Friday, August 31st (2018) at 9:30 p.m. saw the closing of Trent Gym (officially Trent Warrior Resiliency Fitness Center or TWRFC) at Yongsan Main Post in Seoul after 64 years of dutifully serving USFK patrons. This writer was one of them.
Inside the main entrance on the right wall hung the plaque honoring its war hero namesake. It read: “Named in honor of Lieutenant John C. Trent killed in action 15 November 1950 near Wonsan, Korea while serving as a member of Company E, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. 1954.” A few days earlier, some half-crazy GI had tried to steal it, according to gym staff whom I interviewed for this story. It was still hanging there when I stopped by one last time that final Friday afternoon to say “Good-bye.”
I first worked out in the gym after initially in-processing as an Eighth US Army soldier myself at Camp Coiner adjacent to the Main Post in mid-November of 1977. Many a memory of pumping iron was shared with fellow soldiers (“Battle Buddies” they’re called now) and civilians alike down through the years – no, make that decades. Sadly, no decommissioning ceremony was held befitting the shuttering of the building named after its recipient. I interviewed the Korean staff….
Mr. Chong Am Pak, manager since September of last year: “Very sorry about Trent’s closing. Trent Gym opened in 1954. I was born in 1952. I was two years old when Trent opened. Many soldier and civilian continued to use our gym, but most of them are very sad it’s now closing. We just accept it [closing] because it’s the top managers’ decision.”
Pak will transfer to Collier Gym on South Post as a sports programs specialist.
Mr. Il Kim: “Too bad. I feel bad. Twenty-seven years of working [there] and I finish.”
He’s 63 years old now and retiring. I can still see him from the mid-90s working behind the sign-in desk. I used to drop off a bottle or two of Johnny Walker or Jimmy Bean for the staff in those days around Christmas time before the US military made all things fun off-limits.
And then there’s taekwondo master Mr. Yeon Kyung Kim: “I stopped teaching for Trent Gym last day in July. Contract finished. Now work at Collier. Taught at Trent for 50 years since 1968” (!) I asked if he missed it: “I miss it so-so.” Time to solicit comments from the Americans….
Mr. Tim Higgs, senior NAF USFK employee overseeing the closing: “The day arrived with mixed emotions and employee sadness, especially for those staffers who have been engaged as professional Family and MWR Sports Specialists dating back to 1985 regarding the closure of the TWRFC … For 64 years it has served our forces and their families as a quality fitness center … tough decisions were made by Senior Leaders and the TWRFC designated for closure in preparations of the ultimate closure of Yongsan Main Post….”
And finally Mr. John Nowell, longest-serving Public Affairs Officer (PAO) in USFK history now retired: “Sad to hear that Trent Gym is closing …. But, let’s face it, Yongsan Garrison is closing and has been for the past several years … It is sad to see another FMWR facility close. It is like losing a body part…. I heard that a ceremony honoring [Lieutenant] Trent will not be held. That is sad. The command needs to honor the namesake and the media needs to cover this closure to remind people who the gym was named in honor of and the myriad of activities held in Trent Gym.”
I decided to have one last look around the place. In the old weight room I could see my dog, Sandy, from so many years gone-by (I would occasionally sneak her in) sitting in the corner, smiling, patiently supervising my exercise routine. As they say in the Marine Corps, I got a little sweaty around the eyeballs.
I stepped up the stairs leading to the main weight room which used to be the basketball court. Staring out from one end of the room hanging from the wall was a giant banner of a wolf—with blue eyes, no kidding!—and the exclamation: “Your greatest obstacle in life stares back at you every time you look in the mirror.” The 50 state flags that used to encircle the former basketball court overhead are long gone. Banners sporting inspirational quotes hung in their place: “The pain of discipline or the pain of regret”…
“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do, it comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” Symbolizing the steadfastness of the US-ROK alliance, opposite the menacing wolf on the other side of the room hanging from the ceiling side-by-side were giant renditions of America’s Old Glory and South Korea’s Taegukgi.
Not for much longer.
Ron Roman has taught English and the Humanities for the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) originally since 1996. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.