walked toward the Blue House. They reached the Jahamun tunnel, less than 10 minutes’ walk from the Blue House, but then a South Korean police officer, Choi Gyu-sik, stopped them. Then the commandos fired at the officer, killing him, and threw a hand grenade into a passing bus, killing the passengers.
The South Korean army and police swarmed on the North Koreans and shot them to death. The only survivor, Kim Sin-jo, said in a press conference later, “We came down to smash down the Blue House!” Mr. Kim is still alive in Seoul, reborn as a South Korean citizen.
Park Chung Hee ordered a counterpart commando troop to take revenge on Kim Il Sung; the story was made into the current big hit on the silver screen, “Silmido.”
Jan. 23, 1989
Another Seoul-Pyeongyang encounter happened on this date ― a friendly one. Chung Ju-young, the late founder of the Hyundai Group, made a visit to Pyeongyang to meet Kim Il Sung. Mr. Chung agreed to realize his longtime wish to open a business in North Korea. Thus was born the plan to develop Mount Geumgang as a tourist site, whose contract was signed by both Mr. Chung and the “Dear Leader.” Mr. Chung went back home after nine days, but it took almost a decade to embark on the plan. The tours to Mount Geumgang got started during the Kim Dae-jung administration, in 1998.
Jan. 23, 2001
Kim Gi-chang was a virtuoso who called himself a fool. Grafting traditional Korean painting to his own ideas, such as using a dustcloth as a brush, Mr. Kim is remembered for discovering a new kind of art. Until he died on this date at the age of 88, after years of suffering, from a cerebral hemorrhage, Mr. Kim enjoyed a prolific career, producing more than 15,000 paintings.
Mr. Kim used to say, “A fool is someone who is not ripe yet. I’m a fool. That’s why I keep doing what I’m doing until I’m ripe. I’m going to take a brush into my coffin. There’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ in art.”
But it was his classmates in primary school who called him a fool for the first time, when Mr. Kim suffered from typhoid fever at the age of seven, which permanently deafened him. As a child, Mr. Kim was ambitious, writing poetry and being a track and field athlete. The disease overwhelmed the child, however, and his mother decided to give him painting lessons after seeing his scribbling. From then on, Mr. Kim found his talent, and the fool was soon called a genius. Marrying a fellow painter, Park Rae-chang, who was devoted to helping her husband’s career, Mr. Kim was able to bloom as an artist.
by Chun Su-jin