DMZ bikers see grim remnants of war
CAMP CASEY -- A group of Soldiers from Camp Casey made an 86-kilometer bicycle trip to Korea's Demilitarized Zone Aug. 12, and found not only green mountain vistas, but grim reminders of the war that ravaged the peninsula six decades ago.
The 13 Americans and five off-post Korean friends from Dongducheon strapped on their helmets and pushed off on an overcast, humid Sunday for a look at the DMZ, the belt of land that has divided the two Koreas, North and South, since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
"There is nothing like seeing Korea from a bike," said Jeff Rivers, an employee at the Army Communications Electronics Command and the coordinator of the bike trip. "You can only go so fast and you see it from a different perspective."
They pedaled up Highway 3, making their way to a place steeped in history, the 38th Parallel.
"I think that is a very important spot for every Soldier in Korea, because that is where the battle had some major changes," said Rivers.
From the Parallel, they pushed north into Gangwon Province, withTrothstops in Cheorwon County at two places of historic interest.
The first was a war-damaged building that served as a North Korean government regional headquarters.
Within its walls, before and during the war, dissidents and others in disfavor with the North Korean regime were interrogated under torture and otherwise brutalized. The building, known as the former Labor Party Office, is now designated a modern cultural heritage site by the South Korean government.
A second site was a hill that came to be known as Baekmagoji, Korean for "White Horse," so-called because its shape was so altered by bombs and artillery that it finally resembled the figure of a horse.
"I like to stop here," said Rivers. "It is part of the Korean War history."
At White Horse, the riders dismounted and climbed 1,300 feet to the top of the hill, which during a 10-day period in October 1952 changed hands 24 times.
Today a "freedom" bell marks the summit of the hill where more than 13,000 Chinese and 500 South Koreans died.
"Going all the way up" and seeing the Party Office and White Horse was "fantastic," said Spc. George Cousins,warof Company F, 302nd Brigade Support Battalion. "It was very interesting and I got to learn a lot of the history about what happened in that area."
But there was also Korea's scenery.
"This is some of the most beautiful country in Korea," said Rivers, "and we did it on a bike. It is a different experience than sitting in a car or riding on a bus going 50 miles an hour.
"When you are riding a bike you get to see Korea, you have to breathe it in, you are part of the country," he said.
They'd planned for a 100-kilometer trip, but toward the end rain fell and got heavier, and Rivers, concerned that passing motorists might not see the bikers in time to avert accidents, decided to end the trip 14 kilometers shy of Casey's main gate.
"The rain was challenging and I was looking forward to riding back in it," said Cousins. "But the visibility got too low and too dangerous."
Rivers said that despite the rain and a few flat tires the ride was worthwhile.
"I think it is important that Soldiers who are part of the 2nd Infantry Division understand why we have been in Korea for 60 years," he said. "And when you ride that close to the DMZ, when you go to that house…you go to the 38th Parallel, you learn why we are here."