Even after five years, the pain of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade center in New York is still fresh for many, including the Koreans who were there that day. They, like all who survived that day, will remember the date forever. One Korean, covered in dust from head to foot, emerged from the North Tower moments before it fell.
A rescuer broke through a window with an axe, allowing the Korean to escape. Ten minutes later he saw the 107-story building collapse, leaving him in shock. But before giving any thought to his own condition, he was running around asking everywhere if all of his employees had made it out alive. It was only when he had confirmed that they were all out of harm's way that he took a moment to catch his breath. An African American man standing next to him offered him a cigarette, he recalls.
Choo Ick-soo was then the head of Hyundai Securities' U.S. subsidiary, which had its office in the building. (Now he is director of international business.) "For a long time after the 9/11 terror attacks, I couldn't even bring myself to look when I had to pass by the site,¡± he recalls. For a year he would go nowhere near Ground Zero, and when he had business on Wall Street he walked fast and his heart was racing. By the time he had recovered sufficiently to venture back to what had once been his workplace, three years had gone by.
When al-Qaeda terrorists crashed a hijacked airliner into the 83rd floor, Choo had already started the day's work with his eight employees in their office on the 78th floor. They barely managed to make it down the emergency stairway before the entire structure turned into a pile of rubble and a dust cloud that stretched for miles. "My wife nearly collapsed after seeing the TV footage of the building collapsing," he says. "But she answered my first call, and I remember her sobbing over the phone."
The couple do not talk about that terrible day, and when scenes of 9/11 are on TV, they look away. "As the entire building was destroyed, there was so much work to be done to try and recover our business, and to forget the nightmare I threw myself into my work,¡± Choo says. ¡°Luckily the psychological troubles were not that severe."
Choo warned that the globalization of terror means not just New York but any city in the world could be the next target. "The issue of eradicating terrorism is political, and it¡¯s not for me to touch on," he says. "But when there¡¯s a threat of a possible terror attack, it has to be appraised at 200 percent of what it might be. Underestimating such intelligence is absolutely unacceptable." Choo knows what he speaks of: a group of Japanese workers from a financial firm that had started off down the emergency stairs along with Choo misjudged the situation and headed back up to their office. None of them made it out alive.
¡°After the attacks, my love of life and my religious beliefs grew much deeper,¡± Choo concludes. ¡°I learned that the foundation of people¡¯s lives is so weak that it can collapse in an instant, just like the World Trade Center, so now I strive to be a loyal family man.¡±