Exploring Korea: Reality of freedom
Pyeongtaek, South Korea -- Being here in public affairs, our office sometimes takes trips to visit historical monuments to help us better understand the mission in South Korea. For me, the trips have all been eye opening, but more-so on a “this happened in the past” type of feel.
Although I’ve had some pretty emotional experiences, nothing compared to my visit to the Republic of Korea’s Navy 2nd Fleet Command located in Pyeongtaek-si, Gyeonggi-do Province.
Initially, I thought we were visiting the naval base with the intent on going on an active ship. However, that wasn’t the case. We visited their West Sea Protection Hall, a modern architectural facility located just off the docks. It was essentially a gallery of the prominent battles and events that have taken place in the ROK Naval history.
Our tour guide, ROK Petty Officer 1st Class Jung, Samuel, brought us to our first portion of the tour in the theater. We watched a mission video, which provided an insight on the activation of the ROK Navy and we watched a documentary about the mothers whose sons died in attacks by North Korea.
As a mother of three sons, it was almost unbearable to see the sheer and utter pain as they were crying for their sons.
There were two distinct incidents that stood out to me during the documentary, the Yeonpyeong Sea Battle and the Cheonan Sinking.
The Yeonpyeong Sea Battle, well the first one, occurred June 15, 1999. I think my shock factor hit, when I realized it didn’t happen before I was born. My summer of ‘99 was spent playing in Texas heat and listening to Nelly tracks, but 7,000 miles away, there was a battle occurring. It’s hard to stomach when you really think about.
Getting back to it, the first Yeonpyeong Sea Battle occurred when North Korean patrol boats crossed the Northern Limit Line, a sea border line protected by the ROK Navy.
The second incident happened during the semi-final game of the FIFA World Cup, June 29, 2002, when North Korean patrol boats attacked ROK Navy Patrol Killer Medium 357.
The Yeongpyeong Sea battles were the first of recent attacks on the ROK and threats have continued even during my time here. There was a movie released in 2015 called Northern Limit Line which portrayed the events of the second attack.
The second part of the documentary that imbedded in me was the Cheonan sinking, which occurred March 26, 2010. It was actually painful watching the news footage. That was literally six years ago.
At 9:22 p.m. a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that ripped the ROK’s Cheonan in half. Among the 104 sailors on board, 46 lost their lives.
Inside the museum, there were rows of items recovered from the sea. Petty Officer 1st Class Moon, Young Wook’s glasses were recovered with dirt from the sea floor still on the lenses. He just turned 23 years old the month prior.
It’s odd, the things you remember.
When we went outside to see the Cheonan, it broke me down.
The ship was recovered and set on beams so you could see the impact of what happened. From the front and the back you couldn’t really see any damage. It looked like a normal ship. When we walked up to the side of the ship my heart sank. The steel frame was completely rippled down the middle.
The impact of the torpedo came from under the ship causing it to have the same effect like when you crack an egg. It tore the ship in half and sank it, leaving the sailors helpless.
You have to think, at 9:22 p.m., what are you usually doing? You’re probably taking a shower, brushing your teeth or lying in bed. You don’t think you’ll be attacked, but that’s not how that played out. I started to wonder if these attacks are viewed here in comparison to how Americans view the U.S. 9/11 attacks.
Earlier I mentioned the mothers in the documentary. One of the mothers, Yoon, Cheong Ja, lost her son Master Chief Petty Officer Min, Pyong Ki. She received ₩108,988K [approximately $92K U.S. dollars] from the ROK government and Navy.
Instead of keeping it, she donated it all to the ROK Navy to purchase 18 machine guns for their arsenal. The ROK Navy named them the 3.26 Machine Gun to honor those lost during the attack. I don’t think I’ve done anything in my life compared to the selflessness of that woman.
The overall experience of visiting the ROK Navy 2nd Fleet Command was quite sobering. It created a different perspective of being here and realizing why we, as U.S. service members are still here in South Korea, helping to fight for and protect the freedoms of this nation.
Editor’s Note: For information on visiting the West Sea Protection Hall, visit www.navy.mil.kr or call +82 31-685-4123. Groups must be 20 or more and registration must be completed at least three days prior to the event.