Have you ever visited a war memorial? Usually they are quite grandiose and relatively simplistic. Think of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC:
It’s a long grand opaline wall covered with the names of all those lost in the war. It’s deep, simple, and awe inspiring.
I’ve been to many war memorials all over the world and each one maintain this pattern of creating a powerful, awe inspiring aesthetic appearance through very simple and straightforward means. The Korean War Memorial in Seoul also follows this method with long hallways filled with plaques etched with the names of those lost in the war.
However, it goes ones step further by turning the memorial into an actual Korean history museum, as well.
Before I explain further, let me tell you how to get here:
As I said in my last post, I was staying in Itaewon during my visit to Seoul. As such, I just walked to the memorial on the main road by walking from Itaewon station west towards Samgakji station. However, if you’re more interested in taking the subway it is very simple. From anywhere in the city, take the subway to the Samgakji Station stop and exit the station at Exit 6. From there you will see arrows and signs directing you to the memorial.
But, as always…REMEMBER YOUR MAP. This is the map that Lexi and I used for 4 days in Seoul and as you can see from the rips and tears, it saw a lot of use.
Anyways, back to the memorial. As I said earlier, the war memorial doubles as a history museum on Korea and its military past. To the right side of the memorial’s entrance is an outside exhibit area that displays aircraft, tanks, naval ships, and missiles that were all used during the Korean War. This is truly incredible because they have aircraft from the beginning of the war that include prop-planes and some of the first jets utilized in modern warfare.
Everything is right there in front of you and in some cases you can even walk up onto the war machines and experience what it was like to ride on these powerful tools.
This really meant a lot to me since one of my father’s best friends and a role model of mine flew aircraft in the Korean War. Though he recently passed away, I grew up on the information he gave me about his time flying World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War. Specifically, he was one of the first pilots to test out the F-86 Sabre jet fighters in Korea. To see that jet in person was incredible and truly meant a lot to me.
While this exhibit area is incredible, the main event definitely lies within the memorial itself. While we were there, the plaza was preparing for a weekend market and was inaccessible (I will talk more about that later). As such, we went through the left memorial hall to get to the main entrance. The way the structure is set up, there are two memorial halls connected to the central building. Each hall holds plaques baring the names of S. Korean soldiers lost in the war. Once you reach the main building itself, the wall to the left of the entrance houses large plaques commemorating those lost in the war from the UN Forces. This consisted of soldiers from all over the world like Turkey, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Philippines, and obviously the United States.
The United States’ losses made up the majority of this international wing and names were actually separated by state. Before long, I was able to find the plaque for Arizona, my home state.
50 years after the fact, lost soldiers are still remembered. Here is a picture of wreaths given to the memorial by the Philippines Ambassador for the people that they lost.
Once I entered the central hall, I found a database system that held the names, date of death, location and regiments of every person who was recorded KIA or MIA during the various battles of the war. It is incredibly accurate and all I had to do was type in the last name of somebody and clarify their nationality in order to generate a list of everybody who fit that information.
What I really recommend though, is a visit to the museum exhibits. As I walked towards the first exhibit entrance, I was greeted by a ring of statues dedicated to ancient and modern Korean Generals. In addition, a massive drum decorated with an ornate tiger marks the entrance into the memorial hall.
At the basement floor I found ancient Korean relics from arrowheads, to axes, to old Korean sculptures of the zodiac signs. In addition, scale models of Korean warships lined the bottom floor, displaying Korean ingenuity against Japanese invaders in the past.
After watching some videos about the Japanese invasions of Korea, Lexi and I walked up to the second floor to the exhibit halls on the modern Korean War. The halls were primarily separated by subject; some were oriented towards the UN Forces, some towards the history of North and South Korea, and another to relics and artifacts donated to the museum by various generous people.
The UN forces room began with a portrait of the UN Security Assembly voting in favor of supporting South Korean forces in their military efforts. It then branched off into various corridors showcasing the different nations who made up the coalition forces and their uniforms, numbers, and highlights during the war. Growing up in America, the Korean War is usually overshadowed by the impact of the Vietnam War on US politics. As a result, I never knew the sheer magnitude of international forces involved in the campaigns. There were forces from all over Europe, Turkey, Far East Asia, Oceania, Africa, and North and South America. It was a real eye opening experience to not just learn of each nations’ contributions but also to see their uniforms and regiment sizes.
My favorite room, however, was the donation room. Before I entered the showcase rooms that held all the relics, I walked through a large glowing room that displayed all the names of those who’ve donated to the museum. Some of the items included medals from around the world, old radios and helmets, and even propaganda posters. These were actually the coolest aspect of the museum for me. Propaganda is such a powerful force in every scenario, especially wartime, so seeing a Korean take on this was awesome.
This is a truly incredible museum and offers a relatively unbiased description of the war, considering it is a memorial commemorating the creation of the South Korean state. The museum succeeds in trying to showcase the tension and heartache felt by the separation of the Korean peninsula and the acts of the war itself. Furthermore, as an American, I think it is important to visit as many of the places in the world that we and our military have impacted. We were instrumental in the formation of Korea and have maintained a presence there with negative and positive effects, including a controversial occupation after the war. It is very important to see how America is portrayed in other countries and what their perspective on history is in order to discern what the reality of our involvement in the world truly is. Please do come visit this place if you are ever in Seoul.
One monument that is particularly impressive showcases two Korean soldiers embracing one another on top of a cracked globe. This was formed from the story of a S. Korean officer embracing his N. Korean brother in the middle of a battlefield.
OH! Before I end this, I have to tell you all how it is seemingly impossible to escape ONE PIECE in Asia. While exploring the Memorial Building I found a ONE PIECE exhibit randomly set up in a side hallway. I don’t know what it was for or how long it had been there, but it was charging money for something. Needless to say, I took a picture in the wanted posters. I mean, it is my favorite manga.