U.S. troops, S. Koreans mark somber anniversary
Stars and Stripes June 15, 2003
SEOUL — Thousands bowed their heads across South Korea on Friday on the first anniversary of the death of two young girls killed by a U.S. military vehicle.
At Yongsan Garrison, about 200 soldiers and civilians attended a 30-minute service at south post chapel. Fliers handed out bore photos of Shim Mi-sun and Shin Hyo-soon, who died on Highway 56, a busy country road about 15 miles north of Seoul.
“Today, the Shim and Shin families do not walk alone,” said U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte. “It is impossible to say anything that will console them at this difficult hour during the anniversary of their daughters’ deaths.”
The deaths prompted massive anti-U.S. military protests around South Korea, calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces and revision of the status of forces agreement.
The protests intensified after two sergeants involved in the accident — in which the girls, who were walking in the road, were struck by an M60 Armored Vehicle Launched Mine Clearing Line Charge (AVLM) as it rounded an uphill curve — were acquitted in November in a U.S. military court. Koreans demanded they should have been tried in a South Korean court, but the status of forces agreement gave the case’s jurisdiction to the U.S. military.
Apologies came from LaPorte, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard and eventually President Bush, but those did little to stem many Koreans’ anger.
Just three miles away from Yongsan Garrison, thousands gathered in front of City Hall in downtown Seoul to remember Shim and Shin. Banners read “American soldier murderers get out” and “Prosecute the murdering Army.”
While many attendees’ banners aggressively bashed the U.S. military, many said they went to the rally simply to commemorate the victims. Kang Sae-hee, 20, said the biggest worry with U.S. troops in South Korea is if they are used in a first strike against North Korea.
The troops are fine as long as they are there to defend the South, Kang said. But South Koreans are uncomfortable with placement of Yongsan Garrison, said Hwang Eun-young, 20, a student at Koryo University.
U.S. troops would be better someplace else, she said.
“We don’t feel we need the Army in the middle of Seoul,” she said.
Hong Myong-ko said he had an exam on Saturday, but that didn’t stop him from attending the rally. Hong still thinks the United States owes South Korea more apologies over the accident, and said the U.S. military generally brings crime and accidents to the people it is supposed to protect.
“There is still no apology from the U.S. government,” Hong said.
Ahn Moon-won came to Seoul from Anyang about 15 miles south with his children, Hee-jong and Sae-sol. He wanted them to see the rally and show it isn’t only about the deceased girls; it’s about preserving South Korea’s independence.
He likened the candle his children held to a powerful gun that fights for rights of Koreans. Ahn said he’s tired of rhetoric against North Korea and believes it’s just propaganda to justify U.S. forces in South Korea.
The war against Iraq shows that “the Americans don’t really want peace. I think America doesn’t really mean anything for freedom,” he said.
— Daniel Lee contributed to this report.