Sunday, 12 June 2011

June 2011 History Lesson - DMZ

Elder Howerton and I left Daegu for Seoul with another senior missionary couple, Elder and Sister Bagley. We four traveled to Seoul, went to the Seoul Temple, and then out to dinner with a group of senior missionaries that get together once a month for dinner! It just happened to be that particular night that we were in the area. What a good time; we should be doing something like this in our Busan area! Of course, they have more senior missionary areas and senior couples up north.....

Does this look like the best Geritol group ever, or what?!

Such good people - all serving a mission. There are other Military Relations Missionaries here as well as some in other positions. There seems to be more in the northern area of South Korea. Most of these couples have several grown children each and a couple of them have grandchildren numbered in the twenties back at home. They love what they do and in fact, several have been on missions before!

The gentleman on the left in front is the Seoul Mission President and his wife sitting across from him. They attend these get-togethers every month. The couple in the back helped us get back and forth from the temple to the restaurant. They are serving a full-time mission in the Seoul Temple.

Here begins our tour of the DMZ.......

Here is Elder Howerton in front of the North Korean's Visitors Center, named Panmungak, situated in the North territory where they observe the South territory at the infamous DMZ. The buildings in blue are located on the Military Demarcation Line.

Two defections in the '80's have focused world attention on Panmunjeom. On October 30, 1981, a Czechosloviakian Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission member walked across the Military Demarcation Line and surrendered himself to UNC soldiers and requested asylum in the United States. On November 23,, 1984, an interpreter at the Soviet Embassy in Pyeongyang broke away from a tour and sprinted the enire 69 foot length of the corridor between the MAV Conference building and the UNC Join Duty Office to two guard routinely stationed at the building. Seven North Korean guards chased the Soviet defector across the MKL and bgan firing at him. The quick thinking and return of fire by two guards, Pvt.Michael A. Burgoyne was wounded and later received the Purple Heart. Three North Korean guards were killed. The hero of this action was PFC Jang who was posthumously promoted to corporal and awarded the Bronze Star with "V" device. A newly constructed building at Camp Bonifas was dedicated in his honor.

Elder and Sister Bagley from the Office of the Mission President in Busan. We four took this, and another trip together, that you'll see later.... this was prior to the end of their mission. They are now a returned senior missionary couple, living in Star Valley, Wyoming. We love and miss you guys!!!!!!!!!! They are facing the camera and their back is to North Korea.

This small grey house is entitiled 'The Monkey House'. It’s nicknamed the monkey house 'cause when North Korean soldiers are in there they make faces and jestures outside the window at the ROK soldiers (Republic of Korean or South Korean soldiers). As the other buildings here you'll see, these are half on the north side and the other half is on the south side of the Darmarcation line. The tall building on the far right is 100% in North Korea.

This is a zoom of the Panmungak on the North side. You can see a North Korean guard looking through his binoculars at us. If you look closely at the window on the left of him you can make out that someone else is watching as well.... We (on the South) cannot acknowledge them by waving at them or make any guestures. This is a very secure and delicate area. WE are watched by our own as well as those on the opposite side!

The blue building on the left is the actual one most of us know about. In this building is the infamous table that both sides come to talk.....but not very well though, I think, as nothing much has changed in what: 60 + years?! Notice the ROK soldier on the right. Quite interesting, no? Half of him is literally staring at the building just inches from his nose. The other half of him has his 'eye' on the North and the Panmungak building, and of course, the guards there.... are watching us. Our American and ROK soldiers remain in high state of readiness. Their equipment must always be ready. Vehicles must be operational with a full load of fuel. This requires them to sleep in their uniforms, eat in their barracks, rather than in dining facilities, and they stay together at all times.

Within the Joint Security Area itself, the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) is more clearly defined by a series of white stakes that are approximately 1 meter in height and are spaced at 10 meter intervals. It extends onto the conference room by a 17x5" slab of concrete between the buildings. If you look back at the picture above you can see the lighter area between the two blue buildings.

I found this so fascinating... How long each must stand guard in that position I don't know. The one behind is in full view to the North, ensuring the coverage. These ROK soldiers stand guard in a what they call 'Tai quan do' 'Ready'! I hope I stated that correctly..... they are certainly locked into what I'd call a 'ready' position; frozen, alert, and ready for whatever faces them Their fists are clenched and straight at their sides. You can stand next to them in designated places for pictures but you can not speak to them, or they to you. As they say, the price of freedom remains eternal vigilance.

The United Nations Command Security Battalion-Joint SecurityArea is the unit tasked to provide all logistical support and secuirty to all personnel working in the Jount Security Area. We refer to this area as simply Panmunjeom. These men stand face to face with the Communist North Korean guards and are also tour guides for all the visitors in the area. Their base camp is Camp Bonifus located 400 meters south of the southern boundry of the Demilitarized Zone. Their motto is 'In Front Of Them All'. And they most certainly are!!! As you would wonder, these select few assigned here are highly tested. They must be able to endure, physically and phychologically. Every one of them was quite impressive.

Specialist Cisnoros escorted our group. In the room where North meets South stands an ROK guard in 'Ready' position. They all wear dark glasses constantly so the enemy cannot see their eyes.

The table in the immediate foreground is the table that literally is half on the north and half of it sits on the south side of the damarcation line. Taking this picture, I was on the North side of Korea (in communistic country, folks!) facing the freedom side of the South! There was another ROK guard directly in back of me. We were told we could stand in front of him, facing south only, and NOT to go behind him....or we would be taken down. I didn't doubt it for a minute.....

The outside of our Visitors Center - walk through and you come out in front of the buildings and the north/south lines.

Hopefully, this will be interesting to you. This was in a glass display of an event in our history with North Korea. On August 18, 1976 at approximately 11:00 am, there occured an axe murder where 2 American officers were killed. There was a work detail that was assigned there to prune a popular tree which was about 75 meters from the Bridge of No Return (more on that later). This tree blocked the view of the guard post located by the Bridge of No Return. They told us this tree and the entire area was pruned and cleaned for years without problems. The work began without incident. However at about 10:50 am the KPA (North Korean Soldiers) lieutenant demanded that the work stop. The officer in charge, Captain Bonifas, directed the workers to continue since this was a legitimate activity and the work needed to be accomplished.  The KPA dispatched a runner to get reinforcements, by 11:00 am the guards had grown to 30. The KPA ordered the work to stop. When it continued he is said to have removed his watch, wrapped it in a handerchief, placed it in his pocket and yelled, "Kill the Americans". The fight lasted only 4 minutes but 2 American officers were dead; Captain Bonifas and Lieutenant Barrett. Four enlisted men and 4 ROK soldiers were injured. The KPA later claimed 5 of their own soldiers were injured.

Literally the world waited to see what would happen next......

Whatever the politics of the event at the time, the decision was made to cut the tree down. Now this is important to our family as Elder Howerton was stationed in Korea at that very time, at Camp Casey which is very close to the DMZ. In fact, he was a helicopter pilot (back in the Viet Nam era) and was flying missions along the DMZ. Operation "Paul Bunyan" came into effect. On August 21, 1976 literally 20 UH-1 Hueys supported by eight Cobra gunships were ready to support the operation. In one of those helicopters was Captain Howerton, flying overhead. The tree was a Normandy Popular and a good-sized tree. When the operation was completed all that was left was a stump where the beautiful tree had been. Today even that is gone but a monument remains, which you'll see.

The circle under the monument was the actual size of the tree.

Difficult to read. Actually, Elder Howerton asked our military tour guide if our bus could stop by the monument so he could get a picture of him next to it. Our guide was polite but said in this area, because we were so close to the line of demarcation, no one was permitted to leave the bus. We could, however, take pictures as the bus passed, slowly. Elder Howerton looked disappointed and mentioned that he was sorry he couldn't as he was there the day it was cut down. I thought this military soldier was going to drop his jaw. He asked him all about it, announced over the speaker in the bus that we had a real hero on board, a former chopper pilot that was in the air the day the tree was cut down.... I wish our family could have been there. He received a round of applause and a couple of pats on the back. The bus did not 'slow' down, it came to a complete stop. We were sitting on the opposite side of the bus from where the monument was and several seats opened up so we could get close to the window to get the best shot. It was very touching.

Pictures through windows aren't very clear; sorry. This sign is over 60 years old. It is literally sitting on the line of demarcation. In front, it's bare. Behind the sign it's lush.... The strip of land that is the buffer area to the north and south has not been used or even touched for the entire time since that line was made effective. They say there are all types of wildlife in there; animals, birds, etc. Are there still land mines? The military says that over the years a loud explosion has happened a time or two indicating perhaps an animal discovered one.....

Interesting tower.... There are two villages in this area. One are inhabitants of the DMZ and are the members of the Neutral Nations Supervisor Commission and the villagers of Daeseong-dong, or Freedom Village.

This village is adjecent to the Military Demarcation Line. These people have elected to reside on their ancestral homes rather than relocate to a safer life in the south. The citizens live under very rigid conditions as they must be out of their fields and their village by dark each night. They must be home and accounted for with their windows and doors secured by 11:00 pm each night. This tower above, located on the North side, continually blasted propaganda from loudspeakers at the Propaganda Village. The North Korean Propaganda Village, or Gijeong-dong, is also located in he DMZ. It gets it's name Propaganda Village for a number of reasons, first and foremost of which is the extensive loud speaker which broadcasted to the citizens of Daeseong-done and to anyone who would listen to the praises of Kim II Sung, the god-like leader of North Korea. Those broadcasts were emitted 6 to 12 hours a day, mostly at night. A second reason is that this is a village with no citizens. Although 15-20 workers are present every day, they are merely caretakers of this village as they raise and lower the flag and maintain the facilities. Today they are not broadcasting any longer.

This is The Bridge of No Return. Again, it's situated about 75 meters from where the tree stood. This is the spot where all prisoners of war (POWs) were repatriated after the end of the Korean War. The returning prisoners stopped at the bridge while exchange lists were verified. Those on both sides were given the chance to stay, stating if they walked away and crossed they could never return. For our POWs, once repatriated they went straight to a tent city where they discarded the Communist POW uniform, showered, received new uniforms and a meal of real food including ice cream! The crew of the USS Pueblo returned across this bridge.

A display of the entire area above that I will attempt to point out for you. The red line in the middle is the actual demarcation line known as the 38th parallel. On the south of it, and on the north of it, are lines marked with white lights. On the south is the south line and the same on the north side. The Korean Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, and the four-mile wide Demilitarized Zone, known as the DMZ (from the white lights to the other set of white lights on the opposite side), or the neutral area, if you will. This four-mile wide area was established across the Peninsula along the battle fronts. Once completed, this truce village of Panmunjeom was put on the Korean map.

In this glass case you can get a feel for the entire region. Notice the white lights going east and west. That is the actual line of demarcation. The blue buildings in the middle of this is the place we were in previous pictures, and where the truce was signed. We are still under that truce today.

A statue of a Korean soldier helping his countrymen.

This may take some looking. I hope you can see it well enough. Since the truce and 'peace' the South has discovered tunnels that have been built by the North Koreans - the tunnel that we were able to go in is called The 3rd Tunnel. It is the largest of the four underground tunnels dug under the DMZ by North Korea. It was discovered in 1978 and is located just 52km away from Seoul!!

This tunnel is 1.7km in length, 2m in width and 2m in height. It is so large that an army of 30,000 fully-armed North Korean soldiers and their vehicles and weapons can pass through the tunnel in an hour. Think of that!!! We took this tour but it liked to killed me! They used to have motor rail but they didn't offer it to us! It's a hard walk down as it is so dang steep! It's all you can do to hold yourself back as your body wants to run. Once down you can see where it continues into North Korea. Of course, when they discovered this, they now have sections blocked off with land mines, etc, to keep the north, north. On the part that's open to the public it's a small area, then you turn around and walk back up (!). Huffing and puffing, I might add.

 This was a display inside that showed how the North Koreans hollowed out the tunnel. One must keep in mind the reason they call their military the ROK... Rock of Korea is what we say (Republic of Korea is correct) is because the entire country is built on solid rock! I mean SOLID rock. How they accomplished this feat is something else. And there are more...... See the yellow circles on the sides of the walls? That is where they placed the dynamite. They found the markings all over; quite remarkable. Luckily we discovered them. They are constantly on the look-out for others.

When the North invaded the South many families were split. Our Korean tour guide on our tour bus going to the DMZ and home again was telling us that her Grandmother's brother (that would be her great uncle) is still in the North. At least they know he was there when the war broke out. Whether he's alive or dead, they have no idea. The South wants unification so badly. When and if it ever happens, as it did in Berlin, the North will be so shocked at how badly the South wants this. We know the North are told nothing. They are literally starving to death, and yet their leaders seem plump and happy.

Today all soldiers on the "Frontier of Freedom" are performing their duties in a professional manner and are truly prepared for any unpredictable action. While there have been provocations to war by the North since 1953, the Peninsula is at peace. The efforts of both the Republic of Korea and the United States will continue to maintain this peace - and keep the Armistice in effect - until the Korean War is finally ended.

A most interesting trip! So much history, so much still going on. The Bagley's have not had the military life we've been blessed to have and they didn't know all that went on there. They found it of great interest. We had a wonderful time with great friends. Next, will be another blog soon of another trip we made to Busan to see the Bagley's the last weekend they were in country! Lots of pictures of that weekend to show you. AND this coming Monday is our Transfer Breakfast that all the mom's and dad's out there are looking for. Another time to see their missionaries over here.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I love sharing all with you. We are so blessed to be residents of the United States of America! May we NEVER take it, or our freedoms for granted. There is an excellent book on the DMZ and their history if anyone is interested. It is entitled "Panmunjeom - Facts about the Korean DMZ". The author is Wayne A. Kirkbride and the Photographer is Shin Hyon-sop.

My blog seems to be taking on a life of it's own! I was looking for the Relief Society logo for our sister missionaries and I googled 'Relief Society logo in Korean' and guess what appeared on the screen?! One of the pictures from our blog on the Relief Society birthday dinner we had, here in Korea! On google..... well, it matched Relief Society with Korea. That makes sense but how did it pull from our blog? I am really technically challenged.... The church is true as Elder Green always reminded us, and we love our mission!

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