Seo Ho-bin, a third-year student at Chonnam National University, was shot and killed by martial law troops on May 18, 1980, while defending the Jeonnam National Office until the end. Seo’s college classmate and hometown friend, Kim In-hwan, was also there in the early morning hours of May 27.
When I stayed at the Jeonnam Provincial Office, I didn’t think they would suppress us like that. I thought they would ask us to surrender, but I stayed with the idea that I should leave a legacy of ‘we resisted until the end.’ I never imagined that they would shoot us like a war zone and kill us like this.
In the early morning hours of that day, when the martial law troops were expected to enter, Kim In-hwan stood guard at the back of the government office and talked to his friend about nothing more than everyday things. He never imagined that it would be the last time he would see them. The citizen soldiers who survived the last stand at the government office have endured for more than 40 years, each with their own heartbreaking stories.
Kim In-hwan, Executive Director, 5-18 Democratization Movement Seoul Memorial Foundation
The KBS Gwangju “Video Recording 5-18” crew met Mr. Kim In-hwan, who participated as a citizen soldier with his friend Seo Ho-bin during the 5-18 uprising and was the last person to remain at the city hall after the weapons were recovered.
A college student who didn’t care much about the protests
In 1980, Kim In-hwan, a third-year university student, was not usually involved in pro-democracy protests. The young Yeosu man, who wanted to go to KAIST, went to Chonnam National University of Technology with his hometown friends, including Seo Ho-bin, with the expectation that he would be able to participate in the design of the second Yeocheon Industrial Complex. In 1980, when he was a third-year student, he was also the president of his hometown high school’s alumni association.
When I saw the situation on May 18, I thought, “I can’t do this,” so I went to the public terminal on the morning of the 19th to tell my juniors and seniors that they shouldn’t be in Gwangju, so I told them, “Go home to Yeosu.” But the terminal was on fire, and there were no tickets, and there were a lot of protests there, so I couldn’t let them go down, and I told them, “Just stay home.
■Protesting against martial law abuses
At the time, Kim In-hwan lived in Yanglim-dong, Gwangju, across the Gwangju Stream from the Jeonnam Provincial Office. Although his peers discouraged him from going, saying it was too dangerous, he witnessed the protests up close every day. After witnessing the brutality of the martial law forces, Mr. Kim naturally joined the protests.
When I saw them beating people to death like this, I was like, “This is not right.” You know, you’re supposed to hide in your house or run away and leave them alone, but they just go and beat them to death and drag them out and when people are walking by and they say something, they just beat them with truncheons. This is not protest suppression, honestly. I honestly couldn’t imagine something like that and it was beyond my wildest dreams, so I think that’s why 5-18 was such a big deal because everybody saw it and was outraged.
■Ho Bin Seo, a high school classmate, and the weapons recovery effort
Kim In-hwan also participated in a weapons recovery effort led by the Citizen’s Restoration Committee, which collected firearms and negotiated with the authorities. He was with his friend Seo Ho-bin for two days on May 25 and 26.
Citizen’s Army with firearms in May 1980 (broadcast screen grabs)
President Choi Kyu-ha came down and said he was going to negotiate, and the Citizen’s Restoration Committee said, “There are so many weapons out there, I don’t think they should be in the hands of anyone, so we should collect them.” I agreed, so I went to collect them, my friend.
There were four of us in the back of a one-ton truck, and we were collecting weapons from citizens, and in the car, we kept broadcasting, “Please turn in your weapons.” I’m from Yeosu, so I don’t know the geography of Gwangju, so we went to various places in Hwasun, wherever the driver went. My friend Hovinyi came to my house, and we collected weapons together on the 26th.
■”I’m sorry”…staying for the last wiretap
The civilians recovered many of their weapons and negotiated with the authorities, but the talks broke down. Now it was down to the martial law forces, and a last stand leadership was formed. Kim In-hwan, along with his friend Seo Ho-bin, decided to stay behind at the Jeonnam Provincial Office on the night of the final suppression by the martial law forces because “I’m sorry.” He had participated in the weapons recovery activities.
On the 26th, around 6pm, I came in with my car to retrieve the weapons, and now they said that the martial law forces were going to come in, and I thought, “I’m sorry about that.” It was a decision made by the Civil Restoration Committee, but I also felt sorry for retrieving the weapons, and I thought I should stay at the headquarters until the end and protect it, so I stayed with my friend안전놀이터.
On the night of May 26, when martial law was announced, Kim In-hwan and Seo Ho-bin were assigned to guard the back wall of Dokcheong, standing side by side on the left and right sides of the small side gate leading out of town. They were given old-fashioned rifles and magazines, but they had no idea that in a few hours it would turn into a war zone.
■Taps captured by airborne troops
Estimated location of Seo Ho-bin’s death on May 27, 1980 (broadcast screen grabs)
Martial law troops begin pushing into the Jeonnam Provincial Office in the early morning hours of May 27. Kim In-hwan, who was standing guard, fired a scare grenade, but of course it didn’t work. Indiscriminate firing ensued, and troops descended from helicopters to brutally suppress them.
I think the helicopter flew over from the Chosun University side and stopped in mid-air, and a soldier on a rope came down and opened fire with a gun in his side, and we could see it right from our side, and I was standing here by the building, and Hobin was standing by the side door, and I think that’s when he got shot, because he was crawling toward me.
It was less than a minute, which seems like a long time, but you get dazed, and the soldier hit me with the butt of his gun, and I just blacked out, and later on, after they arrested me, they stripped me down to my underwear and took me away, and that’s when I kind of woke up.
■I didn’t want to believe my friend was dead, but…
After being arrested at the wiretap, Kim In-hwan was taken to Sangmu University Prison, where he was beaten and tortured for over 100 days. He was not identified as a Chonnam University student and was labeled as a “repeat student.” I can only imagine how the martial law forces would have treated him if he had been the last person to be arrested at the wiretap.
I was almost out of my mind when I was in the jail at Sangmyung University. What kept me going was the expectation that ‘my friend (Seo Ho-bin) wouldn’t have died.