Comfort the families

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Comfort the families

‘Thank you for returning safe,” she said. Her own son has been missing since the warship Cheonan went down in the Yellow Sea two weeks ago, and she wept as she embraced one of the rescued crewmen.

“What pain you must have gone through,” she cried, caressing the face of a sailor who had shared her son’s life aboard the ship.

The recent gathering of the Cheonan’s surviving crew and the families of the missing sailors was as teary and heart-rending as a reunion of separated families. The mothers of the missing asked after the health of sailors they had just met. They offered no rebukes or resentment, only words of concern and comfort.

The rescued sailors dropped their heads in front of their comrades’ mothers, murmuring apologies for returning alone. They clasped each other as they sobbed.

It was a moving moment that transformed the deep sorrow over the loss of sons and comrades into a sublime humanity. We were at a loss for words at how the power of motherhood transcended grief and pain into noble humanism.

The only question the families of the missing servicemen asked the survivors was how their loved ones had been before the ship went under. They wanted to know if their sons, husbands and brothers had been well and how they managed service on board.

“He was mature for his age,” said one solider, describing his friend.

“I am glad. I am now relieved,” replied one mother.

These were the women who stopped the underwater search and rescue operation after poor weather and treacherous conditions made the mission dangerous. They would not risk other lives to recover their sons.

But their pain has not ended. They will witness and endure the sight of their loved ones’ cold bodies carried out, one by one, after the hull is hoisted to the surface.

It is the duty of everyone living in this land to pay deep respect to the servicemen who lost their lives while on duty for their country, and wipe the tears from the faces of their families. This nation cannot move on without sharing the grief of these people in agony over the sudden loss of their young men.

Some of these families will be without a place to live as they must leave their home in the Navy residential complex within six months. The missing sailors’ families each will receive a lump-sum payment of 36 million won ($32,000) and a 940,000 won monthly veteran’s pension.

We must revise the law to grant soldiers financial compensation tantamount to their sacrifice. Paying due respect to human sacrifices should be the state’s dignity.
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