A Stolen Soul

The child with the terrifying memories wanted to be a judge.

Yong Cha Han had lived through two wars, witnessed executions and watched her home burn. Now at the age of 20, she yearned for justice.

The horrors of war had made her bitter, but they had also given her strength. Surviving such turmoil had carved Yong into a young woman determined to succeed.

She believed she could overcome any hardship that came her way. After all, what could be worse than war, she asked herself. She never imagined that in the years to come fate would hand her a tragedy far worse than anything she'd experienced during her childhood.

But in the late 1950s, Yong wasn't looking too far into her future. Her immediate desire was to earn a law degree. At the time, there were few women lawyers in Korea and it was difficult to get accepted into law school. Yet Yong persisted in her dream and became one of two women enrolled at Seoul National University's law school.

She took classes at night and worked during the day at a U.S. Army post in Seoul, where she had a job as a bank secretary.

Her life was simple. She worked and she studied. She socialized little.

One warm summer night, though, her co-workers convinced Yong to come to a party. There would be lots of nice men there, they teased.

Reluctantly, Yong agreed to go, and was surprised when an American Air Force officer caught her attention. Above: Laurence Jones was an officer stationed at the U.S. Air Force base in Seoul during the Korean War.

She knew his face; she had seen him before in the bank. He was handsome in his uniform. His blue eyes were bright with promise and laughter. ''Why am I looking at this man?'' Yong thought. ''I never look at men this way.''

Later that night they were introduced.

''I'm Laurence Jones,'' he told her.

''I cannot pronounce your first name,'' she said, laughing. ''I never hear that name before.''

He asked her about the war that had brought him to her country.

''What was it like?'' he wanted to know.

''There's not much to talk about,'' she told him, not wanting to dredge up memories she had so carefully buried.

Before he left the party, he asked her: ''If I say 'Hello' to you at work, will you say 'Hi' back?''

Surprised at the question, Yong answered: ''Yes, I'll say 'Hello.' ''

''I've heard about you,'' he explained. ''People ask you out on dates and you always say 'no.' ''

Yong had never thought much about the offers from American soldiers. She'd been content to stay within her safe, sheltered world of work and study. A few days later, Laurence Jones kept his word and asked Yong out for coffee. She accepted, and soon they were going out to lunch, then dinner.

Though he was growing fond of this bright Korean woman with the solemn brown eyes, Larry Jones knew he could never marry her. Her culture was so different from his that he believed such a marriage could never succeed.

Over the next few years, Yong pursued her law studies, and eventually earned her degree in 1962. Larry traveled back and forth between Korea and the United States. While in Seoul, he spent much of his free time with Yong.

Larry continued to deny his feelings for Yong until he learned of a rush-hour stampede at the Inchon train station. When he heard that hundreds of people had been killed in the accident, panic swelled in his chest. He knew Yong took the train to and from work each day.

His hands shaking, he called overseas and waited to be connected to her home.

''Yong,'' he said excitedly. ''I thought you were killed. You're OK?''

''Yes, I'm fine,'' she said.

''I love you,'' he blurted out.

''Love?'' Yong replied, stunned.

''Will you marry me?'' he asked. ''If I come back to you? Will you marry me? I'm on my knee right now.''

Yong fell silent. She didn't know how to answer this sudden question.

''I do not know,'' she told him.

''You don't have to answer me now,'' he said, and he promised to return to Seoul in the spring of 1964.

When he came back, Yong met him at the airport. They took a long walk in the countryside near the American base. As they strolled along a dirt road, they passed farmers bent over rice fields, dropping seeds onto the black earth.

''I cannot live without you,'' he told her. ''Will you marry me?''

Yong blinked back tears. ''Yes, I will marry you,'' she said, hugging this kind, gentle man who had taught her to laugh again.

Less than six months later, on a crisp October day, Larry and Yong climbed the steps to the office of the American consul in Seoul.

Yong was 23 and wearing a yellow-green, two-piece dress.

''You always look stunning in that outfit,'' he told her.

Yong gazed at her soon-to-be husband in his blue uniform. His black shoes were polished, his trousers pressed and starched.

''I am so lucky to have found such a trusting, good husband,'' she thought.

The clerk at the embassy had little time for romance. He told them: ''I'll marry you, but I'm late for an appointment.''

He instructed them to sign the marriage license, and he quickly stamped the piece of paper. He handed it to them and said: ''OK, there you go.''

As the clerk hurried out the door, Yong turned to Larry and asked: ''Husband, are we married?''

He grinned. "I think so," he said.