The following is an excerpt from this article

Edward Fischer describes how the Korean War had come to the district of Kwangju. “The bridge game had just begun when the Korean house-boy told Mons Brennan, that a visitor was at the door. Soon Pére (Brennan) returned and said, “Well boys, this is it”. He introduced the visitor, a dishevelled young man named McDonald, an official of the U.S. Embassy who had come to Mokpo to warn all foreigners to leave the area because it could not be defended ...

Immediate plans were set in motion for the evacuation of the young priests. Mons Brennan, Thomas Cusack and John O’Brien were adamant in their decision to stay. They were pastor and assistants respectively in the parish “on the hill.”

The Pusan Perimeter was the only area which could be guaranteed to be defended and so this became the mecca for refugees from all over Korea. It was possible to get to Japan quickly and in comparative safety from there.

Quite suddenly and unexpectedly the Communists arrived in Mokpo, from Kwangju, early on the morning of July 24th. A truck load of soldiers pulled up at the front door, and when the house-boy told Mons. Brennan that the Reds had arrived, he knelt down and began to say the rosary. When the Communists were told that this was a Church, they said they were not opposed to anyone’s religion and went away. The next day they returned and took Frs O’Brien and Cusack prisoners long enough to march them around the town. They then returned them to the rectory, saying they were not going to interfere with anyone’s religion. This turned out to be a ruse; they wanted the Catholics of Mokpo to feel at ease so that they might then more easily find out who the Catholics were. A few days later the three Columbans were taken the fifty-six miles to Kwangju by motorcycle. The Mons. And Fr O’Brien rode as best they could in the sidecar, and Fr Cusack rode the handlebars.

A few weeks later a prisoner of war Lt. Alexander Y Makaroumis, and two other U.S. infantrymen, met the three Columbans in the Kwangju Jail. The Lieutenant later wrote an account of this experience for the May, 1951 Far East. The following are some excerpts from this article:

“There were heavy iron doors on the row of cells which we saw dimly in the gloom. One of these doors was opened and we were motioned to go in. We could tell by the movement inside that someone was there already, but this cell didn’t seem as crowded as the others. Then the iron door creaked shut behind us. The lock snapped tight.

We stumbled around in the darkness. Then a friendly, you might even say fatherly, voice said, “ Everything is O.K. Mac; we’ll talk about it in the morning”. Within the next few minutes, our eyes got accustomed to the darkness a little, and we saw that there were four others in the cell. The man who spoke was Monsignor Patrick Brennan, a Columban missionary. With him were two other Columbans, Fathers Thomas Cusack and John O’Brien. The fourth was a Korean police official.

It was a cold night for August and there were no blankets for us in the cell. There were only three blankets in all, but these were immediately shared with us by the missionaries. It was the first of many acts of kindness and consideration the priests were to show us during the dreadful days we were to go through. . .

When we first met the priests, they had been prisoners for about five weeks. As the meals consisted of only a small bowl of barley with a small slice of pickled turnip, the priests had all lost a great deal of weight.

Monsignor Brennan and Father Cusack were wearing black trousers and black shoes. The Monsignor had on a black shirt. Father Cusack a blue one. They also had their collars and cassocks. While Father O’Brien was all in white; he had white trousers, a white T-shirt and a white cassock. They kept their cassocks rolled up and out of the way most of the time – I guess they didn’t want to use them.

It would be hard to tell you just what these men did for our morale – they boosted it by at least 500 per cent ! Monsignor, for instance, would stand at the cell window and listen to the birds chirping merrily outside, then he’d turn and cheer us up by telling us a singing bird was a messenger of hope.

At other times he’d encourage Father O’Brien to sing us a song and do one of his Irish jigs. Father O’Brien had a good voice and the way he sang “Far Away Places” sort of made you forget you were cooped up in a prison cell and send you flying back home.

Each day U.N. planes flew over Kwangju, straffing and bombing this North Korean stronghold. At the times of these raids, I could see the lips of the missionaries moving in prayer and, although we could hear the crashing of bombs all around we came through without a scratch.

On the second day we were there, the South Korean police official was taken out of our cell. We don’t know what happened to him. This gave us a little more room in the cell which was about 14 feet long and 10 feet wide. In the corner of the cell was a water faucet that we could use twice a day.

One day we three soldiers were taken out and brought to a little church which the Reds were using as a headquarters. After questioning us, they told us they were sending us to a prisoner-of-war camp in Seoul. They put us on a broken-down truck; we were happy to find that the priests were going with us – along with other prisoners we made thirty-two altogether. Among these were two more G.I.’s, Private Steger and Miller.

In preparation for the journey, the priests’ hands were tied with ropes. We travelled only at night to escape allied bombers, and spent the days in jails along the way. On the second and following nights, the priests’ hands were untied.

We were on this truck three nights straight and then, when we were approaching the city of Taejon, the truck broke down for good. We were told to get off and walk. Father Cusack, who knew this part of the country well, told us we were about seven miles outside the city.

What a seven miles! Privates Steger and Miller did not have shoes, and their feet were soon badly cut by the sharp stones on the road. The guards set a fast pace, too fast for men who were exhausted from wounds and malnutrition. However, the guns pointing at us told us we must keep up with the pack.

Monsignor Brennan and myself found it most difficult of all. He was the oldest, and his strength was gone. My wounds were making walking a torture. We asked the guards to slacken off the pace a little, but they refused. The Monsignor, thinking more of me than himself, he was puffing with over exertion, told me to take it easy – to fall down and rest. Father Cusack overheard him; he told me to do no such thing because he had heard the guard saying in Korean that they would shoot anyone who did.

Then Father O’Brien helped me along and father Cusack lent a hand to Monsignor Brennan. It was a sad procession!

We approached a river and could see the city of Taejon about a mile away. We had to cross a bridge. It was now daylight – about 8 a.m. Suddenly a flight of U.N. light bombers appeared overhead, and we all scattered for cover under the bridge where piles of rocks led down to the water. I was so exhausted that I guess I blacked out for a moment when I hit the ground. Monsignor Brennan must have done the same because he began to slide down the rocks into the water. Father O’Brien reached out and just in time pulled him back. We lay there panting for breath for about ten minutes; it was a welcome relief.

Then the planes were gone, and we were reassembled on the road. The guards saw that Monsignor Brennan and myself were in bad shape and would never be able to make it into Taejon at the pace set. They told us to fall out; I thought this was the end. I could see the Monsignor’s lips moving as he prayed. But they didn’t shoot us; instead, the guard motioned with his gun that we could walk slower – the others continued on ahead.

We were reunited in the city of Taejon where we were put into a small building, but not before we were made to sit out in the open for about 30 minutes while a Korean with a small camera took pictures of us. We were then put on display for about two hours while hundreds of North Koreans, army people and others, came in to look at us.

When we could keep our eyes open no longer, we all fell fast asleep from sheer exhaustion. About noon, a Korean came in, woke us up and took us out to another building where we met close to a hundred other U.N. prisoners…

For us, the story of the missionaries ends in the prison of Taejon. We do not know what happened after we were taken from the cell. But wherever they are, I shall always remember them for the comfort, cheerfulness, kindness, and courage they somehow communicated to us when they were no better off themselves.

Monsignor Brennan used to say to us, “Trust in God and everything will come out all right in the end”. I’m sure everything did.

The next news of the three Columbans came from the wife of a Korean judge. She said she had been confined in the same room with the three priests from Mokpo at the Franciscan Monastery in Taejon. She was released on the afternoon of September 24, and that night there was a massacre at the monastery as Red troops prepared to hurry north so as not to be cut off by advancing United Nations troops.

Later, neither Father George Carroll, M.M. nor Father Beaudevin, M.E.P., could recognise any of the Columbans among more than a thousand corpses piled up in the monastery garden. The bodies were so decomposed and swollen that the two priests had difficulty recognising Father Pollet, a man they had known by sight. A well in the monastery garden was filled with bodies that neither priest had had a chance to inspect.

Eighth years later Father John Vaughan of Dunedin, New Zealand, was walking along a crowded, narrow street of Seoul when he chanced upon a small bookstall. He absent-mindedly fingered through an odd assortment on the remote chance that he might find something of interest. He picked up a small black volume; it was the summer quarter of the Divine Office. Opening the cover to see to whom the book might have belonged, on the flyleaf he found written, “P.Brennan, 18 Dec. 1926.” Hope sprang up again among the Columbans, but nothing more was heard. So, in the archives of the Society of St. Columban, Monsignor Brennan, and Fathers O’Brien and Cusack are recorded as having died in the Massacre of Taejon on September 24th 1950. Thus, the matter rests today, but a beautiful new church in the city which they served, Mokpo, now honours their brave fidelity.