Since dedicating himself to the democratic movement, Yoon’s personal possessions had dwindled to almost nothing. He didn’t even have a bank account. What little he did own were all kept in his tote bag.
There were a number of necessities in the bag; socks, pants, toothpaste, a brush, a comb, a nail cutter, etc. Yoon carried this bag with him as he slept at the homes of his comrades. He wore hand-me-downs from friends and a pair of worn-down sneakers.
Yoon turned down any official job titles or ranks. Even in the organization he set up, he didn't hold an official position. He referred to himself as a fertilizer – something insignificant to be rotted away for the benefit of others.
Yoon also spoke his mind freely. He paid no heed to anyone of any rank. In fact, he was most outspoken against the powerful. Naturally, this earned him both friends and foes. There were many who did not appreciate having their conscience prickled by Yoon’s sharp criticism. On the other hand, there were those who found Yoon trustworthy and brave.
One such person was Hong Ki-wan, who had immigrated to Los Angeles in the early 1970s. He was a hot-blooded man with a strong sense of justice. He and Yoon were of the same age, and the two became friends.
When he met Yoon, Hong was a married man with two sons, and had a stable job as a carpenter. But his friendship with Yoon changed his life. Though he and Yoon argued often, sometimes screaming at each other at the top of their lungs, the two were best friends who encouraged each other in difficult times.
A few other people gathered around Yoon and Hong. At first, about five people gathered together without any official organization title. Later, they called their meeting “Association of Supporters for the Victims of the Gwangju Uprising.” They collected small funds to support those wounded and the bereaved in the Gwangju Uprising. From June of 1982, they held a meeting once a month, and collected money. Yoon believed that this association could bring awareness about what really happened in Gwangju to the Korean immigrants in America.
Since all members of the association were supposed to donate some amount of money, Yoon needed a job and an income. But it was not easy for him to find employment. The immigrations office would not grant him refugee status. Instead, they gave him the right to work. But it was difficult for Yoon to find work as an immigrant.
In October of 1982, Yoon received tragic news: Park Kwan-hyun, the student council president of Chonnam National University, had died in prison during his hunger strike. Park Kwan-hyun was a junior comrade of Yoon’s. On May 16, 1980, Park had led the rally in front of city hall, where his impassioned speech moved the citizens.
“If Chun Doo-hwan and his new military group issue a martial law, let us fight, to the last man, against those violent gangs, for our liberty, our equality and our democracy.'
Three days prior to the Gwangju Uprising, Yoon met with Park to encourage him. Yoon had told him to hold strong and continue the fight against military suppression. These would be the last words Yoon spoke to Park.
As Yoon always did when he was lonely and sad, he sat in a corner to smoke and weep. He was still not over Yoon Sang-won’s death and yet, too soon, death had claimed another dear comrade. Yoon felt guilty for surviving – he wanted to kill himself.