August 9th, 2010
08:34 AM ET
Kim Shin Jo is a protestant minister - the gentle leader of his church. But the 69-year-old is best known by history as a trained killer.
Three decades ago, he and 30 others slipped from North Korea into Seoul to kill the South Korean president.
He was the face of evil and terror for a generation of Koreans - a North Korean commando fighter who came into Seoul to assassinate the South Korean president at the time, Park Jung Hee.
Kim recalls the chilling announcement he made to reporters more than 30 years ago:
"I came from North Korea to kill president Park Chung Hee. I came to cut the throat of Park Chung Hee," Kim said.
"We were taught that America had turned South Korea into a colony," he said, "and our mission was to remove the puppet government."
In January, 1968, 31 North Korean commandos managed to slip across the border, through the woods, and make it within a few hundred meters of the president's residence. But a South Korean police officer confronted them. A gunfight ensued.
In the end, more than 30 South Koreans were killed. All of the North Korean commandos were killed, except one who managed to make it back into North Korea and Kim Shin Jo, who was captured.
Kim underwent months of interrogation while captive behind bars. A South Korean army general befriended him - and broke through his hardened training.
"I tried to kill the president. I was the enemy," Kim said. "But the South Korean people showed me sympathy and forgiveness. I was touched and moved."
The government eventually released Kim, finding he never fired a shot from his gun and didn't hurt anyone during the assassination attempt.
Kim later worked for the South Korean military, became a citizen, married and had a family. Then he became a minister.
He is now the country's symbol of redemption.
Today, tensions on the divided peninsula are the highest in a decade - with few answers for workable, long-term solutions. But Kim is living proof that even the hardest of hearts in this conflict can change.
Kim reflected on footage of himself held captive in 1968.
"On that day, Kim Shin Jo died," Kim said. "I was reborn. I got my second life. And I'm thankful for that."
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