Seoul: Immortalizing Heroes at Korea War Memorial
We’re already been in Seoul, so we wasted no opportunity in visiting the Korea War Memorial. That’s why immediately after buying some computer electronic stuff in Yongsan (considered the Greenhills/Gilmore of Seoul), we were invited by our friend to go here, which is just nearby. What we failed to check is that the main hall is closed during Mondays (and we went there on a Monday), but it is OK, for even outdoors there is already interesting stuff to see.
The Korean War is among the most bitter part of Korean History. Since 1945, after the Japanese were expelled from the peninsula, Korea has never been united. The division of Korea is among the results of the Cold War, with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, aka Russia) wanting to spread Communist ideology worldwide. They already did it in the eastern half of Europe after vanquishing the Nazis, they also want to do the same in Korea. After the Japanese defeat, the USSR controlled the northern half of Korea, while the United States took over the southern half. Negotiations for a unified Korea fell off, which leads to the establishment of communist North Korea and democratic South Korea. The two Koreas were divided along the 38-degree latitude which is to be called the Demilitarized Zone, aka the 38th Parallel.
But the Communists wanted to take control of the whole of Korea and believed of being the sovereign of the entire peninsula. After several small skirmishes along the DMZ, on June 25, 1950, the North Korean army unleashed a full-scale invasion on South Korea. The southern half was quickly overrun until the United Nations forces led by the United States pushed them back in a counter-offensive from Busan. As the UN advanced towards the Chinese border, China (which fell to Communism a little less than a year earlier) intervened in a surprise counter-attack and pushed the UN forces back south. On July 27, 1953, the two fronts stabilized, and the ceasefire was established. But as the two Koreas signed an armistice and not a peace treaty, until now the two Koreas are still technically at war, until now.
The war ended with massive casualties on both sides. Over 2.5 million civilians were killed.
Maybe you know how the two Koreas continue to taunt each other (with the North almost always doing the provocation) which sometimes lead to bloody skirmishes.
While we are sad that we were unable to go inside the main hall, the outside still offered equally interesting and informative things about this brutal war.
We just learned that the War Memorial was built on what was once a large army base. It is the largest museum of its kind. But still, the area is surrounded by military offices, for instance, the Ministry of National Defense is just in front of it. I sometimes wonder, how if the Philippine Armed Forces just built a war museum over a large part of Fort Bonifacio instead of selling it to become a large upscale business district called the Bonifacio Global City?
The goals of the War Memorial is not just to inform the visitors about the brutality of war, especially the Korean War. It also gives current generations of the need for consistent national security amidst the ongoing threats and the hope of having world peace.
At the front of the War Memorial are monuments that highlight this grim chapter of Korean history. A large obelisk is in the middle, surrounded at opposite sides by statues of people from all walks of life. The remarkable thing on these statues (and some other statues scattered around the Memorial) is their attention to detail, which helps capture the harsh reality of war.
There is a large outdoor area which is the Exhibition Area, devoted to the display of military hardware, ranging from howitzers, large guns, tanks to aircraft. They are life-size displays, preserved from the original hardware, (and we are thinking some of them may even have been used during the war and were well preserved) and it gives insight to visitors on their actual size. Each of them has a signboard, in Korean and English, telling quick stats and information about them. They are also color-coded so it would be quickly be known which side has used them: Red for the Communist forces (North Korea, USSR, China) and Blue for the Allied Forces (South Korea, USA, UN, etc).
Aside from Korean War-era hardware, there is also some military hardware on permanent display from post-war skirmishes between the two Koreas (remember, they are still technically at war, and North Korea is constantly threatening South of this and that). One of them is a life-size replica of the PKM-357 patrol boat which was involved in a fierce skirmish with North Korea in the Battle of Yeonpyeong in 2002. With the number of bullet holes prominently marked on the boat, visitors are given an idea of how intense the battle was.
The outdoor corridors of the Memorial’s main building is a monument contained names of the soldiers who were killed in action the Korean War, as well as those killed post-war in defending true Korean democracy. Not only the names of the Korean deceased were etched, but also the names of other nationalities who participated in the war. We also saw the names of the Filipino soldiers who were among those killed. This part of a memorial is a hallowed, sacred ground, intended to remember the soldiers who died in their call of duty. It also gives visitors perspective on how brutal the war is, and this is just the military part of the casualties, and not counting the civilians whose casualties are up to a million.
One of the most touching monuments outdoors is the Statue of Brothers. It depicts the elder South Korean soldier and the younger North Korean soldier, symbolizes the harsh reality of Korean division, which is still evident until now (not only among the North Korean dissidents who flee to the South but also to the longtime relatives separated by war). This story is immortalized on the 2004 South Korean movie Taegukgi (whose title was derived from the name of the Korean flag), which also became a domestic box office hit and earned positive reviews.
There is also a souvenir shop outside the main hall, and it is open even on Mondays.
29 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
- Seoul Subway Line 4 and Line 6, Samgakji Station, Exit 12. It takes a five-minute walk from the station to the museum.
- Open on 09:00 to 6:00 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday except if it falls on a holiday, during which the museum will be closed on the following day.
SOUTH KOREA TOUR
SEOUL: Korea War Memorial | Chenggyecheon Stream | Gyeongbokgung Palace | Gwanghwamun Square | Cheongwadae (Blue House) | Jongmyo Shrine | Ihwa-Dong Mural Village | Marronnier Park | Naksan Park | National Folk Museum | National Palace Museum | Seoul Fortress | Sungnyenum Gate | Dongdaemun Gate | Bukchon Hanok Village | Deoksugong
PAJU: Imjingak DMZ