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Family Reunited 47 Years After War Mother, Son Were Separated Fleeing Start Of Korean Conflict

Wed., Dec. 31, 1997

An 85-year-old Korean-American has accomplished what she failed to do in the chaos of the Korean War a half-century ago - bring her eldest son out of North Korea.

A visibly moved Paek Hong-yong was in South Korea with son Lee Yong Un and his family of eight at a news conference arranged by Seoul’s main intelligence agency on Tuesday.

“I am so happy now. How can I express what I feel now in words?” a white-haired Paek said, hugging Lee.

At the tearful reunion, Lee, flanked by his wife, four children, one daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, knelt before Paek and bowed in a traditional Korean gesture of respect for family elders.

Paek and Lee became separated in the confusion of refugees scrambling to board river ferry boats at the start of the Korean War in 1950. Lee was 16 at the time.

While Lee stayed in the Stalinist North, believing that his family had never crossed over, Paek brought her four other children to South Korea, later emigrating to the United States, where she lives in Los Angeles.

Paek tracked her son down in the early 1990s after hearing about widespread hunger in North Korea.

She started sending money, clothing and food to Lee’s family through travelers and told the family she would help get them to South Korea once they had succeeded in crossing the China-North Korea border.

It was not clear when Lee’s family left North Korea and arrived in South Korea. Paek and South Korean officials refused to elaborate.

About 180 North Koreans have defected to South Korea this year, mostly through China, citing the North’s acute food shortage.


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