Tuesday, December 17: Ailsa’s travel theme (Where’s my backpack?) for this week, Still, brought to mind the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Korean War is considered to have ended when the Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, but there has never been a peace treaty. South Korean and American troops still face off against North Korean troops today at the 38th parallel, commonly called the DMZ.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial sits in Washington, D.C.’s West Potomac Park, just south of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. It commemorates those who served in the Korean War.
The main memorial is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. More than 2,500 photographic, archival images representing the land, sea and air troops who supported those who fought in the war are sandblasted on the 100 ton wall of highly polished “Academy Black” granite from California.
Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues, each larger than life-size, between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall; each weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea (Wikipedia: Korean War Veteran’s Memorial).
According to History.com, on June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army poured across the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south. This invasion was the first military action of the Cold War. By July, American troops had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf. As far as American officials were concerned, it was a war against the forces of international communism itself. After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and casualties mounted with nothing to show for them. Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and China–or even, as some warned, World War III. Finally, in July 1953, the Korean War came to an end. In all, some 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives during the war. The Korean peninsula is still divided today.
The United Nations Command, supported by the United States, the North Korean People’s Army, and the Chinese People’s Volunteers, signed the Armistice Agreement on 27 July 1953 to end the fighting. The Armistice also called upon the governments of South Korea, North Korea, China and the United States to participate in continued peace talks. The war is considered to have ended at this point, even though there was no peace treaty. North Korea nevertheless claims that it won the Korean War (Wikipedia: Korean War).
Since the armistice, there have been numerous incursions and acts of aggression by North Korea. In 1976, the axe murder incident was widely publicized. This involved the killing of two United States Army officers by North Korean soldiers on August 18, 1976, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) within the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The U.S. officers had been part of a work party cutting down a tree in the JSA. Since 1974, four incursion tunnels leading to Seoul have been uncovered.
In 2010, a North Korean submarine torpedoed and sank the South Korean ROKS Cheonan, resulting in the deaths of 46 sailors. Again in 2010, North Korea fired artillery shells on Yeonpyeong island, killing two military personnel and two civilians (Wikipedia: Korean War).
I was living and working in Korea during both of the 2010 incidents, which made for some very unsettling moments: north korea sinks the south korean navy ship cheonan and North Korea attacks the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong.
It’s a shame that North Korea still to this day bullies South Korea, one of the world’s economic success stories. Having lived and worked in South Korea, and having taught many South Korean students, I feel a kinship with the South. I hope that the still-tense situation at the 38th parallel will, one day soon, be resolved peacefully.