Despite the sacrifices of soldiers, police, firefighters, etc.
The reality is that it is difficult to receive recognition for deaths in the line of duty.
Don’t forget to provide appropriate support and memorial services
There was resonance in the tears of the firefighter who lost his colleague. For a split second, I caught a glimpse of the sadness of those left behind. Their eyes were red and bloodshot. This was at the funeral ceremony for the late Fire Chief Kim Soo-kwang and the late Firefighter Park Soo-hoon held at the Mungyeong Fire Station in Gyeongsangbuk-do on the 3rd. The reason why major daily newspapers published pictures of the funeral ceremony all at once on the 5th may be no different. Fire Chief Kim and Fire Brigade Park were unable to avoid the fire that suddenly spread while struggling with flames at the fire site of a meat processing plant in Mungyeong, Gyeongsangbuk-do, around 7:47 pm on the 31st of last month. We also let go of two young, young firefighters.
It reminded me of the American movie ‘The Return of Private Chance’ (Taking Chance), released in 2009. It tells the story of Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl’s experience while escorting the body of Private Chance Phelps, who was killed in the Iraq War, to Wyoming, where his family lives. Lieutenant Colonel Strobl wrote about the emotions he experienced during his convoy mission in an essay titled ‘A Marine’s Journey Home,’ and a movie was later made based on this essay. The movie calmly depicts the affection and respect that many citizens met on the journey show to Private Chance in their own way.
We can’t help but reflect on our reality as the photo of the firefighters at the funeral intersects with the scene from the movie about Chance’s farewell. Our reality is that nearly 100 soldiers die in the military every year, and many more are injured and do not receive sufficient support. It is said that the number of soldiers and police officers designated as fallen in the line of duty (persons of national merit) by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs is only about 30 per year, including all police officers and firefighters. In particular, in the case of deaths in the line of duty, the recognition procedures and processes are difficult, and since the military and the Ministry of Veterans Affairs conduct separate reviews, there are often cases where recognition from one side is rejected by the other.
A representative example is the case of Reserve Sergeant Ha Jae-heon, who lost both legs due to a North Korean wooden box land mine provocation. Sergeant Ha lost both legs when a wooden box mine planted by the North Korean military exploded during a search operation in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the Western Front on August 4, 2015. The Army judged Sergeant Ha as ‘combat injury’ at the time of his discharge. However, at the time, the Veterans Review Committee of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs initially ruled it as a ‘meritorious award’ on the grounds that there were no relevant provisions in the Act on Persons of Merit. As controversy arose, the verdict was changed again to ‘injury.’
Reserve Petty Officer Shin Eun-chong, a survivor of the sinking of the Cheonan, was initially given a disability grade of Class 6, Class 2, but after social controversy arose, it was decided to raise it to Class 4. By upgrading his grade, he was able to receive an additional 630,000 won in veterans’ benefits every month. Even in widely publicized cases, it is not realistically easy to make appropriate decisions and provide support. We can assume that the reality we do not know will be even harsher.
There is also a lack of respect for firefighters. The number of firefighters killed in the line of duty continues to increase every year. Looking at the 2023 National Fire Agency statistical yearbook, the number of dreamers jumped from 823 in 2018 to 1,080 in 2022. According to the National Fire Agency, more than 4 out of 10 firefighters are suffering from mental pain such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. It seems inevitable that people will suffer mental aftereffects from directly witnessing the death of colleagues or citizens in a fire. This is also why we need to support firefighters.
Park Hyeon-sook, wife of the late Fire Commissioner Heo Seung-min, who died at the scene of strong winds in Taebaek, Gangwon-do in 2016, said in a phone call with Segye Ilbo, “Last September, the National Fire Agency sent my mother-in-law on a trip to Jeju Island. “She was so moved by the Taebaek Fire Department that they took her from Taebaek to Gimpo Airport,” she said. She also introduced the president’s statement that ‘children must be raised in their father’s country’ and said, “I hope that children will be supported so that they can grow up well even without their fathers.”
There is a clear reason why we must honor ‘heroes in uniform’ who devote themselves to the country and its people. They are sacrificing their own lives to protect our lives and safety. In the movie, a young driver who was watching the coffin containing Private Chance’s body being loaded onto a plane at the airport asked Lieutenant Colonel Strobl in a monologue, saying, “Do the family know that we remember them?” It is the duty of those left behind for the nation and us to remember them.
Lee Woo-seung, Social Affairs Director
[ⓒ 세계일보 & Segye.com, 무단전재 및 재배포 금지]
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