LA CROSSE, Wis. -- Wednesday, North Koreans paid their last respects to their late leader Kim Jong Il.
For one South Korean native in La Crosse, Kim's death and the transfer of power to his youngest son brings cautious hope to the future of North and South Korea.
Growing up in South Korea, UW-L associate professor Kyuong Hoon Yang can still remember the tension between his country and its neighbor to the north.
“Always, we had a threat of an attack of North Korea because they had more power and the economic situation was better,” said Yang. “They always tried to reunify by power, so we try to defend South Korea.”
Because of the looming threats, students were required to have military training. In the late 1970s, he served as a platoon leader stationed on the country's border protecting the South. He returned to South Korea after he finished his studies in the United States in 1992. Two years later, North Korea experienced its first shift in power. It was a shift Yang said put South Korea on edge.
“When Kim Il Sung was dead, we were surprised and we were really worried because if the situation is changed, if the balance is broken, then they said maybe it's possible we could have a war between south and north,” said Yang. “So, we were threatened and we were worried.”
“Now 17 years later, another shift has come, but this time around Yang says things are a little different.
“These days, because we know nothing happened at that time so we don't worry that much about the death of Kim Jong Il,” said Yang.
“Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Kim Jong Un will now lead North Korea into the future. Since Kim Jong Il had more than two decades to train for position, North Koreans knew what they were getting. Not so with Kim Jong Un.
“This time Kim Jong Un is only 27 or 29 years old and he has no experience and no power to control the government completely so some dangerous thing can happen,” said Yang. “So, we are worrying about that.”
Yang just hopes as Kim Jong Un takes the lead, the transition will be a smooth one.
“As I guess, everybody wants a soft landing without any threat or turmoil,” said Yang.
Yang also said he will be keeping a close eye on South Korea's presidential elections next year. He said if the party in power shifts in South Korea, it may mean some changes in the country's relationship with North Korea.
Wednesday’s funeral comes after more than a week of mourning and like much of Kim's life it had been shrouded in mystery.