FAMILY SEPARATED BY TIME, REUNITED BY RESOLVE
Finding brothers fills 'emptiness in my heart'
Reunion is all about ‘happiness’
By ROBIN COWIE NALEPA
Chun Cha Miller, seated, with her husband, John, and her three brothers after the siblings had been reunited after being separated for 40 years
Chun Cha Miller feared her brothers were dead.
Yet she never lost hope for a reunion, despite the 40 years of time and distance that worked against her.
“I had an emptiness in my heart,” said Chun Cha Miller, who left Korea when she married a U.S. soldier.
Then one day, Miller’s family presented her with a gift: telephone numbers on a slip of paper, all with the country code of “82” for South Korea.
“I felt numb — I just see some numbers. My heart goes like...” She thumped at her chest with her fist.
Miller didn’t think about the 14-hour time difference. She didn’t think about what to say.
She just dialed. More than 7,000 miles away, voices she’d longed to hear answered.
“They crying, I crying,” she said.
She told each brother she was alive. They told her the same. She hung up with each one. Then she immediately called back to talk more.
Sitting in the Saluda log home she and her husband built, Chun Cha Miller talked of her brothers. Tears filled her eyes. She clutched a tissue. She smiled. She shook her head.
As Chun Cha Miller, now 63, grew older, she often thought about her brothers.
The holidays were especially difficult, her husband, John, explained.
For decades, she wondered what had become of her three brothers. She wondered whether they had remained in good health. She also had questions about her early childhood.
When young Chun Cha was growing up, her family suffered. Her mother died shortly after her only daughter was born in 1943. Her father did what he could to raise the four children. The armistice ending World War II split Korea into a communist north and the Republic of Korea to the south.
During the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, U.S. forces fought with South Korea against the North and its Soviet and Chinese allies.
During the conflict, the Chinese pushed Chun Cha’s family out of their South Korean village. When the family returned several years later, they found their village destroyed, their home burned. Their father died a short time later. Chun Cha does not remember exactly how old she was at the time of his death, but if the birth year she professes is correct, she was between 7 and 10. Once orphaned, the children were sent to live with an uncle. The siblings formed a tight, protective bond.
In 1965, Chun Cha met a U.S. serviceman, John Miller, who was stationed in Seoul. They fell in love.
After struggling with red tape and intermittent separations, the couple married and moved with their infant daughter, Connie, to the United States in 1967.
Even when Chun Cha Miller moved a world away from her brothers and Seoul, South Korea, the siblings vowed to stay in touch.
Chun Cha Miller and her brothers had occasional contact through letters, but as years passed and the Army deployed Miller’s husband, first to Vietnam and then to California, then Florida, then Germany, addresses were lost.
“We moved, they moved, and no one forwarded anything,” she said.
In the early 1980s, John Miller again was assigned to South Korea. His wife stayed in the States with their three children.
During his deployment, John Miller searched Seoul for his wife’s family. Since he does not speak Korean, he carried a note written in Korean and showed it and photos of his wife and her brothers. His search was unsuccessful, as were others through the years.
At one time, the Millers sought the help of a Korean newspaper reporter to find the family. Again they had no luck.
Finding a family member in South Korea is not as easy as it is in the United States for a number of reasons, the Millers explained. First, the country has undergone many changes, including population and building booms. Second, the country doesn’t use Social Security numbers. Even though the country has a birth registry, when a female marries, her name is removed from her family’s lineage to her husband’s. So, since Chun Cha Miller married an American, she — or rather her paper identity — was, in effect, erased.
In 2005, John Miller and daughter Connie Sandifer of Chapin renewed their search. They discovered the Web site for Bruce Kang, a private investigator in Chicago.
Kang, whose background includes Korean military intelligence, specializes in finding fugitives but has been reuniting Korean families since 1998.
“I was crossing my fingers,” Sandifer said.
Hoping Kang was legitimate, Sandifer offered the detective all the information she had, which wasn’t much: the brothers’ names, her mother’s birthplace and date of birth, and her own birthplace and date of birth.
In less than a week, Kang called and left Sandifer a message. He had spoken to a Korean cousin on the phone and found the brothers.
“I mainly trace fugitives; finding decent people is a lot easier work,” Kang wrote by e-mail.
Chun Cha Miller was unaware of the search efforts until her entire family, including all three of her children and several grandchildren, gathered and Sandifer presented her with the Korean telephone numbers for all three brothers.
When John Miller talks of the day his wife rediscovered her family, his voice breaks. He said his wife didn’t know what she was holding, couldn’t fathom what she’d been given.
After a year’s worth of delays, the Millers and their daughter flew to South Korea in September. Chun Cha Miller reunited with her brothers, Cho Jan Sa, Cho Kwi Yong and Cho Koo Young.
“I can’t explain, my feelings were so great.
“My brothers were so grateful. They say to John, ‘Thank you for taking care of my sister, for loving my sister.’”
During their nearly three-week visit, the Millers toured a changed country and a booming city. They shot hours of video. They met nieces and nephews and shared memories.
Chun Cha Miller, fourth from left, with relatives on the day she left for the United States in 1967. Her daughter is at far left.
They visited Chun Cha Miller’s birthplace and the hillside where her grandfather and mother were buried. Sadly, the house and graves no longer exist.
Yet, nothing could dampen Chun Cha Miller’s enthusiasm after decades of wondering and worrying.
Chun Cha Miller now talks with her brothers frequently by phone. Plans are for one or more of them to visit the United States next year.
“Happiness” is how Chun Cha Miller describes the reunion 40 years in the making.
Her daughter, Connie, offered a slightly different view:“After (my mom) spoke with them the first time, she said it had made her whole again.”
Decades of separation
1910: Japan formally annexes the Korean Peninsula
1943: Cho Chun Cha is born, her mother dies shortly afterward
1945: Korea is split at the end of World War II: the Republic of South Korea (RKO) formed in south, the Communist government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north.
1950-1953: Korean War; the Cho family flees their village as Chinese forces move south; they return to find their home destroyed; the Cho children are orphaned when their father dies
1953: Armistice divides North and South Korea at 38th parallel
1965: Chun Cha meets U.S. serviceman John Miller, stationed in South Korea
1967: Chun Cha and Miller marry and have a daughter, move to the United States; brothers remain in South Korea.
1972: Last time Chun Cha Miller had contact with her brothers
2005: After years of unsuccessful attempts to find brothers, detective Bruce Kang locates them
September 2006: Chun Cha Miller, brothers reunite in South Korea.
SOURCES: CIA World Fact Book, staff reports
Searching for missing family
Bruce Kang estimates he has found more than 1,000 people during the past nine years.
Kang, a private detective in Chicago and founder of Intersearch, an investigative agency that specializes in finding fugitives, uses his language skills, contact network and knowledge of Asian customs to help reunite families, in the United States and in Asia — some of whom have been separated for more than 50 years.
He offers the following tips for those searching for lost family members:
• Before you start your search, do your homework. Try to find old records, letters and personal documents. Items such as school records and personal phone books could help. The more information you have, the better to save time and money.
• Prepare yourself for the possibilities. A person may not wish to be contacted once he has been found. Sometimes, the person has died — in some cases only days or weeks before being found — or is incapacitated in other ways.
• If your personal search does not yield results, don’t give up. Consider hiring a professional investigator with contacts and expertise unavailable to the average person.
• If you decide to hire a professional, check references first.