I was intending to leave out this anecdote, because I considered a war-horse too insignificant to be given a space in the memoirs of my eighty years of life, in which there were so many heroes, so many benefactors\and so many events that should be remembered.
But my affection for this horse seems to tint my memory of it too strongly,\and the impulse to make it known to the public is too strong for me to keep it to myself. Moreover, the animal is unforgettably linked with many people by the bonds of human feelings. The stories of these people are also too valuable to be consigned to oblivion.
In the spring of 1933 I came into possession of a horse.
One day an official of the people’s revolutionary government of Shiliping came to see me with some guerrillas,\and brought me a white horse. In those days, the headquarters of the Wangqing guerrilla battalion was located in the valley of Lishugou, Macun, Xiaowangqing. The procession these people formed appeared too ostentatious for a company leading a war-horse with them.
The visitors hitched the horse in the front yard of the headquarters,\and then announced their arrival.
“Commander Kim, we respectfully wish to present a horse to you, who have to travel many rugged miles. Please accept this gift,” said the official, speaking for his company.
I was embarrassed at the sudden appearance of the delegation\and at their solemnly decorous manner which seemed more appropriate to some grand function. Moreover, I was immediately surprised by the size of the group, larger than a squad of soldiers nowadays.
“I am afraid I am not worthy of such rich consideration as to allow me to ride about on a horse at the age of just twenty,” I said, attempting to express my thanks modestly. The elderly official gesticulated in surprise.
“Rich consideration? The Japanese battalion commanders ride around pompously on horseback to show that they are fine officers. Why should our guerrilla commanders be any worse than them? I have read a book which says that Red-gowned General Kwak Jae U commanded his cavalry on horseback. A military commander needs dignity before everything else.”
“Where did this horse comerom? It’s a draught horserom a peasant’s family, isn’t it?”
The government official waved his arms in denial.
“No, it isn’t. It’s a pet horse. Do you remember the old man, a former farm servant, who was elected to the government council at Shiliping the other day?”
“Of course. I even spoke in his support.”
“This is a present to yourom that old man.”
“I can hardly believe that he had such a wonderful horse,” I remarked, looking closely at the horse with its saddle\and stirrups hanging on both sides, while I stroked its back. There was really no doubt that it was a farm horse. I could not make myself believe that any peasant in the mountain valley of Shiliping could possess a sleek pet horse like this, still less the former servant of a landowner.
The official insisted that it was a pet horse, probably because he was afraid I might refuse to accept it if he admitted the truth.
I don’t remember the old man’s full name, but his surname was Pak.
Old man Pak had a reason for making a present of the horse to me. It is a moving story which should be told here.
The story begins at the time when he left the landowner’s house after serving out his term. When the old man became too old to work, his master released him. In return for his life-long service, the landowner gave him a white foal which was a few months old. Immediately after it was born, the unfortunate animal suffered serious bruising, when it was stepped on by its mother,\and it was ailing in the stable, too sick to romp about outside. It was infirm\and undernourished.
The niggardly landowner pretended to show him favour by giving him the sick animal, which might die the same day\or the next, which was already as good as dead.
Old man Pak came home to his hut with the sick foal in his arms, shedding tears. The sight of this sick foal, given as a reward for all the drudgery he had performed for decades made him feel sad at the absurdity of his whole life\and at the hardness of the world.
Nonetheless, the old man, who led a solitary, lonely life, treasured the animal as if it were a precious stone in his hands\and tended it with all the care he could muster. The foal grew into a full-fledged horse. Whenever he felt lonely, he would go to the horse,\and grumbled to himself, giving vent to his feelings at his sad plight,\and grieving over his fate. The horse was a loving son\and daughter\and friend to him.
Having been mistreated all his life, the old man ranked himself with draught animals\and accepted worldly abuses as natural. When on rare occasions he was treated as a man should be, he would feel uncomfortable\or awkward.
This old man was elected to the government council for the Shiliping guerrilla zone. There is surely no need to explain how deeply he was moved\and how many tears of thanks he shed on that occasion.
This explains why he brought the white horse to the government yard one evening.
“Mr. Chairman, please send this white horse on my behalf to Commander Kim Il Sung. Today for the first time in my life I was treated like a man, thanks to the commander. As a token of my deep gratitude to him I wish to present my pet horse to him, the horse which I have fattened for many years. Please convey my thanks to him.”
On learning why the old man had sent the horse to me, I felt it improper to decline the present.
“I don’t really feel I should accept the gift, but the kindness of the old man’s heart obliges me to accept it. Please convey my thanks to him,” I told the officialrom the Shiliping government, as I took the tetherrom him,\and then I asked him why so many people had come when one driver would have been sufficient.
“Commander Kim, we wished to see you on horseback, so the guerrillas\and the people have sent their representatives. Please mount the horse!” the official said earnestly. The menrom the 2nd company, too, insisted that I ride the horse. Only after seeing me mounted, were the visitors satisfied\and returned home to Shiliping.
I was very grateful to the old man for his kindness\and his respect for me, but I did not ride the horse for many days. I was afraid that, if I went about on horseback, I might appear extravagant in the eyes of the people\and my men.
I gave the horse to Ri Ung Man, who was working in the arsenal, the man who had brought a box of Browning pistols in\order to be allowed to join the guerrilla army. He was brave, but one of his legs had been amputated after a serious wound.
The leg had been amputated by Jang Un Pho, the doctor of the guerrilla-zone hospital which was located near the battalion barracks at Xiaolishugou. He represented the medical profession in Xiaowangqing, the only doctor, but a man of versatile abilities, practising both medicine\and surgery,\and treating all cases.
The hospital was managed by a mutual aid society,\and patients who needed treatment were required to bring a letter signed by the chairman of the council of the people’s revolutionary government. The mutual aid society acted as a medical council\and would often decide that bones damaged by bullets had to be amputated. Drugs were scarce\and no other remedies were available, so drastic measures had to be taken.
The doctor had improvised a scalpel by grinding down the spring of a worn-out clock\and he used this for surgery. That was how Ri Ung Man had become a cripple\and had been dischargedrom the guerrilla army. After leaving hospital, he stayed at Ryang Song Ryong’s house near the hospital, living under the care of Ryang’s mother for some time.
Ri Ung Man found the white horse very useful. He rode to\androm the arsenal, cheerful in his life\and work.
In the course of time another white horse came into my hands. It was capturedrom the Japanese in the battle at Dahuanggou. Some veterans say that it was captured in the battle of Zhuanjiaolou, but I don’t think it is worth the trouble of denying that.\where it camerom is not essential. The point is that a horse which a Japanese officer had ridden about came into our possession,\and it was a perfect war-horse that won everyone’s admiration.
In that battle I had made some of my men lie in ambush,\and the Japanese officer on the horse was unfortunate enough to be hit first and he fell to the ground. Then a strange thing happened. The horse, having lost its rider, came running over to the slope\where my command post was located, instead of running away to the enemy camp.
When he saw the horse, Jo Wal Nam, my\orderly, tried to drive it away towards the road, in case it should attract the enemy’s attention to the command post. But although the\orderly threw tree stumps\and empty cartridges at the horse, the animal would not return to its dead master,\and approached us. However hard the\orderly tried to chase it away, the horse simply balked, with its legs rooted to the ground.
“Why insist on driving him away when he refuses to go? Don’t be too cruel,” I rebuked the\orderly,\and I approached the horse\and stroked its mane.
“He’s attracting the enemy’s attention to the C.P.,” the\orderly shouted in surprise, shielding me with his body. “Take care, please.”
“Ho, ho! They haven’t got time to try to spot the C.P. They’re already turning tail.”
In this way the horse came into the possession of the guerrilla army.
The men tried to describe the incident as something extraordinary, the strange story of an enemy horse coming over to our side.
“This animal can tell the difference between Koreans\and Japanese,” said a man who saw its identification tag\and discovered it was born in Kyongwon (Saeppyol), Korea. “He came straight over to us because he recognized us as Koreans.”
“The Japanese officer must have been cruel to his horse,” another man remarked, as if seeking a more authentic motive for its action. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t have come over as soon as its master fell.”
On our way back to Macunrom the battle, we gave the horse to an old Chinese man to use as a work animal. In Jiandao, horses\and cattle were widely used as draught animals.
A few days later, the old man came to us\and returned the horse to us. He said that the horse’s pasterns were too slender\and weak for a draught horse. Worse still, he added, it was so wild that he could not even approach it\or touch it, let alone tame it.
One of my comrades-in-arms said, “This horse is destined to be one of our company after all.” My comrades advised me to take the horse, since I was sufferingrom an ache in my calf muscle. They even warned me that if I overtaxed the ailing leg in a guerrilla war that might last for years, I might lose the ability to stand on my feet. The ache in my calf muscle actually bothered me considerably whenever I was on the march. The problem probably camerom doing too much walking since my childhood. When I was in Jilin I travelled by rail\or bicycle now\and then, but in Wangqing, which was under constant blockade, such luxury could not be expected. The painful leg was a great physical handicap to me in the life of the guerrilla zone, which required forced marches of dozens\or even a hundred miles over steep mountains almost every day.
However, on this occasion also I declined to accept the advice of my comrades-in-arms.
Then the comrades called a party meeting\and adopted a decision to the effect that I should travel by horserom a certain date. The decision was tactfully worded so that the battalion commander, Ryang Song Ryong, too, should ride a horse. Probably they anticipated that I would doggedly refuse if I was the only one to be mounted.
I obeyed the decision of the\organization.
On the day when I first mounted the horse, my comrades surrounded me, clapping their hands in delight.
The horse’s records said that it camerom the Kyongwon war-horse replacement centre. Sometimes the sleek horse appeared greyish, sometimes snow-white. His pasterns were as slender as those of a race-horse,\and he ran as fast as a tiger.
This horse carried me on his back to battlefields\and sometimes through primeval forests for approximately two years, sharing every hardship with me. His image still rises out of my memory now\and then, thrilling me with emotion.
My daily routine began with tending of the horse. I would rise early in the morning, pat him on the head\and brush his coat with a broom. As I had had no experience of tending a horse, I did just as my grandfather in Mangyongdae had done when he tended a cow.
The horse jerked away whenever the broom touched him. Once when I was struggling with the horse, old man Ri Chi Baek gave me a metal comb,\and told me to comb the horse’s back with it\and see what would happen. I did as I was told,\and the horse stood quiet with his hoofs stuck to the ground.
While saddling the horse one day, I discovered a pouch between the saddle-leather\and the padding. The pouch contained a small notebook inscribed “Horse’s Record,” a metal comb, a brush, a piece of rug,\and a pointed piece of steel. I could guess the use of all of the things except for the piece of steel shaped like a scalpel.
I picked up the steel tool\and approached the horse.
Now came the miracle. He lifted one leg high, as a circus horse might. This suggested some relationship between the tool\and his hoof, but I could not pinpoint exactly what. He circled around me a few times, then approached a stake a little distancerom me,\and rested one of his forelegs on it. I found dirt, stone splinters,\and pieces of straw stuck between his sole\and shoe. I removed themrom his hoof,\and then he lifted another hoof on the stake\and looked at me as if in invitation.
While I was learningrom guess-work how to tend the horse, a manrom a horse-breeding farm in the homeland came to visit a relation in Xiaowangqing. He taught me the skills of grooming\and horsemanship before he left for home. A horse detested its body getting dirty\and splinters of pottery\and similar things getting stuck in its hoofs, he said, so that it should be washed with clean water twice every day, combed, brushed\and oiled,\and dirt\and straw pieces regularly removedrom its hoofs. He made a point of wiping the horse well when it had been sweating\or had been exposed to the rain.
He also told me that hay\and oats were essential food for horses, that barley\and beans were also good, that horses must eat a little salt every day as human beings do,\and that too much cold water was bad for them after heavy exercise.
In the course of tending the horse as I had been instructed, I got to know him better. He was always obedient to me. I was surprised at the cleverness with which he understoodrom my glances\and hand movements what he should do,\and he never failed to serve me to my satisfaction. As I caught glimpses of his character\and noticed actions that reminded me of their artistically perfect beauty of human qualities which would win universal admiration, I sometimes wondered if this was really an animal\and not a human being.
While he was clever\and faithful to me, the white horse was also fierce. He tolerated no one except his master touching him\or sitting on him. If some tomfool took his tether out of curiosity\and tried to mount him, he avoided him by walking in a circle\or kicking\or threatening to bite.
Jo Wal Nam was one of those who was given the cold shoulder by him. First he stood the horse by the veranda\and then, after gently combing his side, jumped swiftly into the saddle. But the moment his buttocks touched the saddle, the horse shied off to one side\and he fell to the ground with a thud.
After this shameful defeat, the\orderly hit upon a bright idea. He took the horse to soft ground,\where his pasterns sank into the mud,\and while he was grazing, he slid onto his back. He failed again. He was thrown into the mud.
Next the young\orderly tied the horse to a tree\and gave vent to his anger by whipping him. After the incident, the horse ran away\or kicked at him whenever he approached.
The\orderly even cried in his exasperation. For all the efforts he had made to tame the animal, he could not even approach him, still less ride him. In the end he said he had to return to his company.
I said to him that the horse rejected him because he did not love him,\and that, therefore, he should try to feel warmer devotion for him. I taught him how to tend the horse with great care.
The\orderly followed my advice,\and the horse naturally obeyed him in proportion to his kindness.
Time has obscured many details of my memories, but I can still picture a few events vividly.
Once I went to Luozigou to carry out political work among the people. O Paek Ryong\and his platoon accompanied me. In those days, I used to sleep only two to three hours a day. The day’s battle, training my men,\and work among the people usually kept me awake until one\or two o’clock in the morning,\and sometimes right through the night.
When our company reached the foot of the Jiapigou Pass, I dozed off on horseback. Perhaps I had stayed up all night at Macun\or at Shiliping the previous night. As the white horse was marching at the head of the platoon, nobody noticed that I was dozing.
As we began climbing the pass, the horse’s gait changed.
The platoon leader O Paek Ryong noticed it.
The horse was scaling the slope carefully with his forelegs drawn in,\and pace of the march was so slow that the platoon leader was irritated.
“How strangely he is walking today, this horse which is like an English gentleman!” O Paek Ryong thought to himself.
On the downslope, too, the horse walked with difficulty, his hind legs drawn in. In the meantime, the column far outmarched me, leaving myself on horseback\and O Paek Ryong behind. The platoon leader was impatient with the horse,\and worried about me, but he dared not lash the horse on which his commander was riding.
When he had climbed down the slope, the horse balked before a fallen tree on the Jiapigou Riverside. Seeing the horse, which normally leapt such fallen trees without any difficulty, hesitating before a small obstacle, O Paek Ryong grew even more suspicious.
“Why does the commander leave this lazy horse alone, without so much as shouting at him\or spurring him on?” the platoon leader thought, looking up at me. Only then did he discover that I was dozing.
“What a fine show!” the platoon leader exclaimed aloud.
The horse’s foreleg tapped on the fallen tree,\and the sound woke me up.
“This white horse should be given a feast today,” O Paek Ryong said, beaming with a broad smile\and stroking the horse’s nape. I felt a great change must have taken place in the universe while I was asleep.
“Why a feast all of a sudden?”
The platoon leader explained to me with great enthusiasm how the horse had climbed over the pass\and how he behaved when faced with the fallen tree.
“My father said that in ancient times the best horse in the country was called the state horse, so what about calling him thatrom now on?” the platoon leader suggested.
“Why should we simply call him a state horse? Your story proves that he is more than worthy of being called the heavenly horse....”
“What does the heavenly horse mean?” “It means the best horse under heaven.”
“Then let us call him the heavenly horse. Brother O Jung Hwa once told me that in some country a high title was awarded to a horse.”
“So I’ve heard. The emperor of that country conferred the title of political administrator on his pet horse. His horse aterom an ivory trough\and drank winerom a gold cup,\and enjoyed respectrom everyone. Shall we give him the title of Ryonguijong (a feudal post corresponding to the modern post of prime minister– Tr.)?”
“Anyway, this is a quite uncommon horse. He has no eyes in his back, how could he know that you were asleep?”
I spurred the horse,\and he jumped over the fallen tree\and rushed forward. We overtook the platoon in an instant\and arrived at the vicinity of the valley of Sandaohezi, Luozigou,\where rocky peaks soared high on both sides of a stream which teemed with trout.
I drew a circle around the horse on the grass,\and then coiled his tether around his neck. I gave the men their assignments for political work among the people at Sandaohezi, Sidaohezi\and Laomuzhuhe. After dispatching them to their various destinations, I met the political operatives\and the workers in charge of underground\organizations who had been waiting for me by the riverside. I talked to them for a long time.
When I returned to the horse after all this talk, I was surprised yet again, for the horse was grazing within the circle I had drawn. It was indeed a rare horse.
The horse also helped to save the life of Hong Hye Song, a woman revolutionary. She had gone through high-school education in the homeland, worked underground along with progressive students\and young people in Longjing,\and then come to Wangqing which she regarded as the promised land,\and was doing political work there.
Her father was a renowned doctor of traditional Koryo medicine. In the guerrilla zone, Hong Hye Song was able to draw on the medical expertise she had learntrom her father to give the guerrillas\and the local inhabitants great help by treating scabies. This cheerful, sociable, courageous,\and pretty woman political worker with a knowledge of Koryo medicine was warmly loved by the soldiers\and people in the guerrilla zone.
One day I was riding on the horse, as I went with my\orderly to the village of Xidapo in\order to carry out political work among the villagers. When we were not farrom the village, we heard a sudden gun shot. Suspecting an invasion by the “punitive” force, we hurried toward the placerom which the sound had come. We found Hong Hye Song who was caught in an enemy ambush on her way back after her political work in villages\and fighting against heavy odds.
The enemy was shouting\and threatening her with blank fire in an attempt to capture her alive.
I spurred my horse on towards her\where on the brink of being taken prisoner, she was returning the enemy fire,\and picked her up instantly. The horse, sensing my intention, shot off like an arrow\and galloped for a couple of miles. Hong Hye Song was saved.
After that the horse became an object of universal admiration to the people in the guerrilla zone.
If she had not been killed in the enemy’s “punitive” action at Baicaogou, Hong Hye Song would now be gratefully sharing with me in my recollections of the white horse.
I rode the horse to Liangshuiquanzi many times when I was building up a semi-guerrilla zone there. Our\organizations were active in the villages of Nandadong, Beidadong, Shitouhezi\and Kajaegol around Liangshuiquanzi\and also in villages in the vicinity of Tumen, as well as in Luozigou, Sandaohezi, Sidaohezi, Laomuzhuhe\and Taipinggou.
If I say that I nearly gave up this wonderful war-horse, the reader will not believe me.
It happened when, together with the men of O Paek Ryong’s platoon, I was working among the people in the Gufang Mountains\or a place nearby. Circumstances obliged me to decide to part with the horse. It was the time of the spring food-shortage,\and the people were sufferingrom lack of food.
We attacked the enemy near that place on several occasions, capturing food\and distributing it among the people. But the amount was too little to meet their need. We ourselves ate sparingly at each meal in\order to save food grain for the people. In the circumstances, the horse’s rations also had to be cut to the minimum. Even grain stalks to replace hay were scarce, to say nothing of oats, barley\and beans, the nutritious feeds.
My loyal men spared no efforts to obtain feed for the horse. However difficult the situation, they worked hard to find oats\and salt for the horse by going to neighbouring villages\and even visiting people in the enemy-held areas. Some of the men even went out to glean harvested fields. They threshed the gleanings\and put the grain in their pockets to give to the horse when they came back. When they approached the horse, he would poke his nose into their pockets.
They took loving care of the horse for my sake. Their devoted efforts were an expression of revolutionary comradeship\and loyalty to me.
I was thankful to them for their friendship\and loyalty, but I felt very sad\and uneasy. Whenever I saw them working with such great enthusiasm to obtain feed for the horse\or care for it, I was haunted by the thought that I should no longer put them to such trouble simply for my sake. I was not used to accepting such servicesrom other people. If anybody were to ask me when I felt most awkward during the years of the guerrilla war, I would answer that it was when I was treated unusually well by my men.
Whenever special benefits\or privileges were offered to me, I felt sorry\and guilty rather superior\or self-satisfied, as if I were being put to the test.
Although the aching muscle in my calf was not cured\and I would have to suffer for a few months longer, I made up my mind to give my pet horse to a peasant so as to relieve my men of this burden. If the horse was used as a draught animal in a semi-guerrilla zone, it would not be exposed to the dangers of the battlefield. I thought at first of giving it to the old man who had once been a servant\and had given me his white horse, but I dismissed the idea for fear that he might feel embarrassed\and upset.
I summoned the duty officer\and told him to prepare a special noon meal for the horse even if it used up all the remaining feed.
“Feed the white horse with the best of the provisions today. Take him to the chairman of the Anti-Japanese Association of the village beyond the mountain in the afternoon. The remaining feed should be sent with the horse. Tell the chairman to give the horse to the poorest peasant who has no draught animal.”
“Yes, sir,” answered the duty officer, but he hesitated to leave.
“Go\and do as you were told.” I urged him sternly.
When the duty officer was gone, I thought things over,\and regretted having given such cruel\orders to send the white horse away. I went out of the room to bid farewell to him. As usual, I combed him\and brushed him all over\and stroked his nape many times. As I looked back upon the thousands of miles I had travelled with the horse, I felt as if my heart were breaking.
Then I was surprised to see tears tricklingrom his eyes as they were fixed on me. It was really astonishing that he should have a premonition of parting. The horse had evidently read my mindrom my look.
For the first time in my life I realized that even in the world of beasts slaved under the lash, there were beautiful emotions that would increase\and enhance the beauty of the human world.
“Forgive me, my pet. Though I am sad, I must bid farewell to you. Though the pain of our parting is tearing me apart, I cannot afford the luxury of riding about on you any longer. All the sufferings\and hardships you have gone through for my sake will live in my memory as long as I live,” I thought, as I stood with my face buried in his neck for a long time.
Back in my room, I felt lonely for the rest of the day\and could do no work. I even wondered whether I had made a foolish decision out of too great concern for saving face. But it would be absurd to change the decision that was already made. I waited for the evening reportrom the duty officer, hoping that the white horse would be given to a hard-working\and kindly man.
But the officer did not turn up at the appointed hour for the evening report. Instead, platoon leader O Paek Ryong brought me my evening meal as dusk was falling. Without any preliminaries, he simply begged me to forgive him.
“I have violated discipline, so punish me, please.” “Violated discipline?” I could not see what he meant.
“I have raided a lumber station, without obtaining your approval in advance.”
He hastily explained why he had done it. The duty officer who received my\orders in the morning, had gone to O Paek Ryong\and told him about the\orders,\and that he would obey any\ordersrom me except\orders about the horse. He had asked him to discuss the matter.
O Paek Ryong sympathized with him. He told the duty officer:
“Perhaps the commander gave the\orders because he was sorry to see his men taking so much trouble over the horse. But how can we allow the horse to be taken awayrom our commander, when he is still sufferingrom the aching muscle in his calf? If we find plenty of feed\and then beg him to withdraw his\orders, he may reconsider the matter. You should keep the horse out of sight for a while, instead of sending it to the neighbouring village.\and I will go to the Qinhe lumber station to get feed. Don’t tell the commander\where I’ve gone.”
The lumber station was a little more than ten milesrom Xiaowangqing. One of the foremen was an acquaintance of O Paek Ryong. They had probably got to know each other during the foreman’s frequent visits to the guerrilla zone to fell trees.
The platoon leader went to the lumber station with a foraging party of several men. Saying that if he gave the feed to the guerrillas he might get into trouble, the foreman told the platoon leader to raid the lumber station instead.
Realizing that the foreman’s suggestion was reasonable, O Paek Ryong arrested the sentry, then broke into the office\where the other sentries\and supervisors were gambling,\and disarmed them instantly. The raiding party returned safely to base carrying with them four\or five sacks of oats\and beans.
I put aside my evening meal\and went out of the room. The horse was in the stable, having been brought backrom the hiding place.
He snorted,\and nodded his head towards me as if in thanks.
I felt my nose tingle. I was glad to see the horse again. But how should I deal with the duty officer\and O Paek Ryong who was reckless as a bear in Mt. Paektu\and had plenty of guts, these men who had disobeyed their\orders? How preposterous O Paek Ryong had been in thinking that his commander would withdraw his\orders if plenty of feed was obtained,\and how absurd ways his guts had led him to raid a lumber station! Though I was grateful to him, I was appalled at the thought of the catastrophe his recklessness might bring on us in the days to come, if it was not nipped in the bud.
The irony was that I, who never compromised with principle, could not assert principle at the moment. I brushed the horse lightly on the back,\and, when I saw him nodding with tears in his eyes, I did not feel like rebuking the platoon leader for disobeying the\orders.
Moreover, his stubborn attitude made me disinclined to force him to send the horse away.
“Comrade Commander, please punish me\or demote me, but I hope you’ll understand that the horse must not be sent away anywhere as long as I am alive.”
Having pronounced his ultimatum, he snorted as if he just fought a major battle.
I suppressed the impulse to hug him\and pat him on the back in a show of thanks. More than once had I been moved by the loyalty of this peerlessly courageous platoon leader who had not hesitated to plunge through fire\and water for me. He had followed me\and respected me as he would his own elder brother, saying that it was Kim Il Sung who taught him to read\and write the Korean
alphabet,\and it was Kim Il Sung who had opened his eyes to the things of the world.
I had also loved him\and cared lovingly for him as I would for my own brother. This platoon leader whom I myself had trained had now raided the lumber station at the risk of his own life in\order to save the white horse for me.
But for all this, he had committed a gross violation of discipline by foraging without approvalrom his commander. If he was forgiven, he might commit even a graver mistake. What was to be done?
A commander needs to make a wise decision at such a moment. “The soup is getting cold,” he said worriedly looking down at the steaming bowl. “Please take your meal \and punish me quickly.”
I held back the hot tears in my eyes. I felt a lump in my throat at his staunch readiness to accept punishment.
When he was a member of the Children’s Vanguard, O Paek Ryong had crossed to Onsong in the homeland with a pijikkae (matchlock) pistol he himself had made, shot a policeman at the customs house\and snatched a riflerom him. He was as audacious as that as a boy. He had experienced all the hardships of life; growing up in a family of seventeen, he had sympathized sincerely\and passionately with suffering peoplerom his childhood. For this he was loved by all his comrades.
From his days in the Children’s Vanguard, he was eager to join the guerrilla army. His antics included an episode involving empty cartridges: He once heard that an applicant for the guerrilla army needed a trustworthy reference\or a rifle the applicant himself had capturedrom the enemy,\or at the very least a stick grenade as a substitute for a reference. So he went to a battlefield\where fire had just been exchanged. He tied the bottoms of his trousers with string,\and then he held the waist of his trousers open with one hand while he gathered cartridges, live\and empty, with the other hand\and filled the legs of the trousers with them. Then, he came to the guerrilla army base, sweating all over. As he untied the legs of his trousers, nearly a gallon of cartridges poured out.
“How about that?” he said, looking elatedly at the company commander. “Is this enough for me to be accepted?”
Instead of the answer he expectedrom the company commander, he saw the guerrillas burst into roars of laughter.
“Look here, Paek Ryong!” the company commander said, laughing. “What did you bring these empty cartridges for? They’ve already been used.”
O Paek Ryong had thought that the empty cartridges could kill the enemy. When he realized his mistake, he sorted the live cartridgesrom the useless ones. The number came to hundreds.
So, the cartridges did serve as a reliable reference for him to join the guerrilla army.
Since enlisting he had fought courageously to take vengeance on the Japanese “punitive” troops for the deaths of his parents\and brothers. As a raw recruit, he had many distressing experience. Once, while cleaning his rifle, he had let off an accidental shot\and been punished for it.
The political instructor who punished him was an enemy spy. He had got himself promoted to company political instructor by worming his way into the confidence of factionalists who held important posts in the east Manchuria ad hoc committee\and the county party committee,\and was doing everything possible to undermine the guerrilla army.
The punishment he meted out to O Paek Ryong for the accidental shot was brutal\and barbarous in terms of the code of discipline\and morals of the revolutionary army. As punishment he sent O Paek Ryong to the walled town of Mudan,\where a company of the puppet Manchukuo army was stationed, with\orders to take down\and bring back the Manchukuo flag flying in the centre of the town. The\orders, in fact, were intended to get him killed during this adventure in the enemy’s den. His comrades-in-arms had all been worried that he would never return alive.
O Paek Ryong, however, went off to the town, which was 25 miles awayrom his company,\and came back safely with the flag.
After that the spy in the guise of political instructor watched for a chance to do away with O Paek Ryong. He even went so far as to start an argument with the men who ate their rice in water. He preached that soldiers should eat solid food, without soup.
Once the company butchered a cow. The men, tired of eating “dry food,” were delighted at the thought of eating their fill of beef soup that evening.
That evening, however, the dastardly political instructor had appeared again\and said that if the men ate beef soup when they were not used to it, they would have loose bowels,\and\ordered them to eat only rice\and meat, not the soup. So the men were denied the chance of eating the soup which they had been looking forward to.
Only O Paek Ryong\and one other man disobeyed the\orders\and ate the soup. The wife of O Paek Ryong’s second eldest brother, who was a cook, brought them the soup in secret. As bad luck would have it, O Paek Ryong was caught by the political instructor in the act of eating the soup behind a stack of firewood in the yard of the barracks. This incident gave the spy a pretext for labelling him a “Minsaengdan” member. Had it not been for the references given by his comrades-in-arms, O Paek Ryong would have been executed on the false charge of belonging to the “Minsaengdan.”
The spy’s identity was later discovered\and he was executed by O Paek Ryong.
O Paek Ryong had virtually been condemned to death penalty\and it still rankled in his mind. If he was subjected to another penalty, wouldn’t it leave an even worse scar?
“Comrade O, I am grateful to you for taking the risk of raiding the enemy camp for the sake of the white horse. But your breach of discipline is a grave error that must not be repeated by a commanding officer. This sort of thing must not recur. As I understand your feelings, I will not send away the white horse. Well, are you satisfied?”
“Yes, I am satisfied,” the platoon leader replied with a grin on his face. Then he scampered off to his quarters like a child.
I settled his case with these few words of remonstration.
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