[Viewpoint] A hero’s noble passingCalling it “death in the line of duty” would not do justice to Warrant Officer Han Joo-ho. Though he failed to save the missing sailors from the sunken Navy patrol ship Cheonan from the raging waves that were more threatening than a war, Han sacrificed his life to save the face, dignity and raison d’etre of the Republic of Korea. It was a patriotic sacrifice, indeed.
It has already been a week since the tragic incident, but the military, the government, the Blue House and President Lee Myung-bak are all still confused and do not appear to have any direction. When the entire country is faltering in chaos, only Han’s sacrifice restored any dignity to a military that had been completely tarnished, serving as a shield for a government and president who had nothing to say in front of the devastated families of the missing sailors and heartbroken citizens, proving to the world something sorry about the state of Korea.
No one - not the president, the defense minister, nor the captain - should be free from the citizens’ outrage. However, the criticisms from the populace, angry public sentiment and furious families of the missing sailors have since been subdued in the face of Han’s passing. The president must realize that Han Joo-ho’s noble sacrifice is the responsibility of not just the government and the military, but his office as well.
When everyone was busy investigating the cause of the explosion and looking to assign blame, Han quietly jumped into the icy water. Maybe he heard the cries of the young sailors wanting to be saved. As the families of the missing soldiers cried for their loved ones in devastation, he jumped into the darkest waters without hesitation. When hearing about brave souls like his, we really have nothing more to argue about.
It is not just the Navy corvette that sank due to the explosion; the emergency response capacity and emergency management system of the Korean military and the government appears as if it has plunged to new lows as well. But Officer Han made up for the disgrace through his own actions.
After the Cheonan incident, the approval rating for President Lee Myung-bak dropped by over 10 percent, but what really went down was our reason to be proud of the Republic of Korea. Only recently, Koreans were filled with pride as Korean athletes pulled off historic feats at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, but the nation’s pride has suffered a critical blow with the sinking of the corvette.
Just as figure skater Kim Yu-na joked about her less-than-satisfying performance at the World Championship not so long after winning a gold medal at the Olympics, the tragic incident put a dent in national self-esteem. But then you have selfless people like Officer Han, whose actions restore confidence in the faltering nation.
The hero will live forever in our hearts. He served in the military all his life and put his country first. He never merely pursued personal success or glory. He led a frugal and humble life, using the same household goods for over thirty years. The president has ordered that Officer Han is awarded the very highest level of recognition, and he must make sure that this promise is kept. The military and the government already granted him Order of National Security Merit - which he would have automatically gotten upon retirement - and is now making a fuss after the president was pressured by public opinion to confer upon Han the more prestigious Order of Military Merit. The government also must do better than the absurd idea of promoting him to second lieutenant. The surviving family should be provided with a proper pension, and this patriotic soul should be honored with a statue.
Now, the funeral portrait has been put away. But his honest eyes, firm and determined lips and his patriotic spirit should be remembered eternally. I can almost hear him crying, “Come back from hell!” He is not just shouting at the sailors on the Cheonan. He was crying out at all Koreans. We need to get ourselves together and pay our highest respect to the hero. Let’s pray for that he rests in peace.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Chung Jin-hong