One of the most powerful moments during President Trump’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night came when he honored Mr. Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who escaped from the communist regime in 2006.
“Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea,” the president told members of Congress. “One day, he tried to steal coal from a railroad car to barter for a few scraps of food. In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs. He then endured multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain.”
The accident happened in 1996 when Ji was 13 years old.
“I was screaming so much that the sound would [Notes:have been] like watching an action movie in the cinema,” Ji wrote in a 2014 article for the British Guardian newspaper. “Nobody helped. I went to the hospital. There, I received surgery without anesthetic because they didn’t have it. The surgery took 4.5 hours.”
Ji lost his left hand and left foot in the train accident and endured months of painful recovery.
“My treatment lasted for around 10 months, but there was no follow-up rehabilitation,” Ji wrote. “I would have infections. My father would try to treat them at home. He would gather grass and things to sell at the market to get medicine or antibiotics.”
Jin’s tragedy hit when North Korea was in the middle of a devastating famine that would eventually kill hundreds of thousands of people.
Jin’s family was among millions of North Koreans struggling to survive 22 years ago.
“His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt themselves — permanently stunting their own growth,” Trump said.
Ji eventually recovered and was able to get around with help of crutches that his father reportedly made for him.
In 2000 Ji crossed into China, returning a month later with food for his family, but only to be caught by North Korean police.
“They told me that because I was disabled, I had hurt the dignity of North Korea by going to China to beg and that I had humiliated Kim Jong-il,” Mr. Ji recounted in 2017. “They told me the people in North Korea are happy so how dare I go there and be a beggar. They said people like me should just die.”
Ji was imprisoned for three weeks and severely tortured.
“He was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a brief visit to China,” the president told the audience. “His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians. He had — and he resolved to be free.”
Freedom came in 2006 when Ji made a daring escape fleeing across the frozen Tumen river into China. He was eventually reunited with other members of his family six months later.
Since 1953, an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 North Koreans have defected.
The president used Mr. Ji’s harrowing testimony to highlight the brutality of North Korea’s regime.
“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” the president told the world from the chambers of the U.S. Capitol.
Seong-ho now lives in Seoul, South Korea where he rescues other defectors and broadcasts into North Korea.
Mr. Trump described how “Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape, and was tortured to death”.
Trump called Ji’s story “a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.”
After the president told the story, Ji, who was sitting next to Melanie Trump and other invited guests, stood to be recognized by the crowd.
As he stood, the president added, “Today he has a new leg, but Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come.” Ji nodded in acknowledgement.
In what can only be described as one of the most memorable moments of the evening, Ji raised his crutches over his head, and with a smile across his face, repeatedly thrust the wooden reminder, into the air as members of Congress stood to their feet to honor him.
With the crowd still erupting in thunderous applause, the president turned to Ji and added: “Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all.”