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Nim Churl-Jin
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Patriot
    South Korean nationalist
    Joined the Communist guerilla forces as an ordinance officer, in the mountains of South Korea, when they overran the South Jeolla (Chollanamdo) province, in the summer of 1950
    Became disillusioned with the Communist guerrillas he had pledged allegiance to, after witnessing atrocities on civilians
    Defected after surrendering to local police in the village of Sunchang, along with a fellow ex-guerilla
    Was found sitting behind bars in police headquarters by Life Magazine foreign correspondent/photographer, Margaret Bourke-White, who learned of his homesick desire to return home
    Reunion was arranged by Bourke-White through the South Korean National Police; after attaining permission, drove south with Bourke-White for two days until they reached his home village of Choho-ri
    Churl-Jin's iconic meeting with his wife, mother, and infant son, was photographed and ran as a lead story in an issue of Life Magazine (Dec. 1, 1952)
    Has widely been considered, including by Bourke-White herself, to be the most significant photograph of her career
    He was financially well-off compared to most of his neighbors, living in one of the largest houses in the village.
    Margaret's expense account for the trip read as follows: 'a hotel room for two nights for tame guerilla.'
    By the time he and Bourke-White arrived in the village, his mother had gone to visit relatives in a village five miles away.
    Being the main, and perhaps only, reason that Margaret had gone to such trouble to reunite him with his family, the two were prompted into a frantic jeep search to find her before nightfall (she wanted the reunion photo for the magazine).
    His older brother, Chur Kun, was head of the conservative Tae Han Youth Corps, was sent into hiding when the Communists overran the village (of all people, Churl-Jin was terrified of facing him again).
    At some point during the return, his brother approached him tearfully shaking his fist yelling 'you have hurt our country! What crime have you committed that you come back to us again?' (he hung his head and responded 'I have wiped out my old crime with my surrender').
    It remains unclear as to what became of him after the reunion photo was taken, and published, by Margaret Bourke-White. Presumably, he went on to happily live the rest of his life in the village he had been so eager to return to, but it has never been documented.
    He developed bad lungs and a whooping cough while in the mountains.
    He had been beaten for coughing because the sound could give away the insurgents' position.
    He was charged with the thankless task of making bullets & grenades with beer cans filled with glass and metal chips.
    He escaped from imprisonment at the Koje Island Prison camp (only to surrender himself to the South Korean police, in the mountains).
    He had long since been given up for dead by his wife and mother, in the two years following his joining the Communist guerillas.
    Until her encounter with him and his comrade, Bourke-White had been on the verge of giving up on trying to communicate with the Korean insurgents, since most of them refused to share any personal details about their background.
    Just as the sun thinned out, he was able to make out the image of an old woman with a cane in the rice fields. Identifying her as his mother, he leapt out of the jeep with Margaret stumbling after him.
    By the time she made it to the two, his mother was tearfully cradling him, while singing a broken lullaby. She also reportedly said 'I am dreaming my son is dead.'
    Equally moving was the image captured of his wife thrusting their two-year old son, whom he had never met, into Churl-Jin's arms.
    Margaret Bourke-White wrote that after the 'spinning wheel' photo of Gandhi during her India trip, her Nim Churl-Jim story was 'the most human story' she ever did.
    When a Life magazine colleague asked her what was different about taking the reunion photos, she said very simply 'this time my heart was moved' (she allegedly cried when she photographed the two).
    The significance his homecoming photos, for Western readers, was its representing a symbolic and spiritual triumph over the Communists shown by his reunion with his family (it also shut down accusations that Bourke-White was a Communist sympathizer, once and for all).

Credit: BoyWiththeGreenHair


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