|July 31, 2008
This day I took a trip to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) on the border of North and South Korea. It was truly an amazing trip as it showed us how tremendously different North is from South (outside of the obvious).
After going through a military check of our passports (which felt a little strange) we visited the Dorasan Train Station first. This is a station built with the hopes of being used as a line into the north. Currently it is not used. On this leg we also saw the Imjingak Bridge or the Freedom Bridge. It was used to transport POWS from one side to the other.
Next we went to the 3rd tunnel. This was one of 4 tunnels that were found by the South Korean troops as a means for the North to take troops over the border for a surprise attack. It was a little weird to think that a tunnel like that could be built. It was about 1.6 km long and came out 44 km from Seoul. Just as disturbing is that the tunnel was initially found in 1974 (confirmed in 1978) 6 years after the seize fire agreement between the N/S. North Koreans claim it wasn't their tunnel for military use but a tunnel for coal mining (although the walls were solid granite). These claims were proven to be false. You could still see the paint and the holes that the N Koreans used to hold the dynamite.
After that trip we went to the Dora Observatory. It is a place where you could look onto the horizon of North Korea. Interesting part of this trip was that there is a yellow line at the observatory. No pictures could be taken past that yellow line or your camera could be taken. I guess it is to prevent seeing the true conditions in North Korea.
From there we headed to Panmunjeom home of the Joint Security Area (JSA). After a briefing at the Advance Camp, UN Command Support, we went to the JSA to view the various buildings that it houses. Most notably is the conference building used to hold negotiations between the UN and North/South Korea. In this building we were able to actually step into North Korean territory. There is a "line" in the middle of the building signifying what was N/S. While here we also saw the North Korean building Panmungak and the Freedom House (you can get a 360 degree view of the area).
After we finished the JSA tour we travelled to a couple more checkpoints where we were able to get a better view of the North Korean landscape and other key points at the base. One being the “Bridge of No Return”. At a prisoner exchange the POWs were allowed to choose whether they wanted to live in the North or the South. Once their decision was made they could not go back over the bridge, thus the name. The other location that was visited was the site of the Axe Murder Incident. Long story short some American soldiers were trimming a tree that blocked the view to a look out station which was considered a routine procedure by the troops but the North disagreed. An altercation ensued and in the end two American soldiers were killed. That week Operation Paul Bunyan was put into place. It is an amazing story to read and too much to put into the journal but here is a link to a site that can give you more details if you are interested. The short story is that the tree was eventually cut down with no more incident and the Camp was named after one of the fallen soldiers Major Arthur Bonifas with the other soldier’s name being 1Lt. Mark Barrett.
After that visit we began our trip back to Seoul. I love history so this was the perfect trip for me to go on. The sacrifices people have made over the years, regardless of your personal opinion, is something to be acknowledged and appreciated more that we do today. We would not be here today without very selfless acts.
Here are some other facts that I learned.
1. N/S Korean border is not the 38th Parallel. It was a mark determined to separate the two countries in 1945 and was decided by the then Soviet Union and the US. Part of the DMZ does run across the 38th Parallel but it is not the N/S border.
2. The Korean War is not officially over. In 1958 a truce was signed but it was not an official end to the war.
3. Even though only 4 tunnels have been found going from North to South Korea they suspect that approximately 10 tunnels have been dug from East to West of the DMZ.
Have a good weekend/week. I hope everyone is doing well. I would love to hear how everyone is doing so drop me a line if you get a chance. Here are more pictures I have loaded on Facebook.