Park Suk-yi, vocal ‘comfort woman,’ dies at 93

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Park Suk-yi, vocal ‘comfort woman,’ dies at 93

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Park Suk-yi

Park Suk-yi, a survivor among the hundreds of thousands of young women forced into wartime military brothels by the Imperial Japanese Army, who are euphemistically called comfort women, died on Tuesday, bringing the number of surviving comfort women registered with the government to 39.

Park, who died of natural causes at age 93, was cared for by her adopted son until her last breath at a hospital in Namhae County, South Gyeongsang, on Tuesday.

Park was born near the coast of Gohyeon-myeon in Namhae in 1923. At age 16, she went clam-picking with her cousin near her home when she was abducted by Japanese forces. She was shipped to Nagoya and then to Manchuria, and could only return years after Korea’s independence from Japanese annexation in 1945, coming home to Namhae in 1951. Her cousin was reportedly killed while attempting to run away.

According to Park’s previous testimony, recorded in a documentary, Park adopted one boy and two girls, though her adopted daughters could not be contacted at the time of her death.

Park appeared in a documentary dedicated to comfort women, titled “The Last Tear” (2015), which has been screened at some 90 international film festivals, including at Cannes, winning dozens of awards. It was screened in Korea last year.

“I wanted to get married and have children, but I couldn’t,” she says in the documentary. “So I adopted three children from an orphanage.”

She also asks, “Who can bring back my youth? It hurts a lot, but I want to tell everyone why I felt hurt so much. I don’t want people to forget. A person should never be bereaved of a country.”

On Dec. 28, 2015, the foreign ministries of Korea and Japan reached a breakthrough deal that promised an apology from Tokyo and a multimillion-dollar fund for the surviving victims.

But some of the women demanded that it be scrapped and that Japan issue a clearer apology and take legal responsibility.

While historians estimated as many as 200,000 women were forced into the military brothels, only 238 were registered with the Korean government as former comfort women.

The number of survivors has been dropping rapidly in recent years, as many are in their 80s and 90s.

Namhae County Office set up a statue of a girl at a local park in Asan-ri last year to commemorate Park and other comfort women. The site was named Suk-yi Park.

Park’s mortuary was set up at the funeral center of Namhae Hospital. Her body will be buried at a public cemetery in Namhae today.

BY WE SUNG-WOOK, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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