They had to act quickly. If they stayed on the mountains they were surely going to be caught. So, they went down to the Han River.
Since the bridges were blown, small boats attempted to shuttle the fleeing refugees across the river into relative safety, but when the boats landed on shore, the swarm of people would overload the boats so that their edges would be flush with the water’s surface. Inevitably, somewhere along their journey across the river, the boat would tip and sink and many would drown. Dead if they don’t cross, yet dead if they tried. After seeing the boats sink, other boats didn’t dare come to shore. It was a stalemate, and the Communists were close behind them.
While my family were thinking about how to cross, some South Korean soldiers came to shore, and one of the men was badly wounded. The officer of the group called out to the sailors, but they refused to come. So he pulled out his gun and fired a shot to get their attention, and finally, a boat reluctantly came to shore.
Right when the boat came up, my grandfather put his whole family onto the boat before the soldiers, then the soldiers got on, and then the crush of the crowd came so that the boat was about to sink. The officer told them to stop coming on, but they refused, knowing that if they stayed that they would either die or be captured. But the officer again pulled out his gun, this time against the onrushers, and threatened to shoot if they didn’t get off the boat. Staring down the barrel of the gun, they considered their chances, but ended up leaving the boat one by one.
When the last one in front of the soldiers came off, my granddad jumped into the water, and pushed the boat from shore to keep others from coming on. He begged the soldiers to allow his family to stay, and he tearfully told his family that he would swim across and meet them on the other side. The officer, moved by this display of sacrifice, allowed my grandfather to come back onto the boat. They were the only ones that crossed, and in that moment, whether it was sheer luck or a God-given blessing, my family’s survival was secured.
Their troubles weren’t completely over. They hitchhiked on trains toward the south, and sometimes the engines would detach and leave for hours, but they always came back. Sometimes, they rode on roofs, and other times they jumped into coal cars and were covered with soot. And one time, an American plane mistook his orders and sprayed their train with bullets. But they made it down to Pusan in one piece.
I find it easy to admire my grandfather’s sharp mind and quick instincts. He kept his family alive through street smarts and improvisation. Because of him, I get a chance to live today. My dad’s like that too, and when you add his ease with people, he’s quite a charismatic force. And he has used those gifts to minister to others. Ask my dad about his life, and he’d tell you that he has no regrets.
As for me, I’m in a line of great men. I never met my grandpa — he died of stomach cancer when I was a toddler. But I know my dad. And if my life is half the life of my father’s, then my life would be a success.
If my dad were thinking about his own dad, he’d probably say the same thing.