At last, on July 21, the International Peace March began, starting the seven day journey from the top of Baekdoo Mountain to the DMZ. YKU’s traditional percussion quartet led the way. Lee Jong-rok of Seattle, who participated in the march, recalls:
The 13th ' World Festival of Youth and Students' was held in Pyeongyang from July 1st to July 7th, 1989. North Korea was very invested in the success of this event, and had invited youths and students from around the world. That’s when Yoon suggested this almost fantastic idea – to have YKU members march for the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
This reckless and absurd plan was solely Yoon’s idea. He planned and executed almost everything himself, keeping many details secret until the last minute. Jeong-min, the captain of the march, and Jeong Ki-yeol, the vice-captain of the march, were let in on the details of the plan only after they were appointed their positions. Every day Yoon gave detailed guidelines to the members – it was almost as if he was there in person. His code of conduct for the YKU during the march went something like this:
- The YKU is responsible for this march. Act accordingly.
- The aim of the march is to lay the foundation for peaceful reunification.
- Do not display the corrupt habits of rich nations in front of North Korean citizens.
- Show respect towards North Koreans.
- Stay with the crowd. Don’t act alone.
- Don’t take photos privately. The only recording allowed is the official video.
- YKU members must bring up the rear. Don’t lead the march.
- YKU members must receive permission from the general manager before having contact with the media.
- Don’t approach Lim Soo-kyung unnecessarily.
After the World Festival of Youth and Students, Jeong Gi-yeol diligently recruited foreigner participants for the march. On July 20, the day the march began, 400 people from 30 countries were present.
There were a total of 270 participants in all - 85 foreign participants from 30 countries, 113 Korean immigrants, and 70 North Koreans. Lim Soo-kyung and Moon Kyi-hyun, a priest, also participated.
The North Korean citizens who witnessed the march were overwhelmingly welcoming and supportive. At every alley that the YKU marched into, the residents lined the streets to wave at them and chant for reunification. Everyone was in tears.
The participants of the march were touched by the encouragement from the North Korean citizens. Though it was a hot and humid monsoon season, the participants cried out tirelessly for peace and reunification. They cried so much that they hardly had tears left to shed. One participant and member of the YKU New York branch, Kim Gap-song, recalls:
“This was the biggest incident since the Korean War. When the news came on the TV, a bell would ring, and the announcement always started with news about Kim Il-sung. But during the march, there was none of that. The bell would ring, and the news started by covering the march. From the point of view of the North Korean government, the whole event must have been frightening. They try so hard to obscure what life is like for their citizens, and now there was a march witnessing all of it. I cried ‘til my tearducts were dry. Every new person we met along the way was overcome with tears.”
The march from Baekdoo Mountain to Panmunjeom was quite sensational. Just as South Korea's morning news started with a speech from President Cheon Doo-hwan, North Korea's news started with a segment on Premier Kim Il-sung. But during the march, news about Kim Il-sung was moved back so that the march could be covered first. Lim Soo-kyung appeared in the news wearing jeans – this was shocking to North Koreans. Even North Korean officers had to admit that the march was the biggest event since the Korean War.
The International Peace March organized by the YKU could be seen as the pinnacle of Yoon Han-bong’s achievement in the Korean immigrant movement. He managed to orchestrate an event calling for reunification without the aid of the North Korean government or the South Korean government – something that had never been done before, and something that has never been done since.