South Korea 2 – DMZ – 11/2014
Meanwhile, returning to the real world, some of you know and others may have guessed, we are back in California at our home base in Nevada City and The Turtle V has arrived via Ro-Ro from South Korea without a problem. We are now consumed with unpacking from our two-year/40,000-mile expedition, repacking for the next adventure, refreshing all the engine and gear oils, changing all filters, and more than I can list here, all in-between various doctor, dentist and optometrist appointments for long overdue checkups. Whew. Is it fun yet?
Before we pick up again with our blogs and photographs starting in Greece where we more or less left off, we want to show you a little bit of the amazing friendly country of South Korea or correctly called, The Republic of Korea. (See South Korea 1 for an introduction.)
Tearing ourselves away from our comfortable campsite in the beach town of Samcheok, we headed north to the DMZ, (Demilitarized Zone – East Coast). Just to give you a little history, at 4 o’clock in the morning on June 25, 1950 North Korea carried out a sudden attack against South Korea led by Russian tanks. That was the beginning of the Korean War. Countries from around the world came to South Korea’s rescue. Under the banner of United Nations Forces, 40,896 soldiers from 17 countries gave their lives to protect the Republic of Korea against the communist aggression.
The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It was created as part of the Korean Armistice Agreement between North Korea, China, and the United Nations Command Forces in 1953. But the “war” is not over. 28,500 United States Forces Korea (USFK) troops still assist the South Korean military in guarding the DMZ. ——We did not see any US forces but the South Korean Army certainly made its presence all along the east coast (where we traveled)——South Koreans see the U.S. military presence as a sign of Washington’s steadfast support in the event of a North Korean offensive. Sporadic outbreaks of violence due to North Korean hostilities killed over 500 South Korean soldiers and 50 U.S. soldiers along the DMZ between 1953 and 1999. Coils of razor wire along the beaches and costal highways were clear evidence that the threat from North Korea is still very present as we found out in Samcheok. The excellent DMZ Museum near the entry to the controlled zone was a real education.
We filled out all the necessary forms and received our pass to drive as far as the Unification Observatory north of the village of Myeongpa. We were not able to actually see any of the military posts, but the viewing deck left much to our imagination. The natural isolation along the 250 km (160 mi) length of the DMZ has created an involuntary park, which is now recognized as one of the most well preserved areas of temperate habitat in the world —- except for the land mines.
A couple of weeks later, we visited the UN Memorial Cemetery of Korea, (UNMCK), in the city of Busan. Beautifully landscaped and maintained, in 1973, the cemetery was transferred from the UN to the Commission for the United Nations Memorial Cemetery (CUNMCK). It is the only UN cemetery of its kind in the world. The Wall of Remembrance was especially impressive, with the names of the 36,492 Americans and 4,404 other nationalities that died in the fight for South Koreans’ freedom, many of whom are buried on sight. An eternal flame burns over a reflection pool.
It was a tragic war and terrible loss of men and women, but looking at South Korea today, the monument in the American section says it all. “HONOR, FREEDOM, PEACE”. It’s a goal that seems to have been reached in this modern nation.