Troops hit hard by girls' deaths
Stars and Stripes June 13, 2003
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — After last June’s armored-vehicle accident, U.S. soldiers poured out grief rarely seen even for one of their own.
They cried, mourned and opened their wallets for the families of Shim Mi-son and Shin Hyo-soon, the two 13-year-old girls crushed to death one year ago Friday on Highway 56, a narrow road in Uijongbu, about 15 miles north of Seoul.
It was an accident that seemingly violated the core of why U.S. forces are stationed in South Korea: to protect the people.
And it hurt.
In a statement released Wednesday, Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, offered his condolences and sympathy.
“I want to once again convey to the Shim and Shin families our heartfelt remorse, heartache, and sadness over their loss,” he said. “We accept full responsibility for this tragic accident, and we offer our deepest apologies during this extremely important and mournful time.
"We want the families to know that we grieve with you. Your pain is our pain as we remember your suffering."
Across 17 posts in the 2nd Infantry Division and at Yongsan Garrison, soldiers were to remember the victims Friday.
The two soldiers in the armored vehicle, Sgt. Fernando Nino and Sgt. Mark Walker, “will carry that memory until their dying day,” said Robert T. Mounts, U.S. Forces Korea Deputy Commander’s Special Assistant for Status of Forces Agreement.
“One of the pervasive misperceptions about American troops in Korea, as indicated by the display of photographs of various alleged atrocities,” he said, “is that American soldiers are just animals — that they have no feeling, no emotion about incidents or accidents. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Nino since has left the military for civilian life. Walker, who drove the vehicle, and has three children, still is in the Army, Mounts said.
“Anyone with children has to be able to empathize with the spectacle of seeing a child’s body ... under one of these massive vehicles and knowing how that would feel as a parent,” Mounts said.
The Army paid for a large monument on Highway 56, where the accident occurred. The memorial sits on a landscaped hill near the accident site, close to the Twin Bridges training area.
Inscribed on the memorial is a message from the U.S. Army. It reads, in part, “We grieve that you are no longer with us. You have reminded us all of the value of human dignity. We promise that you will not be forgotten. We dedicate this memorial as a lasting symbol of our respect. May you rest in peace, Officers and Soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division.”
The day after the accident, the U.S. military gave the families about $800 in solatia, a payment expressing condolences without admitting guilt. The families were later paid about $195,000 each, Mounts said.
High-level commanders have been in touch with the two girls’ families this week, said Air Force Col. Bud Redmond, chief of strategy and policy for USFK. The families indicated to Stars and Stripes they will attend a memorial gathering in downtown Seoul.
The 2nd ID instituted measures to prevent future accidents, Mounts said. For example, the armored vehicle — called an ALVM, which carries a mounted bridge — now is transported to training ranges on a flatbed truck.
Accidents happen, especially in an industrial organization such as the military, Mounts said. They emphasize the need for attention to safety, he said.