Chahee Lee Stanfield

Address at the Dirksen Senate Building

Address at Harvard University

    Kennedy School

Dirksen Pro.jpg

I am a retired librarian.  When librarians tell stories, they often begin with the phrase,

once upon a time, and end with the phrase, they all lived together happily ever after.  But this evening, I am going to tell you a real story, a story about my family which is one of a million divided family stories.  In the end we didnt live together happily ever after.


It all started more than 55 years ago.  I was born in a mountain village called Daputaher in Manchuria, which was a Korean guerilla hideout when Korea was under Japanese rule.  My father (See his picture in the family album on the Home Page) had 120 to 150 men cultivating agricultural land in Dapuchaher, and during the day they worked in the fields, but at night they were armed to protect the village from bandits, which were common in those days.  According to the area history, my father provided food and weapons to the Korean guerillas, and one of the leaders was the future Prime Minister Kim Il Sung, and one of the guerillas was my fathers brother.  My father also built the road between Doonhwa and Dapuchaher, which was about a four hour drive, and that road was built ideal for the Koreans to ambush the Japanese soldiers.  In summer of 1988, I went to China to find out what happened to my father and took the road to Dapuchaher which had been a legendary road in my childhood dreams in the land of the old Korea Dynasty.


When World War II was over, my family decided to return home, to Taegu Korea.  My mother, my brothers and sisters, and I left for South Korea, but my father and one of my brothers, Oong Hee stayed behind to wrap up the business.  They were to join us in Taegu in a week or so.  That was it!  That was the last time we saw my father and my brother.  That was how my family was split forever.  But right after we left, the border between China and North Korea was closed, and my father and brother became trapped in Manchuria.  In the late 1940s, there were riots in Manchuria, and the Chinese government gave my father troops and asked him to put down the riots, and my father did.  As a reward, the Chinese government granted my fathers wish to move to move to North Korea, and they moved.


In 1992, my nephew, who was a Methodist church minister in Chicago, visited North Korea with a group of ministers.  When he arrived in North Korea, he mentioned my fathers name to the guide.  The next day when he came back to the hotel from his meeting,  surprisingly, Oong Hee was waiting for him.  After that, Oonghee had written to me three times, but at the end of the 1990s, his letters abruptly stopped.

I dont know whether he is still alive or not, but I know at least what happened to my father. 


Shortly after my father and Oong Hee arrived in North Korea in 1950, the Korean War broke out, and Oonghee was conscripted into the North Korean army and fought for North Korea while my three other brothers fought for South Korea, and one of them was killed.  When the Korean War was over and Oonghee returned home, the 38th parallel was drawn between South Korea and North Korea.  This time my father and brother became trapped in North Korea. 


My father realized that he had a long and difficult road ahead of him to reunite with his family.  At the age of 54 in North Korea, he started running marathons, and later he became well-known as an educator, inspirational speaker, and athlete.  They called him Chullima Halabuz.  Chullima is a legendary horse which runs long distances, and Halbuzi means grandpa.  At prime minister Kim Il Sungs request, they made a movie about my fathers life, and it was entitled Lee Sang Moon, the 60 year-old youth.  In March or April 1994, a group of North Koreans visited Chicago, and the leader, Chairman Lee Jong Hyuck, told me that my father had passed away, and his movie had been shown again on TV in December of the previous year.


I have a picture from a North Korean magazine article showing my father crossing a marathon goal line at the age of 73.  It says, Lee Sang Moon is 73 years old now.  But he still competes with the young people in marathons covering the regular distance with good results.


My father thought he could beat time as long as he could run, but it wasnt so.  He died

from food poisoning the next year.  He was a worrier and a hero for his ill fated country, but wild poisonous greens, which someone had cooked, ended his life with his dream of reuniting his family.  On his death bed, he put up a fight.  He wanted to beat death as he had done so many obstacles in his life, but in the end like millions of other divided family members, he yielded to death. When all the strength went out of his body, he asked his son to bury him on the hill facing the south which he had visited whenever he had time. 

On September 22, 2001, Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk took us to meet Secretary of State Colin Powell and at the meeting, the US policy on the divided

families was adopted.  The policy was that when the United States had a normal relationship with North Korea, the divided family issue would be dealt with as a top priority.  A resolution supporting the policy was adopted in the Congress and in the Senate a few months later.  And it brought hope to the Korean American community. One day five gentlemen visited me in the library.  They told me about their families in North Korea in tears.  They knew their worst enemy was time, and they knew they had only a few years left at most.  But they believed in our government, and they renewed their hope to see their family members again.  


In April, 2006, a reporter from USA Today called me and said that she wanted to interview some divided family members.  I tried to contact the five old men and found out that they were all gone.  Three of them had passed away, one was in a nursing home, and one had become sick and moved to his daughters in North Carolina. 


I remember those five men so vividly just like it was yesterday.  I saw my fathers tears, fears, and hopes in them.  The last 10 years have been the most brutal years to us, and most divided family members I knew have passed away one by one.  Unlike the South Korean divided family members, who can take a few hours trip in their wheel chairs to North Korea, most Korean-American divided family members are no longer able to handle the process physically, mentally, and economically.  Most of us are at the very end of our lives. 


Things dont look good.  Now its up to the North Koreans.  They have to open their hearts.  They have to show the world that they have hearts.  We are a good humanitarian card, which can be a good cause to bring good things to them.  If they choose not to use it, it will be useless.  But if they want to use it, they have to do it now because it is going to expire very soon.


We have had Congressman Kirk working hard for us for the last 10 years.  He has been fighting against time with us.  But time has never stopped zeroing in on us, and it is choking us now while the Six-Party-Talks situation has given a green light all along to time. 


There are no fairy tale stories of living together happily ever after in the divided family stories.  But something good and unexpected came out of this.  The children of our children who were born and raised in this country have come back to their old

tragic roots with their Excellence, leadership, and goodness.  They are saying to us, dont worry about your language problems or cultural barrier.  Now we are tackling the issue with you.  It took a 25 year-old young lady named Alice Suh to build a road to our first divided family bill signed by President Bush and the second bill signed by President Obama.  Now we have a new team on board, and I am so proud of them.  Ladies and Gentle, they are your friends.  Jason Ahn, Eugene Chung and their team. 


I am 69 years old now.  When I get off the stage and all the lights are turned off,

my legacy wont be as glorious as my fathers with the crowd cheering him at the end of a marathon at the age of 73.  But at least I have told you my story this evening while millions of other divided family members including my mother and my brothers took their stories to their graves.  When you leave this building, our stories will be fading away from your memories.  But if someday, somewhere, something triggers you to remember that you have a heritage with a chapter, or there is a human tragedy called the divided families with their tears, fears, hopes, and stories they had kept inside of them for more than 55 years, my job tonight is done.  Thank you for being here, and thank Jason, Eugene, and their team for having me here, and for your hard work to make this event happen.