May in Gwangju - the city of light
The army had come not to disperse the demonstrators but to terminate them. Even demonstrators who were running away were chased down, into the dead-ends of alleyways, the interiors of private homes. No civilian was safe. Everyone was a target, regardless of age and sex. The soldiers slaughtered indiscriminately. The beaten and bloodied had their hands tied behind their backs with wires. Wearing nothing but underwear, they were loaded onto military trucks. No one knew where the trucks were going.
But the citizens of Gwangju refused to retreat. The demonstrators held together, woven like a net of iron chain mail. When the soldiers advanced, fitting their bayonets onto their rifles, the citizens would disperse – but only momentarily, before they flooded the streets again.
When darkness fell, the demonstrators multiplied. Everyone except infants and the elderly poured out into the streets. The streets were littered with broken pieces of pavement and gasoline bombs, and speckled with blackish red blood. The soldiers continued their ruthless hunt. The city became a battle ground, ringing with the sound of machine guns and the noise of helicopters. The vehicles burning on the streets poured out an endless cloud of black smoke.
Yoon Han-bong's sister, Yoon Kyung-ja, paced nervously in her house, carrying her son on her back. It was May 20, 1980 -- the demonstrators were waging a fierce battle against the soldiers in a street not far from her house. She listened to the sound of gunshots ringing out over the cries of demonstrators. Her heart was clamoring to burst its way out of her chest.
Her husband, Park Hyung-seon, had been arrested and dragged away by policemen last night. She had heard nothing from her brother for the past few days. The police had already come to her several times to threaten her – Did she know where her brother was? Was she hiding him? She was too terrified to sleep. She wanted to go out into the streets and see what was happening for herself but she couldn't make her baby inhale tear gas. Standing on tip toes, she peered out of her window into the darkness.
"Soldiers are coming. Run!"
There was a loud moment of panic, and then the protestors began to flee. Adrenaline pumped them over fences that would have been too tall for them to jump otherwise. But one man was walking slowly. He was a next-door neighbor, an aged pharmacist with four daughters. He thought he would be safe – after all, he had not been a part of the protest. He wore only his undershirt, a white one that caught the eyes of the soldiers. He went into his own house and locked the gate.
Yoon Kyung-ja watched as the soldiers ran after him, and broke down the gate of his house with their bayonets. They filed into the house. The pharmacist, alarmed, ran into his room. He tried to hold off the soldiers by holding the door rings closed, but the soldiers tore down the door. The pharmacist rolled out, screaming. The soldiers attacked him. The pharmacist's wife and daughters came out and wailed, begging the police to leave him alone – Can't you see? He's just an old man! He was just coming home from an errand! The soldiers turned on their heels and filed out of the house, leaving the pharmacist bleeding.
Yoon Kyung-ja looked toward the streets again, where the demonstrators were gathering once more. They fought through the night. At 9 p.m., the demonstrators set the building of a TV company on fire. At 4 a.m., another building of the company was burning, too. As Yoon Kyung-ja watched the flames go up, a low and cautious voice called to her.
"Chan! Chan!"[주 1]
She could identify the voice instantly. When she opened the door of her house, a man was standing there, his face masked. He held a long screwdriver and a wooden club. The moment he saw her, he crumpled on the ground.
Yoon Kyung-ja gasped. Then she shoved him away, turning him back toward the streets.
"Did you come here to die? Do you know how many times the police came to arrest you?"
Yoon had been protesting till dawn, and his strength was failing him. Every last muscle was starting to give. He was too exhausted to speak. Seeing that he didn't have the strength to flee, his sister dragged him inside and shut the door.
“You have to get out of this city now, ” she pleaded. “If you stay here, you'll die a dog's death. They're out to get you!”
Three days prior, May 17, 1980, martial law had been proclaimed by Jeon Doo-hwanj.[주 2] Most organizers of student movements were arrested overnight.
Yoon[주 3] was a known leader of Gwangju's student movement. He had predicted that the military would come down to Gwangju and had tried to prepare for such an attack. But no one had listened. He himself had only narrowly escaped immediate arrest.
Though he had avoided arrest, he now had no comrades that could help him lead an organized protest. He joined the ranks of the demonstrators as a lonely citizen. He shouted slogans, threw stones, and ran, going whichever way the crowd was going. He felt helpless, and fatigue engulfed him. And now, finally, he had come to his sister's house, resigned.
"Please, you have to go. All your comrades have already escaped to the countryside."
Yoon refused to listen to his sister's pleas. He was resolved to remain and fight alongside the demonstrators. Yoon Kyung-ja had no choice but to hide him in the closet. She gave him a bedpan and some food, and locked the closet door.
About two hours later, the elder brother, Yoon Kwang-jang, burst into the house. He had been looking for his brother all night, terrified that the police had gotten to him already. He woke up Yoon Han-bong, who had been sleeping in the closet.
"Han-bong, you have to leave this city immediately. If they arrest you, you'll never return alive. Leave quickly."
Yoon Kwang-jang had been a mentor to Yoon Han-bong. Stubborn as he was, Yoon Han-bong couldn't defy his older brother.
Yoon Han-bong and Yoon Kyung-ja walked through the streets together, tensing at every gunshot they heard. They parted at the outskirts of the city. Yoon Kyung-ja stuffed her brother into a taxi – “Drop him off somewhere far, far away from here.”
On May 27, 1980, Yoon heard that all surviving leaders of the resistance had been arrested, and Yoon Sang-won, the last of them, had been shot dead by soldiers. Yoon Han-bong and Yoon Sang-won were the two leaders of the Gwangju Uprising. Yoon Han-bong had been an activist for longer – he had been arrested in 1974 for participating in the National Federation of Democratic Youths and Students, and had led the movement since his release from prison the next year. He was well-known, and wanted by the police. Yoon Sang-won had more recently joined the movement, and the police had not been following him as doggedly. And yet, he was dead. At the news of his comrade's death, Yoon Han-bong stared at the ground, filled with shame and remorse.
When Yoon fled from Gwangju, where did he go? What was his life as a refugee like? It's hard to say, because he left no records around this time, not even a notebook of scribbles. We can only piece his life together from Park Hyo-seon's work. Park Hyo-seon was a playwright, a refugee alongside Yoon. Their lives were as such:
A disciplined life.
Get up at 5 a.m.
A sincere life.
At intervals when the family sleeps
use the toilet.
A quick bowel movement, and then
wash my face and brush my teeth.
Wipe down the floor
and tidy the room.
Read the newspaper quickly
and put it back in its place.
A disciplined life.
Lock the gate all the time.
Do not turn the light on at night.
Read books under sunlight.
Sleep under moonlight.
Do some household chores.
A compact life.
For the sake of the movement.
For the victory of the movement.
Jeong Yong-hwa was Yoon's close comrade. Jeong took care of Yoon while Yoon was in exile, tending to every detail. One day, Jeong visited Yoon without warning.
“You have to go down to Masan harbor right now. Board the ship there. We don't have time. It is dangerous for you to get on the bus by yourself. Have Eun-kyung accompany you."
Eun-kyung, a devoted minister, was in charge of putting Yoon in contact with others. As promised, she came in an hour. Yoon, who had spent all his time shut up in his room, looked pale and sickly. With Eun-kyung pretending to be Yoon's sister, the two of them got on the bus to Masan.
Two men were waiting for them in Masan – Jung Chan-dae and Choi Dong-hyun, an engineer and a navigator on a cargo ship called the Leopard. They took on the daring task of providing Yoon a secret passage out of Korea. Upon Yoon's arrival, all of them went to an inn to review the plans for the smuggling operation.
According to Jung Chan-dae and Choi Dong-hyun, the ship was a merchant vessel of 35 thousand tons and a crew of 27 sailors. On April 30th, it was scheduled to leave the harbor in ballast. In Australia, the ship would pick up aluminum, and then sail towards America. In total, a 40 day trip.
There were three major hurdles. First, Yoon had to steal into the cargo. Second, he had to pass through customs in Australia. Third, he also had to pass through customs in America.
They reviewed the plan:
To get on the boat: Yoon dresses like a sailor. Jung Chan-dae and Choi Dong-hyun put their arms around him, and the three of them stagger through the gates pretending to be drunk.
To get off the boat: Someone has promised to help when the boat reaches its destination. He'll get on the ship, pretending to be a minister. He'll identify himself through code: He'll ask Jung Chan-dae, “What flower do you like?” Jung Chan-dae will reply, “I like garden balsams. You?” The helper will reply, “I like azaleas.” If all goes according to plan, Jung Chan-dae will deliver Yoon to the helper.
Yoon successfully boarded the Leopard the day before the ship set sail and hid in a toilet stall. On the day the Leopard left the harbor, Jung Chan-dae and Choi Dong-hyun brought Yoon some money and emergency provisions – dried anchovies, dried shrimps, bread, jam, a towel, and some toothpaste. Later, in the evening, Choi Dong-hyun came down to inform Yoon that the ship had just left the territorial waters of Korea. He was really, truly leaving behind his homeland. Yoon leaned against the wall and wept himself to sleep. “Martyrs of the Gwangju Uprising, may you forgive me for fleeing. Please guide me so that one day I might return and finish the work you left behind.”
For 35 days, Yoon hid in the toilet stall of the patient's room. Since there were no patients on board, no one used the bathroom there, but Yoon hung an “out of order” sign on the door just in case. The toilet stall shared a wall with the corridor where the sailors slept, so he had to be extremely careful not to make any sound.
The men who were helping Yoon leave the country offered to sneak in food for him, but Yoon thought this was too big a risk. During the trip, he only ate the food he had brought with him. Every day, he allowed himself to eat three pine nuts, one dried anchovy, one dried shrimp, and one slice of bread with some jelly.
But worse than the starvation was the heat. The ship had to pass over the equator twice, once when it sailed from Korea to Australia and once again when it sailed from Australia to America. The walled-in, under-ventilated toilet stall was like an oven. The murderous heat, reaching over 50 degrees Celsius, caused Yoon's skin to bubble over with boils.
The Leopard arrived in America two days earlier than expected. Minister Harvey, [주 4] in Seattle, alarmed to hear from the manager of the Leopard that the ship would dock in just a few hours. He quickly contacted Elder Kim Dong-geun and his wife, Kim Jin-sook.
Mrs. Kim, who received the news from Harvey, hurried to board on the ship, accompanying an American minister. She was clever – she delivered a note to all sailors, inviting them to come have dinner at her house at any time. Jung Chan-dae and Choi Dong-hyun, who received the note with her address on it, were able to take Yoon to her house. When Yoon arrived at Kim's house, he was but a skeleton.
Starting his new life in America, Yoon vowed not to forget the sacrifices others had made in Gwangju.
I'll never forget those who fell in Gwangju. I'll live a life that honors their sacrifice. I'll continue the fight, so that one day I'll be able to return home without shame. I'll continue the fight, so that one day I'll be able to forgive myself for running away.
Yoon Han-bong's nickname was “Habsoo.” Literally, it means the convergence of water, and the term is used in the Korean countryside to refer to a mix of dung and urine, used as fertilizer in the fields. Yoon wanted to become a fertilizer that would help sprout a more just world.
Yoon had personal rules for his own life: First, I will not use English.[주 5] Second, I will not shower. Third, I will not sleep in a bed.[주 6] Fourth, I will not loosen my belt, even while sleeping. As I did in Korea, I will also continue to live without accumulating personal property.
The only pleasure that he permitted himself was smoking. From the moment he was up, Yoon smoked incessantly. He attempted to quit several times because the cigarettes caused him breathing problems, but he was unsuccessful. Even this small indulgence he found utterly distasteful.
Aid for the victims of Gwangju
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.
Founding a School—Community Center
Overcome with grief and guilt, Yoon began to fast. Hong fasted alongside him. The two endured ten days of fasting, which they dedicated to their fallen comrade. During their fast, Yoon committed to becoming more proactive in the fight for democracy.
Incidentally, around this time, events in Korea freed Yoon from the need to hide his identity. In Korea, a group of teachers had been arrested under the suspicion that they were trying to overthrow the regime. During the investigation, the police learned that these teachers had met with Yoon Han-bong. Under torture, the teachers confessed that Yoon had escaped to America. This fact became public knowledge. Yoon's cover was blown. Yoon actually welcomed this change – now there was no need to use an alias, no need to lay low, and he could come out of hiding and organize.
Yoon immediately launched an organization in December. His vision for the organization spanned ten years. First, he wanted to organize the local young adult youth organizations for Korean immigrants and form a local grassroots organization. Then, he would unite these local grassroots organizations to establish a nation-wide youth organization. He envisioned having a Korean young adult and youth organization not only in America but also in Europe, Australia, Canada, and Japan. It was an ambitious plan.
The first step was to secure a home base, a place that could accommodate all the members. Yoon envisioned a community center where Korean immigrants could gather and learn about their common heritage. For the community center in Los Angeles, he proposed the title, “Korean Resource Center” – a school that would become a resource center for Korean culture, history and activism.
Yoon had saved a little less than 2,000 dollars, which was an emergency fund, in case he needed to escape. The hope of having his own room in America was entirely out of his reach. Yet he was able to found the Korean Resource Center (called “Min Jok Hak Gyo” in Korean meaning “Korean National School”) which opened on February 5, 1983.
No one had managed to establish a Korean institute in America before – not Seo Jae-phil nor Lee Syngman. Yoon registered the school as a nonprofit organization and received tax exemption status from the government. Choi Jin-hwan was the chairman of the board of directors of the school and Jeon Jin-ho became its first the principal. Hong Ki-wan quit his job and worked at the school full-time.
Know your roots
Live with integrity
This was written in Hangul on the placard inside the school. These three mantras were the living tenets of the school.
Yoon was the “keeper” of the school – he was literally the janitor. Yoon polished every inch of the school. He scrubbed the floors on his knees and cleaned every inch of the window frames with a rag. There was not an opportunity for dust to settle anywhere.
In two months, Yoon decided to move into the school. He was living in extreme poverty by this time – for meals he made do with rice and water, and a few dried anchovies dipped in pepper sauce. When someone bought him a meal, he would wrap up any leftovers so he could eat them later. Those who pitied him occasionally brought him something to eat - Kil Joo Lee, a vocal performer, had especially cared for Yoon and other people working for the school. Once, Yoon said to her, “I think you must have been a bird in your former life. A bird who sings on tree tops all day long.”
Yoon washed dishes in the bathroom. Because it was forbidden to live in the office, he had to hide himself whenever he heard anyone walk past. He slept on the floor of building and smoked the butts of cigarettes thrown away on the streets. He wore whatever hand-me-downs he could get his hands on.
Despite the difficulties, Yoon and his colleagues lived happily by caring for one another. They helped each other endure days of hunger, of loneliness, of darkness.
Yoon tried to raise support for his school in the immigrant community. “Our school will teach young Korean immigrants their heritage. They will learn to live as proud Koreans in America. We are volunteer teachers who hope to raise awareness of Korean history and culture. Your help would be greatly appreciated.”
Initially, the Korean American communities were enthusiastic about Yoon's school. However, as strange rumors were perpetrated to sabotage the school, the sentiment changed.
Yoon is an agent, planted by the South Korean government. He's secretly trying to destroy the Korean immigrant movement for Korea's democracy and unification.
Yoon supposedly got here on a cargo ship, but nobody saw him get off that ship. How could he have passed customs without the protection of authorities? It's impossible!
It looks like he really did fight for democracy in Korea. But maybe he was tortured into changing his mind.
The source of these malicious rumors was the Korean consulate. As part of the Korean government's scheme to isolate Yoon, the consulate slandered him and spread suspicion among local immigrants. Their scheme was effective – Yoon denied these accusations, but he had no standing in the immigrant community. He was unable to stop the rumors, even the most preposterous of them.
Yoon is a spy, dispatched from North Korea.
A portrait of Kim Il-seong is hung in the school. And I've heard they fly the flag of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
I've heard that people sometimes just evaporate in that school. Gone, into thin air!
Live with integrity
Even when many directors of the school thought the Korean Resource Center would inevitably close its doors, Yoon had faith. He believed that he could find a way to keep it going in spite of the malicious rumors.
In May, 1983, hundreds of Koreans gathered in Los Angeles for a special lecture in remembrance of the Gwangju Uprising, and Yoon was invited as the lecturer.
When Yoon stepped up to the podium, the audience was astonished – That man was Yoon Han-bong? The man who stirred up so much controversy? But he was such a tiny, meek figure! That man was supposedly a spy.
Though his eyes glimmered with determination, the smile on his lips was shy. His voice was timid, almost tremulous. He was not the charismatic and eloquent speaker the audience had expected.
This was Yoon's first occasion to give a public speech. He didn't have notes nor index cards for his presentation. As he bowed to the hostile audience and began revealing the story of his life – how he escaped from Korea, how his application for asylum as a political refugee was rejected by the U.S. government. Finally, Yoon gave a detailed account of the Gwangju Uprising and asked the audience to support the fight for democracy in Korea.
This and consequent lectures slowed the spread of the malicious rumors. Yoon began to win support. But Yoon still needed to find the money to sustain the Korean Resource Center. So he began a business venture. Yoon collected a number of eastern and western paintings, as well as works of calligraphy. The poet Kim Ji-ha sent him dozens of paintings. Hong Ki-wan, being an excellent woodworker, framed the art pieces.
Yoon and his friends also sold secondhand goods, such as electronics, cutlery, toys, clothes, and shoe at the flea market. In their spare time, they collected empty cans on the street and sold them for recycling refunds.
Yoon was passionate about collecting books. It was not easy to find books in Korean in America, and on the off chance he did find one, his school could not afford to buy them. He certainly couldn't afford to buy a copy for all his students. Instead, he photocopied the books.
Yoon was also known for his sense of humor. He wrote up a list of sins that would condemn one to hell – for instance, “the sin of pressuring someone else to drink, ” and “the sin of tearing out the best part of a novel.” To this list, he added “the sin of possessing books privately.” He would jokingly threaten his friends as he requested donations from them – You don't want to go to hell for keeping a good book to yourself, do you? And thus the KRC library grew through donations.
The most difficult issue was the recruitment of students. Yoon taught history, Hong Ki-wan opened a lecture on Taekwondo, and Jeon Ji-ho opened a literature class, but almost nobody showed up.
On lecture days, Yoon was anxious all day. As the lecture time drew near, Yoon would chain smoke in the parking lot. He kept looking around at the people and cars passing by, hoping the car would pull up and bring new students.
Once, they held a class on Korean songs, but not a single student showed up. The four teachers sat around awkwardly. Then they began class, singing children's songs at the top of their lungs until their voices went hoarse.
It took half a year for the school to start gathering students. Those who came took an immediate liking to Yoon. He was an earnest teacher, lecturing for hours on end. Though some of his students were fifteen years younger than him, Yoon did not let them call him teacher or sir. They were all brothers – Yoon emphasized camaraderie rather than his own authority. His students, charmed by Yoon's humbleness and passion, began to bring their friends to school. As the student population increased, the school, once shunned and isolated, grew to become a new force in the Korean immigrant community.
A country boy
In October, 1983, as the school was shaping up, Yoon initiated a new organization, called the Young Koreans United (YKU). The inaugural meeting was held in a trade union building in San Francisco on January 1 of 1984. About a dozen students from Yoon's school attended, as well as a few young men from Chicago and New York who had heard about the school.
The following is Lee Jong-rok's description of the YKU:
I first heard of Yoon around 1984. I heard he was a student activist who had smuggled himself overseas secretly. It was quite the mystery. Why did he flee not to Japan but to America? At the time it sounded like a myth.
A friend of mine at Yale said he'd met Yoon in Boston once. This was in 1984, when Yoon was going around the main cities of America where there were large populations of Koreans. My friend said Yoon, at a glance, looked like he belonged in a farm. He was dressed simply, and he spoke very plainly. The Ivy-League students who met him thought of him as an inferior.
But then one day my friend got into an argument with Yoon. It lasted all night. At first, my friend was very sure of himself. But as the night wore on, he became more and more convinced by Yoon's rough, simple speech. And by morning, he'd entirely changed his mind.
Since then, my friend played an important role in organizing the Boston branch of the YKU. My friend said he realized that night that the intellectuals – himself included – were far removed from reality, whereas Yoon was passionate and invested in that reality because he lived in it. He was an activist, and not a political commentator. He had a way of breaking down the intellectual elitism in educated young men, and convincing them to become involved and to take action as a part of an organization, of a movement.
A letter from Seattle
Yoon founded branches of the YKU throughout the U.S. Every year the delegates of each branch met at a yearly conference in either New York or Los Angeles. The atmosphere at these conferences was serious, almost to the point of hostility. First, each region reported their activities and plans. Next, a member, who was appointed his task in advance, reported on the international and national political situation. After the report, all the members engaged in discussion. The highlight of the meeting was Yoon's evaluation.
Yoon did not take notes, yet he remembered every detail of the reports. He critiqued each report, and no flaw escaped his cutting criticism, but Yoon never spoke in anger. During discussion, Yoon refrained from using ornate language. He always spoke plainly. Sometimes, he even used vulgar comparisons and metaphors to make his point. Even those that were being criticized couldn't help but burst out in laughter.
The most complicated international relations were easily unraveled by Yoon. He said, “International relations isn't about what's right and what's wrong. It's about economic choice – gain and loss. If you understand what each party is after, you can understand why they make the choices that they do.” Yoon's explanations were easy to comprehend because he spoke in layman's terms and without jargon. He preferred to speak this way, not because he lacked knowledge of the theories of political criticism, but rather that he simply disliked lofty, pseudo-intelligent speech.
In 1985, a few young men began to meet in Seattle. One of them was Lee Jong-rok. Lee Jong-rok was a self-confessed intellectual snob. The first time Lee met Yoon, he was bewildered by Yoon's shabby appearance and nasal voice; this was not the political leader that Lee had expected. Yoon looked as scruffy as a country boy. But soon enough Lee became Yoon's follower and respectfully called him hyung, [주 7] despite the fact that Yoon was four years younger. Lee was convinced that Yoon was, as Yoon claimed, the fertilizer from which a new world would sprout.
Continue reading in: Overseas activism
- Chan is Kyung-ja's son's name. It was common to call mothers by their son's name.
- After Park Chung-hee was assassinated, Jeon Doo-hwan took over through a military coup'detat in 1979.
- Yoon is the family name and Han-bong is the first name. In Korea, the family name is placed before the first name. This book will use the Korean notation method. Also, recurring full names will be shortened to the family name.
- Pastor Kang Shin-seok and Elder Jo A-ra in Gwangju contacted Reverend Harvey in Washington D.C. through Lee Hak-in and Kim Yong-seok. Reverend Harvey was the director of the North American Coalition for Human Rights in Korea. Reverend Harvey, with the cooperation of Senator Edward Kennedy, aided Yoon's passage into the U.S.
- According to members of YKU, Yoon had no problem understanding English when he was working with activists from different countries. It seems likely that he decided not to use English in order to avoid losing touch with his Korean roots.
- Showering and sleeping in a bed are American customs, which Yoon did not want to follow. By “not loosening his belt”, he was proclaiming that he would maintain alert even while sleeping. He was constantly reminding himself that he owed a debt to the martyrs of the Gwangju Uprising.
- Literally meaning “older brother” in Korean, used by men to speak of men who are older.