March 20, 2015
On Saturday we decided to check out the War Memorial of Korea. The name is a bit misleading; it would be more accurately described as a museum. It’s a large complex located on the former site of the Korean Infantry Headquarters.
There are several outdoor statues and a military graveyard with old tanks, planes, missiles, and a battleship that has become more of a playground for children. The weather was nice and sunny so it was very enjoyable to stroll around the grounds. The first statue we came to was The Statue of Brothers. It features two brothers embracing on the battlefield, one a soldier for the North and one an officer for the South. They stand on top of a cracked dome which symbolizes the separation of the two Koreas and hope for eventual reunification.
Next we came upon the incredibly large Tower of the Korean War. It has several different elements. The central structure is both a bronze sword and a tree of life. According to the plaque, the sword represents the warrior spirit of Korea while the tree of life symbolizes its prosperity and peace. Along the sides and below, there is a stone bowl which I did not attempt to photograph. It represents the desire for reunification. Surrounding the sword/tree are 38 statues. These statues represent all of the people who were affected by the war and overcame its tragedy.
Before we went into the Memorial Hall we decided to take a look at the outdoor exhibition of military equipment. There were a lot of kids running around and playing on everything so we briefly wandered through and went on to the Memorial Hall.
The main attraction is Memorial Hall which covers all of the Korean Peninsula’s military history – invasions from the Mongols, the Chinese, the Japanese, fighting among regional kings, the Korean War, their participation in the Vietnam War, and present-day encounters with North Korea. It’s a large museum with 3 floors of exhibits. I was mostly interested in learning more about the Korean War since it’s an event that I didn’t learn much (or anything?) about in school and it’s incredibly relevant to our lives in Korea. When you first walk up to Memorial Hall there are two outdoor galleries (4 wings) on either side that contain the names of all those who gave their lives during the Korean War as well as Koreans who died during the Vietnam War and in defense of the ROK.
After looking at the galleries for a bit we finally went inside. The 2nd floor houses the exhibits for the Korean War so we went there first. I was impressed. Everything was laid out well and there was a ton of information. I thought the exhibits did a nice job of emphasizing the personal sacrifice of so many Koreans and reminding visitors that their fight is still relevant today. The museum also did a wonderful job laying out how the war began and the course it took. On the 3rd floor a separate exhibit highlighted the UN countries which participated in the war. It was a nice tribute, and it brought out a little patriotic pride in us.
Another message the memorial presents is one of hope, hope for reunification. I thought the Clock Tower of Peace was a beautiful reminder of the hope that many Koreans have for a peaceful unification of the two Koreas.
Overall, I was very pleased with the War Memorial. I thought it did an exceptional job honoring the memory of those who gave their lives and of reminding its visitors that an event which occurred not so long ago is still very relevant today. It’s hard to imagine Korea as it was back then. Today it’s full of stores and malls, high rise apartment buildings, flashing neon signs, cell phones and tablets, high speed trains, subways, and K-Pop. In so many ways it represents exactly what it fought for – freedom to take charge of its fate. It’s a lesson that I hope its younger population will still remember even when all of its veterans are gone. As the cliche goes, freedom is never free.