Sixty-five years have passed since Sunny Cho last saw his cousins, who were in grade school when his family fled North Korea.
The war had just begun and Cho had been lucky enough to escape to Seoul. But his cousins – two girls and a boy – could not get out before the gate slammed shut.
The country became slip: repressive and closed to the north, democratic and open to the south.
In the nearly seven decades that have passed, Cho has wondered how his loved ones are doing, what they’re like, and if they’re even still alive.
But now, in negotiated agreements with the government of Kim Jung Un, there is a ray of hope for Cho and many others like him.
An estimated 100,000 American families have ties to North Korea, and many of them live in Southern California, which has the largest population of Koreans outside of the divided nation.
A reunion of 100 families from both sides of Korea is scheduled, likely in an industrial area just north of the Demilitarized Zone.
"Right now, it looks like things are a 'go' for late February," said Dr. Paul Song, with LibertyInNorthKorea.org.
Song is among many Korean-Americans with ties to the north who have worked tirelessly for these reunions. The reunited families will be able to spend a “couple of hours at maximum” with their faraway loved ones, he said.
Song’s organization Liberty in North Korea hopes that the people of Kim Jung Un’s mysterious and closed nation will someday gain real freedom. He is concerned, though, about joint military training between South Korea and the U.S., which is also scheduled for this month.
"That may be seen as provocative," Song said. "So the question is, does the reunion happen before that or during that, or after that?"
The last time talks of reunions happened was in September 2013. Cho said it’s emotionally draining to one day be told you can see your long-lost loved ones, and the next day the chance of reuniting is in jeopardy.
"Sometime, yes, and the next day, no. It’s so tough," he said.