As I mentioned in my previous post about South Korea, I travelled there mostly because I had to “escape” China for a little while. I had done minimal research on the country and it is a bit by chance that I discovered the city of Busan was home to the only military cemetery managed by the United Nations, anywhere in the world. The United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea (UNMCK), was created during the conflict and formally recognized in 1959.
Of the 2,300 soldiers buried here, most came from the Commonwealth and Turkey. But this does not reflect the relative losses of the various contingents. While the vast majority of Commonwealth casualties are buried here, I suppose the Americans had already begun to move away from burials in theatre. And understandably, even in those days of limited strategic lift, the remains of the hundreds of Thai and Filipino soldiers who lost their lives were probably transported back to their relatively close homeland.
The site is managed by the UN, but guarded by the Korean Army. I happened to stumble upon the lowering of the flag, strangely at least a good hour and a half or more before sunset.
The Commonwealth also honours the memory of its 386 soldiers with no known graves. The Unknown Soldiers’s Pathway.
The Commonwealth monument to the soldiers missing in action, including 21 Canadians.
Several Royals, Picklies and Vandoos on this monument. While in no way do I want to minimize the hardships and difficulties faced by our soldiers in today’s wars, I find it hard to even imagine wars where we suffered major defeats at the operational level. Battles where battalions, brigades and even higher formations got beaten so bad they couldn’t even find or pick-up their dead.
One of the Canadian sections of the cemetery. I would have liked to walk along the tombs, but a silly rule prevents you from walking on the grass. So you can only see the ones next to the paths.
While I reflected on all this, in a sombre mood, a bunch of Chinese tourists asked me where I was form and, all excited to take a picture of themselves in the Canadian section with an actual Canadian, asked me to pose, with their camera and then with mine. Ah, Chinese tourists…
The more recently built Wall of Honour, where all the casualties of the UN forces during the war are listed (expeditionary forces, so excluding the South Koreans).
The Canadian section.
A very small portion of the American section, where their tens of thousands killed are listed by state.
Including one Canadian, who died while serving in the US military. Nice that he is recognized that way, but a little strange to have “Canada” listed alphabetically as a US state, just before Colorado.
The casualties suffered by US forces were terrible.
But we cannot forget the catastrophic losses of the main protagonist on our side. And that doesn’t include the huge civilian losses. I read that, in what is now South Korea, 1 person in 7 perished during the war.
About 27,000 Canadians served in Korea, one of 15 countries that contributed combat troops (5 others provided medical assistance). Despite the hundreds of casualties, it is often referred to as “The Forgotten War” in Canada.
Some major military powers deployed relatively small contingents but took a terrible beating.
In today’s controversial missions, like the Iraq conflict, many countries send symbolic contributions of a few people to signal political support. They usually consist of medical personnel or some sort of advisors, specialists or staff officers. But to send a single infantry platoon as combat troops, on their own, seems completely surreal. I wonder if the lieutenant or captain commanding it gave himself the title SCLFA (Supreme Commander Luxembourg Forces – Asia).
Past the numbers and the magnitude of the losses, the site also allows you to reflect on the small realities of individual soldiers, like this man, who obviously asked to be buried here long after the conflict had ended. Veteran of World War I, World War II and Korea; mind boggling. To this day, veterans from far away are returned here for burial and incredibly, in some cases elderly widows of husbands dead for more than half a century get buried alongside the love of their youth.
Youths like this guy.
Or this one.
And the unlucky, like this lad who was killed on his first day on the front, with less than a week in theatre.
During my visit to North Korea, I saw the War is not only not forgotten there, it is literally a current event. At their War Museum and the DMZ, I was amused, like most, at their completely fictional accounts of the War. But visiting the UNMCK in Busan made me realize that despite the silliness of DPRK propaganda, it’s really not that funny.