Remembering Kim Bok-dong halmuni

by Grace Ko

Friday morning started earlier than usual. I woke up immediately at the sound of my alarm.
I felt the weight of what today would be.

It began like any typical day. Mommy duties called: cuddles with J, diaper change, breakfast, wash-up and outfit change.

Then we packed into the car. I was the first of today’s drop-offs. First stop: train station.
With a few minutes to spare and to warm my fingertips, I got an Americano on my way to the train. The lull of the train ride felt oddly contradictory to the jittery anticipation I felt for the ensuing day’s events.
I pulled my phone out to see a message from my husband: today’s devotional titled “Deeper Love”.

I ran out of the train, and hopped into a cab, the driver navigating the busy streets of Central Seoul, skirting traffic for me. He turned on the radio, a Whitney Houston marathon. The first song? “The Greatest Love of All.”

Then I saw the crowd. I became one among hundreds, maybe even a thousand in front of the Japanese Embassy.


My toes and fingers became numb in the bitter cold but I didn’t dare complain at the thought of how Kim Bok-dong halmuni stood in that very spot every week for Wednesday rallies for over 25 years.

Inspired and challenged, by the stories shared, but also by the people gathered, I made a promise in my heart… to remember Kim Bok-dong halmuni forever.

But that day, my heart was broken, shattered by the stories. Stories from those who were closest to her. Stories of who Kim Bok-dong was, not just as a justice fighter, an activist, but who she was as a human, a woman, a daughter.

How she was but 14 years old when she was taken from her family at the mercy of the Japanese army.

How at 93 years old, battling cancer, she called out “엄마” (“Mom”) in pain.

How she longed for a family of her own but that dream was ripped away from her.

How she cared for justice everywhere, how she started a foundation to help other victims of sex slavery, how she apologized for Korea’s wrongdoings towards Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War.

How she gave every last won she had to help others.

How she wanted to fly like a butterfly… how she wanted us to wave a hand to say goodbye to her when she left this earth… a thousand waving hands gathered, a pool of tears left behind.


 “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”


Your life was worth far more than these stories, these anecdotes, these words.

You have taught us that despite evil, injustice and violence, we yearn for peace.

You showed us that suffering and hardship can strengthen our hope.

You fought relentlessly until the very end to give hope to future generations.

You displayed light even in darkness. Maybe your light shone brighter because of darkness.

Your sacrifice, your love will be remembered.

You will be remembered.