Korean Who Rescued Vietnamese Boat People Not Forgotten

      August 06, 2004 23:03

      There have been moves among U.S. Congressional officials and the Korean and Vietnamese communities of southern California pushing to recommend 64-year-old Jeon Jae-yong of Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province as a candidate for the Nansen Award in honor of his humane actions to save Vietnamese boat people 19 years ago.

      The Nansen Award is the highest prize given by the United Nations, given to a person or a group who contributed internationally in saving and helping afflicted people. Eleanor Roosevelt, King Juan Carlos of Spain and tenor Luciano Pavarotti are past winners of the Award.

      Jeon Jae-yong, who rescued Vietnam boat people from a foundering vessel in 1985, embraces Peter Nguyen, one of the refugees in the boat at that time./Yonhap

      The people who are pushing for Jeon to receive this year's Nansen Award are U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez, California Assemblymen Lou Correa, Garden Grove City Councilman Van Thai Tran, the Korean community of Orange County, a Vietnamese refugee foundation and many more.

      19 years ago he was the captain of a fishing boat sailing from Singapore to Busan when he saved 10 Vietnamese refugees while he was crossing the South China Sea. They were shouting "Help!" while hanging off the boat which was almost destroyed. Along with the crew, the captain saved 97 people.

      He brought them in Busan but later was investigated many times from certain intelligence agencies and lost his job at the shipping company at which he was employed. He remained unemployed for two and a half years.

      Jeon was almost forgotten but 60-year-old medical technician Peter Nguyen and his wife of Westminster, California asked Korean-American nurses at his place of work to find out about Jeon. Nguyen was the leader of the refugees at the time and settled down in Orange County. They told the nurses, "Mr. Jeon is the reason why I live, and if I can, I want to see him," and they finally met at Los Angeles Airport on Thursday (local time).

      Peter Nguyen said, "I won't forget you until I die," and Jeon replied, "Even if a puppy was in the sea, I would have saved it as well, so it was only natural that I should save precious [human] lives." They hugged as Jeon arrived in the airport.

      A big welcoming party will be held at the Santa Ana Regent West Hotel on Sunday morning.

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