Park Won Guk had been a soldier serving with the border garrison. He was discharged from the army and sent to prison for stealing 500kg of corn from a farm’s threshing room floor. He was 30 years old when he died. I do not exactly remember his personality, but I think he was a quiet and understanding person. He just needed to make some money to take back home after being discharged, so he and eight other soldiers stole grain from the threshing room. At that time, it was only normal for a discharged soldier to take at least 20 to 30 thousand won home with him in this way.
Park belonged to an independent troop, so a senior like him could mobilize lower-ranking soldiers largely as he wished. So he found an opportunity when the senior troop commanders were not around, and took eight of his soldiers together on the mission. At around 10 o’clock in the evening, he gave each soldier two big sacks and they left to get the grain. However, several young farmers were guarding the place with a bonfire, so Park and his soldiers had to disable them first. Then they transported 500kg of corn in three trips and handed it over to a person living nearby. When it was all over, he fed his soldiers at the house of the person to whom he had handed over the corn.
In North Korea, such behavior is not big news by any means. It happens all the time, every harvest season, everywhere. However, as the saying goes, “For some people, the bread never falls buttered side up;” Park was such a person.
The day after he stole the corn, there came an order from Kim Jong Il to “Severely punish people who lay their hands on farm property.” Following Kim’s order, the People’s Security Agency, which was responsible for farms, started investigated and discovered that Park and his soldiers had handed over 500kg of corn to the nearby farmer. Park was immediately arrested. Somewhat fortunately, because commanders from his troop frequently visited and begged the authorities, he was only sentenced to five years in a reeducation camp. That was quite a minor punishment, since he had violated a direct order from Kim Jong Il. Depending on the People’s Security Agency, the punishment could have been death.
Park’s troop commanders sometimes visited him while he was doing his time. It is very rare for commanders to visit prisoners who commit crimes as soldiers. I guess Park must have played it nice in his troop.
But then, after two years in prison, he was hit by a rotten bow and killed right there on spot.
As usual, each section had been given lumber duty. My section went to Wongol. We wandered from place to place, looking for good trees to cut down. This caused the Loading and Logging Sections to mingle with one another. Indeed, I was working on my tree when the tree of Loading Section foreman Kim Se Do went down slowly and took my tree down with it.
Kim was jovial, “Haha, I tried so hard to cut down my tree faster than you! Now I’m just helping you!”
I laughed with him as we watched the falling trees. But that was the start of everything. His tree, for some reason, got stuck in my tree and knocked it down at the same time. Because of the reaction of the fallen tree of mine, his tree bounced off and hit the branch of a dead oak tree right next to it. I’d done lumbering work for a long time in the prison, but it was the first time I had seen such a bizarre thing happen; a rotten branch at the top of the dead oak tree broke off because of Kim’s tree, and flew high in the air. The rotten branch fell on Park’s head. Park collapsed under its weight. The rotten branch was not even a meter long.
Kim went down to Park, laughing, “Ha ha, he must have had a really unlucky dream last night!”
I went back to cut the lower part of my already-fallen tree, but at that moment I heard the security guard exclaim, “What? He died?” The words made me turn to look at the spot where Park had collapsed.
The security guard was attacking Kim, and yelling, “How did this happen? Make some sense, you son of a bitch!”
Horrified, Kim was bowing as he tried to explain what had happened to the security official. I stopped cutting and went over to Park. Dark blood was trickling from his eyes, nose and mouth. I was so surprised that, without even realizing it, I picked up the rotten branch next to his head. The rotten branch was just too light to be true. I couldn’t even feel its weight. It was so shocking to witness such a death. It was such nonsense, which was probably why no one even cried.
Park was such an unlucky person. After serving ten years in the army, he was sent to prison because of something that everybody does. And worse, he was hit by a rotten oak branch which killed him instantly even though it weighed next to nothing. It really didn’t make any sense at all. A lightweight rotten branch had sent a perfectly healthy person to Mt. Bulmang