A decade later, pain still fresh for families of 9/11 victims

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A decade later, pain still fresh for families of 9/11 victims

NEW YORK - Never mind that Kang Joon-koo was sick that day. He insisted on going to work, happy to have survived a recent downsizing at his company.

His father, Seong-sun, made lunch plans with his son to check up on him. But the lunch never happened.

Joon-koo was one of the nearly 3,000 people, and one of the 20 Koreans or Korean descendents, whose lives were cut short by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I carry this regret with me all the time - that I didn’t dissuade him from going to work,” he said.

On the 10th anniversary of the infamous day, the grief of families who lost loved ones refuses to dissipate. Even now, watching old news footage of a man waving desperately out of a window of the World Trade Center, Seong-sun, 73, and his wife Pil-sun, 70, are still overcome with emotion.

“I can’t stop thinking that the man might have been Joon-koo,” Seong-sun said in a rare interview.

For the families, it’s about living with a hole in their hearts - the memories, the regrets, the milestones that have to be celebrated in the absence of their loved ones. “My son telling me, ‘Dad, I’ll make sure you drive a Cadillac soon,’ is still vivid in my memory,” Seong-sun said.

An analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald Securities, Joon-koo, 34 at the time, had ambition and talent, boasting 22 finance- and economy-related licenses, his father said. Joon-koo, who worked on the 104th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center, insisted on going into work, feeling a stronger sense of responsibility, his father surmises, after not being included among the 20 colleagues who had lost their jobs a few days before the attacks.

In memory of their son, the Kangs founded a school in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, last year. Joon-koo had said that he wanted to be a youth missionary. “I hope the children there get a good education and accomplish the dreams Joon-koo did not realize,” his father said.

Kim Pyeong-gyeom, 70, who heads a group of bereaved Korean families of Sept. 11, has yet recover from the burning anguish of losing his son. He still drives the red Volkswagen his son, Andrew Kim, whose Korean name was Jay-hoon, used.

Andrew, then 26 and a graduate of Columbia University, worked at Fred Alger Management in the north tower, just four floors above where the hijacked plane hit. His father watched the building collapse on television, along with his heart. “The whole family searched for him in New York and New Jersey but couldn’t find his whereabouts,” Kim said. “Only on the fifth day could we accept his fate.”

Using the compensation and insurance payout for his son’s death, Kim and his wife created a scholarship in Andrew’s honor. In the past eight years, around 20 people have received help. They also plan to use the scholarship foundation to host a peace forum that brings together Christians and Muslims.

“As the parents of a victim, we think we may be able to play a role as an arbitrator in the conflict between Christianity and Islam,” Kim said. “Now that 10 years have passed, it’s time to heal.”

By Jung Kyung-min [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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