Anderson Giles, Professor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, recently helped lead a private tour to South Korea for the College of the Ozarks, which gave Korean War veterans and students the opportunity to visit important Korean War sites, the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, and important cultural sites.
The tour took place from Sept. 28 to Oct. 7 and included stops at several sites, including in Cheorwan Country, Yanggu, Gyengii-do, Busan, and Incheon.
Giles, a professor of art at the university, is passionate about the history of World War II and the veterans who served in the Pacific/Asian Theater. He has worked for more than 20 years to preserve the history of the war in that region through film, photographs, paintings and commemorative lectures. He has traveled to many islands in the Pacific—including Iwo Jima, Tarawa, and Peleliu—and also China, Vietnam, and Korea, to document historical sites and interview veterans about their experiences in order to preserve their memories for future generations.
Giles escorted the group to the Iron Triangle Battlefield, the headquarters of the North Korean and Communist Chinese armies during the Korean War. This area was the scene of major battles with high numbers of casualties on both sides. Giles' group also visited the Pork Chop Hill area, the 980-foot hill that was the scene of battle after battle from 1951 to the signing of the armistice in July 1952. The famous movie of the same name, starring Gregory Peck, depicts only the last two battles, which were fought by troops dug into World War I-type foxholes as their leaders were negotiating a cease-fire.
The group also visited Yanggu, the scene of some of the Korean War's most bitter battles. Still a military zone, the area has a large concentration of soldiers. Sometimes called the Peace and Life Zone (PLZ), Yanggu is a place where the natural world has flourished, due to the restrictions of civilians. Many species of rare birds nest in this restricted zone today. Giles' group visited the 4th Infiltration Tunnel dug by the North, discovered only in 1990, and the Eulji Observatory, just one kilometer from the Line of Demarcation. From here, one has a remarkable panoramic view into North Korea, enabling views of major bunkers, observation posts and miles of fortified boundary lines. From this post, you can also see the Punch Bowl area, where the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge was fought.
On Oct. 5, the group made their way to Panmunjom and demilitarized zone area. During 1952-1953, South Korea and North Korea negotiated and then designated the DMZ, 2 kilometers away from the truce line on each side of the border, as a buffer zone between the two countries. As one of the last relics of the Cold War, the DMZ attracts a great deal of worldwide interest. Inside the DMZ, the group had the opportunity to see the Imjingak Park, with its Korean War monuments, the Bridge of Freedom over the Imjin River and the DMZ Museum and Exhibition Hall. On the way to Panmunjom, the group visited the area along the Imjim River very near the site where Giles' father was killed in action while serving with the 1st Marine Division in 1953.
At the Panmunjom complex, Giles' group was allowed into the building where the negotiation table is displayed in a room where one end is in North Korea and one in South Korea. Armed soldiers from each side face each other from opposite ends in a perpetually tense situation. They saw the abandoned village in the JSA where the 1952 Armistice Agreement was signed, and Camp Bonifas, the former UN Command post now manned by American and Korean soldiers. They then visited the "Bridge of No Return," the point where U.S. prisoners released from North Korea returned or chose to stay.
They also visited the 3rd Tunnel that was discovered Oct. 17, 1978. Approximately 10,000 North Korean soldiers could move though this tunnel in one hour. The group also saw the Mt. Dora Observation Platform located near the 3rd Tunnel. From this observation platform, North Korean military personnel with loaded weapons in bunkers are visible. The city of Gaeseong and the Geumgangsan Mountains are visible in the distance also.
In Gyengii-do, the group saw the site of the First Battle of Osan, which took place on July 5, 1950, and was the first engagement of U.S. troops in the Korean War. Task Force Smith suffered a major defeat and had to retreat in disarray. In route to Busan, they visited the Dabudong War Memorial Museum and the Waegwan War Memorial Museum in Chilgok. Here, the epic battles associated with the Pusan perimeter campaign are commemorated.
In Busan, the group visited the UN Memorial Cemetery and Peace Park, established to honor the soldiers from 16 different countries who lost their lives fighting alongside South Korean troops. The impressive green park encompasses the UN Sculpture Park, the Peace Park, cemetery and Memorial Tower. On the Wall of Remembrance, Giles viewed his father's name along with 40,895 other U.N. soldiers' names chiseled on the granite wall. He also viewed his father's name on the Monument of those killed in action in the expansive National War Memorial and Museum in Seoul.
Another important battle site visited was Incheon, where General McArthur led the famous amphibious invasion on Sept. 15, 1950, which broke North Korea's hold on South Korea. The group visited the Incheon Landing Operation Memorial Hall, commemorating the victorious amphibious invasion of the city. Two 1st Marine Division veterans, Jose Mendoza and David Williams, who made the landing there, gave the group compelling descriptions of the intense action.
Throughout the tour, the group took in other cultural sites, including the royal Changdeok Palace, a number of Buddhist temples, the Namdaeum Market, and Gwanghwamun Square, the oldest and largest market in Korea.
Giles said it was a unique experience to share his insights on the Korean War with the students on the trip. He feels many have forgotten that technically we are still at war with North Korea. A permanent peace treaty has never been ratified, and this area continues to be a hot spot on the global scene.
Giles also related that seeing the area where his father was killed brought back painful memories of growing up without a father. However, seeing his Dad's name on the Memorial Walls and how the South Korean people poured out their thanks to the veterans in Giles' group for their sacrifices was a powerful, healing experience. The Korean War veterans on the trip were extremely gratified by this reaction.
A blog about the trip can be found at http://cofokorea2013.blogspot.com/.