Park Ji-young, a service crewmember who died after saving many passengers when the ferry Sewol sank off the southwest coast last week, was laid to rest on Tuesday. Dozens of people from all walks of life who had never met her showed up to pay their respects, waiting in line in front of her memorial altar over the past three days to thank and bid farewell to her.
Survivors of the ferry accident and fellow students from Danwon High School also paid their last respects. The hall leading up to Park's altar was lined with wreaths sent by anonymous people. One, from "a citizen of Korea" bore a banner that read, "I will remember you for your righteousness."
While the captain and many other crewmembers rushed to escape the sinking vessel, Park stayed inside until the end to help passengers escape safely. "Get to the top quickly!" she shouted to the students as she passed out life jackets. She even brought a chair so that an elderly passenger could be carried to the exit of the capsized ship.
One teenager asked her why she was not wearing a life jacket and Park replied, "The crew leave last. I'll go later after I’ve rescue all of your friends." That was the last time she was seen alive.
Park started working aboard the ferry after taking temporary absence from university to support her family since her father died. So far, around 30,000 people have signed a petition to honor her noble sacrifice.
Nam Yoon-cheol, a Danwon High School teacher who accompanied the students on a school trip, made sure every one of his charges put on life vests as the Sewol began to capsize. He calmed frightened youngsters and made sure each one of them got out safely. Although he managed to find his way out of the ferry, he chose to head down again into the capsized vessel to reach more students who remained inside their quarters as the ship's captain had told them. He pushed them out of the ship until the water reached his head.
Nam's body was found floating around the Sewol the following day.
Park Ho-jin, one of Nam's students, came out of the ship after rescuing a five-year-old girl who had been pinned under a vending machine. "There's a child here!" he cried as he hung on to the rail of the capsized ship. Park left the ship after making sure the girl was safely aboard a life boat. The 17-year-old said, "My father died when I was four and I just couldn't leave behind a girl who was crying for her parents."
A week has passed since the nation was gripped by horror at the tragedy that led to the deaths of hundreds aboard the ferry. Many feel deeply ashamed that their country was able to do so little to save the lives of the passengers and rage at the systemic failures that were responsible for the tragedy. But as time passes, the selfless actions of brave people are coming to light.
Park Ji-young, Nam Yoon-cheol and Park Ho-jin are not the only heroes.
Navy divers are still busy conducting rescue and search operations around the clock in difficult conditions. One diver was taken to a medical facility aboard a Navy ship on Tuesday after suffering paralysis.
More than 500 civilian divers rushed to the site of the disaster in Jindo, South Jeolla Province to lend a helping hand, while around 2,000 volunteers are helping out in a port. People who run restaurants are there preparing meals for the families of the victims, while others wash dishes and clean bathrooms. The regional governmental office there has been inundated with phone calls from people offering to send supplies or asking how they can help.
Middle schoolchildren in Suwon called to ask what the families of the victims need most and where they should send the supplies. They sent 10 boxes with toothbrushes, toothpaste and paper cups. And other youngsters from other parts of the country have sent boxes and boxes of towels, soap and underclothes. They all came with letters praying that the students trapped inside the Sewol can return alive.
The death toll continues to mount with no signs of any more survivors. But the warmth shown by so many good people is having a soothing effect on the pain and rage felt in Korea. Thanks to this kindness, people are realizing that the country still has the strength to heal. Koreans must find solace and hope in each other to regain their strength.