BY LUISA MA RGB-BTUN
For many years, Los Angties was home to
a ifi eat national hero. No one knew he was
considered a hero—not even the man himself.
"Jlis name was Soon. Hyun. A Korean by
birth and allegiance, he 4ied here in 1968, believing he was forgotten by his country and
by his people. His quiet funeral was held in a
local cemetery. Only a'handful of mourners
was in attendance—a few old friends and
members of his immediate family. He was N
then in his 90s and so was his wife, Maria
Ijee, who died soon after. Their last years
were full of lonely longing to return to their
How sad that Soon Hyun, a Methodist minister, never knew he had been honored as a
national hero. This public designation was
made in 1963 by the short-lived democratic
government that came between the regimes
of Residents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung
Hee. Because it was unable to locate his
whereabouts, that interim government as-
sinned Soon Hyun to be deceased. All the
same, fine gold medals were struck in his
Moot, lauding him as patriot and freedom
ifighter. The medals were placed in the National Archives and remained there—until
this past summer.
Now Soon Hyun has gone home again and
received the homage due him, under the most
•finical of circumstances.
* :*Lift spring an invitation came to the Hyun
,|a£n#y from the present South Korean
vJ$£rnment. They had located the sons and
"daughters of Soon Hyun, most in Los Angeles
and others in Northern California. The invitation asked that the ashes of Soon Hyun and
his wife be brought back to Korea for an honorary ceremony and interment in the National Cemetery outside Seoul.
."VThether to abide by the request was a difficult decision for the family, of which I am a
member by marriage. His sons and daughters
finally decided their father belonged to his
people and should rest in his homeland. So,
this summer, my husband, Peter Hyun, and
his sister Elizabeth Kim boarded a plane in
"toa Angeles "that would take them to Korea.
TJigy carried with them two bronze urns con-
Ktaihing the ashes of their parents. It was their
ft^trip back in a long while, and I accompanied them—a Caucasian intrigued to see the
Jand and people that had spawned such a
rfrjeat man as Peter's father.
;*v The press of South Korea gave wide cover-
ia&e*to the memorial ceremony, and many
jfr^nds and relatives came to be,with us. The
3ff*nt was held in the Hall of Patriotism and
Loyalty, a handsome building that stands in
the grounds of a magnificent cemetery.
There, along with eight other designated "patriots" from various parts of the world, Soon
Hyun was honored and eulogized.
For this particular Korean patriot, it was
the end of a long, distinguished and sometimes despairing fight to free his country. His
battle began in the early part of this century
during Japan's vicious colonial rule over Korea.
In the spring of 1919," forced to flee for his
life, Soon Hyun left Seoul entrusted with the
newly written Declaration of Independence
which had been fashioned after ours. Less
fortunate signators who remained in Korea
were imprisoned and tortured after Soon
Hyun began his difficult journey. The message he carried to the outside world told of
the independence struggle waged by the
now-famous March First Movement.
First he went to Shanghai where, with others, he helped organize the Korean Provisional Government. A cabinet minister in that
exile regime, he was appointed ambassador
plenipotentiary to the United States.in 1921.
Certain that a great and free country would
help his people, Soon Hyun presented a formal petition to Charles Evans Hughes, then
America's secretary of state, requesting recognition and aid for the government in exile,
and for help in freeing his land from Japanese
rule. Unhappily, the United States turned him
Through the long and difficult years that
followed, Soon Hyun kept speaking out publicly for the freedom of Korea. Late in life,
the minister and his wife settled in Los Angeles, where many of their sons and daughters lived with their families. Always hoping
to return home, he tried to travel there after
the fall of Syngman Rhee, but the U.S.
government denied him a visa.
Being married to a Korean, I suppose I
know more about that country's history than
do most Occidentals. But I had never traveled
there until now, and was surprised to learn
that Seoul, with a population of more than 7
million, is the seventh largest city in the
world Its incredibly crowded streets teem
with taxis, buses, autos, pushcarts and daredevil pedestrians—a nightmare composite of
Rome, Paris and Mexico City.
Yet I also found the capital to be a city of
much beauty. It is ringed with soft green hills
—a gentle backdrop for the ugly high-rises.
Weaving through the foothills are lovely
parks and scenic drives. The National
Museum, located on the rolling acreage of old
royal palace grounds, houses a splendid show
of ancient Korean art rivaling China's best.
In the last days of our stay, we explored
the lush green countryside between Seoul
and the southern port of Pusan. From the
windows of our train, rivers, streams and
brooks meandered through the rice paddies
and nourished the lotus ponds and endless
rows of weeping willows, poplars and giant
True, we found vistas marred. For one
thing, there were large industrial areas, ugly
as always, that impinge on the rice paddies"
and complicate cultivation. (The Japanese
have heavy investments there, as do we.) For
another thing, the land is covered with
government signs warning of attacks and the
perfidy of traitors. For example, the largest
sign in a main bus depot warns, "If doubtful,
look again—if suspicious, report it."
The physical beauty, however, cannot camouflage South Korea's serious social and political problems. There is such high unemployment that 70% of the college graduates
are jobless. Rice is scarce and cannot be
served on certain days. Signs are posted in
hotel rooms to remind guests that civil-defense exercises are conducted regularly because "the Republic of Korea is under constant continuous threat of attack." President
Park, I was told, appears in public for only
the most important events, and then is heavily guarded.
Iri a land barely the size of Pennsylvania,
the omnipresence of soldiers—half a million
in the Korean army, as well as 50,000 Ameri-'
can troops—gives the impression that South
Korea is an armed fortress. Its enormous
standing army is bolstered this year by $145
million in U.S. military aid.
"This, then, is the country, cruelly torn in
half, to which we had brought back the ashes
of Soon Hyun, the apostle of freedom for his
homeland, and from which we would return
to the United States with the gold medals
struck in his honor back in 1963. •
At the rites for Korea's heroes in the Hall
of Patriotism and Loyalty, officials stood and
bowed and spoke of heroic deeds. We sensed
the whole country looking on. Towering
, brass candelabra burned brightly and clouds
of incense rose. In a marvelous merger of
East and West, a military band belted out a
smashing version of "Nearer My God to Thee."
Then, in a setting of exquisite beauty, the
ashes of Soon Hyun and his wife, Maria Lee
Hyun, were laid to rest high on a hill overlooking the city of Seoul. Nearby, tall spires
pierced the sky, commemorating the brave
students who had died protesting the despotism of Syngman Rhee. This whole section of
the National Cemetery is watched over by
two giant dragons supporting a black marble
slab inscribed, "The Heart of the People."
• The inscription on his tombstone is simple,
more a statement than an epitaph: "The
Grave of Honored Patriot Hyun Soon." Perhaps those of his countrymen who read it in
the days and years ahead will recall his dedication to freedom—and from it take heart.
WEDNESDAY MORNING, NOVEMBER 5,1975
'Jmrrcf^ a l " Uivsri oh )
Sfo* A&&ele£ ©ime#
HARRISON GRAY OTIS. 1882-1917
HARRY CHANDLER. 1917-1944
NORMAN CHANDLER, 1944-1960 *
OTIS CHANDLER, Publisher -
ROBERT D. NELSON
Executive Vice President and General Manager
WILLIAM F. THOMAS
Executive Vice President and Editor
CHARLES C. CHASE, Vice President-Production
ROBERT L: FLANNES, Vice President and Assistant to the Publisher
ROBERT C. LOBDELL, Vice President and General Counsel
VANCE L. STICKELL, Vice President-Sales
JAMES BASSETT, Associate Editor
ANTHONY DAY, Editor of the Editorial Pages
ROBERT J. DONOVAN, Associate Editor
FRANK P. HAVEN, Managing Editor
JEAN SHARLEY TAYLOR, Associate Editor
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