It was Aug. 6, 1945 when the American bomber Enola Gay dropped a five-ton bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
The now Vernon local Baek Byung Soon is one of the only known survivors living in Canada today. She was eight when the bomb hit Japan.
Though Baek is Korean, she was born in Hiroshima, Japan. Her father, a businessman, had moved to Japan as a young man looking for work. He met her mother during a visit home to South Korea, they got married and the entire family moved to Japan. Soon, Baek Byung Soon was born.
Her first memories are of living in a Korean neighborhood on the outskirts of Hiroshima. At the time, Koreans were vastly descriminated against by many Japanese people. Baek said these sentiments were heightened throughout the Second World War.
Monday marks the 73rd anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. For Baek, though the the events of that day changed the course of her life, they are now a distant memory. She does her best to recall the details.
Baek said it was a perfect day in Hiroshima; sunny with clear skies. She was walking home from school that Monday; the same half-hour walk she took every day. Because it was wartime, she was used to seeing torture and hearing planes circling above. She was about halfway home when she heard a blaring noise. She describes it like the sound of a missle being launched in the sky and then a resounding crash. Confused, dust and smoke quickly engulfed her, crouching low and covering her head, she sprinted home.
Though no one from Baek’s family was injured, about 150,000 people died as a result of the bombing in Hiroshima. She said it was bitter sweet — that, although thousands died, it meant the war was over.
Her family had not planned to return to Korea but after the bomb hit, Baek’s grandmother insisted on returning to because she wanted to die in her home country.
The Japanese refused to let Koreans return home, so Baek’s father found another solution. He organized a small boat that would smuggle the entire family out of Japan and across Korea Strait back to South Korea. Baek said the small boat, similar to a fishing boat you’d see today, was overcrowded with people like them wanting to return home. The trip took about a week.
Having only lived in Japan, she said it took some time to adjust to Korea. She recalls not having enough to eat.
It was a mere five years later when Baek found herself in the thick of another war: the Korean War. She, not even 15 yet, had already experienced — and eventually survived — two wars before she turned 18.
Baek said she witnessed much more torture during WWII in Japan but saw more bombing and gunfire throughout the Korean war.
Her family was relocated several times throughout the Korean War, adjusting as the North advanced into the South. She admits she was lucky.
Though she witnessed her neighbours being shot and killed, her family remained untouched by the North Korean army because her parents shared food — including with opposing soldiers. She said that her parent’s generosity is the only reason she is still alive to tell her story today.
After the war, her family continued in their tradition of aiding those in need. They helped many civilians seeking refuge after being displaced as a result of the war. They provided those in need with a roof, fed them and, ultimately, kept them alive.
She notes that there was even less food available at the end of the Korean War. Americans arrived, providing support and food to the South Koreans. Although she lived in Hiroshima and experienced the effects of the American’s bombing first-hand, she saw them as heroes. They had effectively ended the war in Japan and provided the much needed aid in the aftermath of the Korean war.
Eventually, having survived both wars, Baek was married and had four children: one son and three daughters. Though her son still lives in South Korea, all three daughters moved to B.C. After her husband died, she decided to join them and officially moved to Canada in 1999.
Today, Baek, 81, lives in Vernon with her three daughters. Her family describes her as resilient. A survivor. Having lived through two wars during her youth, she admits she knows more than she would like to remember but said she doesn’t think it affects her much today.
The anniversary falls on a Monday this year. When asked about how she feels on the anniversary each year, she shrugs. She said it’s just another day. She doesn’t think about it much anymore.
Note: Baek Byung Soon is Korean and doesn’t speak english. Her daughter interpreted her story for the Morning Star.
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