In December 1950, before South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in was born, his parents and sister were among thousands of people fleeing the horrors of war. They crowded into an American ship, the Meredith Victory, which had dumped its cargo and weapons in order to make room to hide them.
Moon honored U.S. soldiers responsible for the humanitarian feat on June 28, 2017, in Virginia. “Words like ‘respect’ and ‘gratitude’ simply are not enough,” Moon said. Even as a boy growing up, he explained, he knew a lot about the rescue because his mother, now 90, had shared her vivid memories of it.
The Battle of Jangjin, known in the U.S. as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, saw United Nations forces fight through encirclement by Communist forces. In the aftermath, 100,000 U.N. troops and as many civilians sought evacuation at the port of Hungnam.
An estimated 14,000 people boarded the Meredith Victory, which slipped from the dock in what is now North Korea the morning of December 23, navigating through dangerous minefields. (The voyage would become the largest evacuation by a single ship in history.)
Evacuees filled five cargo holds and the main deck. The seas were bleak and the air below freezing. But all 14,000 survived the four-day voyage to safety to Geoje Island, located in present-day South Korea. Five passengers gave birth during the voyage.
The Meredith Victory became known as the “Ship of Miracles.”
During the journey, on December 24, American soldiers gave what they had — a bit of candy — to each passenger as a Christmas present.
“I believe this story has not yet been told,” President Moon said to the U.S. soldiers. “Although it was but one droplet, I will always be grateful to the U.S. service members with such caring hearts, for giving Christmas presents to so many refugees in the middle of a devastating war.”
Two years after the evacuation of Hungnam, Moon would be born on Geoje Island, where the “Ship of Miracles” had landed. The unbreakable bond between the U.S. and South Korea, Moon says today, was forged by the heroism of the 1950 rescue.
Moon made his comments at the Jangjin (Chosin) Reservoir Monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia.
“This is how the Korea-US alliance came to be,” he said. “This alliance was not made by signing sheets of paper. As was the case in my life, this alliance is closely linked to the lives of each and every citizen in both of our countries.”