Don’t forget the Sewol’s heroes

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Don’t forget the Sewol’s heroes

The body of chief officer Yang Dae-hong was discovered with a walkie-talkie clutched in his hand a month after the Sewol ferry sank with more than 300 passengers on board. While the captain and other crew members were first to abandon ship, inefficiently alerting passengers, Yang stayed behind to help save lives.

But before he ran below deck to help other passengers, he called his wife. His last words to her were: “The boat has tilted a lot. There is money in the bank account. Use it for tuition for our eldest. I have to go back to get the kids out.”

He was referring to the Danwon High School students aboard who were on their way to Jeju Island for a school trip.

According to the arraignment prosecutors drew up to charge the surviving crew members, some of the ship’s staff said they thought about saving themselves first if faced with a life-or-death moment. They confessed that they feared they would be the last to be rescued if they did not evacuate first. The captain and three other senior crew members on Thursday were charged with homicide by omission. The other 11 face lesser charges.

But Yang was different. He made his way through the ship trying to get the passengers out. He was the only senior crew member to die.

The public is appalled by the selfish and cowardly behavior of the captain and his crew, who changed their clothes and fled the sinking ship while ordering passengers to stay put. We were horrified upon learning the details, collectively sharing the guilt for the cruelty of some of the adults in our society and their lack of chivalry.

But there were heroic stories, too. Student Park Jie-young risked her life to help students. Staff couple Kim Ki-woong and Chung Hyun-seon, who met at work and promised to marry, stayed behind. They both lost their lives trying to assist passengers. Teachers Nam Yoon-cheol and Choi Hye-jeong also stayed with their students until the last moment.

Yang was at one time also suspected of abandoning ship, and his family had to swallow their grief and agony in order not to upset the victims’ families.

But his name must be cleared. He should be honored with the others who bravely sacrificed their lives for those in their care.

The country has been demoralized and is still numb with anger, shame and remorse. After a period of mourning and self-reflection, we must pull ourselves up to help build a better and safer society for our children. The brave people on the Sewol ferry will be our models. Their chivalry and selflessness is the key to rebuilding our nation.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 17, Page 30
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