Exploring Korean War at memorial museum in ROK

Photos by Hyemin Lee
Photos by Hyemin Lee

Exploring Korean War at memorial museum in ROK

by Hyemin Lee
Stripes Korea

The War Memorial of Korea is hands down my favorite destination. If you’re a U.S. military member, a member of the UN forces stationed in Korea or simply a history buff, mark it as an absolute must-visit spot!

July marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice and is a great time to learn more about the Korean War at the memorial museum. Through the exhibits, you can also learn about the rest of Korea’s war history prior to the Korean War.

The museum and memorial pay tribute to the veterans and those lost protecting the nation during the Korean War. As you wander through, you’ll witness heartfelt expressions of gratitude not only towards the Republic of Korea forces but also towards the UN forces deployed to assist.

Though Korea still remains a divided nation, many Koreans continue to strive for peace, a theme you’ll see throughout the museum.

5 notable outdoor exhibits

Statue of Brothers 
Imagine the intense emotions of two brothers reunited as enemies on the chaotic battlefield of the Korean War. This statue was inspired by a true story of a Korean War veteran and shows the tragedy of the divided nation. The statue of the brothers embracing each other, symbolizes Korea’s collective aspirations for reconciliation, love, and reunification.

Korean War Monument
As you enter the museum area, you will be overwhelmed by the massive and magnificent sculptures. They serve as a reminder that the pain of the Korean War should never be forgotten and of the hope for future peace and reunification.

Monuments for UN Forces
They are established to express gratitude to the 22 countries that participated in the Korean War and commemorate the fallen soldiers. On the opposite side, there are flags of the ROK military branches’ units that fought in the Korean War.

Open-air exhibition area
You will be delighted to explore this vast field filled with a fascinating collection of over 70 large-scale weapons that were used during and after the Korean War. This area is renowned as the museum’s largest photo zone, making it the perfect spot for both children and adults to enjoy.

Exhibition ROK’s PKM-357 Chamsuri
When you step into the model vessel, you will travel back to the intense moments of the Second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle in 2002, triggered by a preemptive attack from North Korea. The battle led to the sinking of the PKM Chamsuri-357, resulting in the death of six and injury of 18. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing conflicts and the fact that the Korean War has not officially ended.

Indoor exhibition halls

- Korean War Rooms
Exploring the Korean War Rooms, you can learn in detail about the Korean War, including its historical background and significant events in chronological order. Also, you can see how UN forces aided and fought alongside ROK. This will help you catch a glimpse of the beginning of the ROK-US alliance and the UN Command.

Key events

1. Illegal invasion of South Korea 
North Korea, supported by the Soviet Union and China, invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, and overpowered the South Korean military, occupying Seoul in three days. The NK forces, armed with strong weapons and tanks, recklessly broke through the 38th parallel to nearly Busan.

Battle of Nakdsong River: The river was technically the final defense line as the South Korean government was driven from Seoul to Busan. The only hope was for UN forces to join the war and fight alongside ROK. Countless South Koreans including the ROK forces, young students around 13 to 15 years old with no prior combat experience, and civilians died to defend the area. Soon, UN forces joined the battle.

2. UN Forces march north
Through a resolution adopted by the UN Security Council on June 27, 1950, UN member countries were urged to provide essential aid to the ROK. With the participation of UN forces and the success of Operation Chromite, the tide of the war was a complete reversal. By October 1950, North Korea was almost fully occupied by UN forces, leaving only a small portion of their territory. The ROK government under President Syngman Rhee was filled with excitement and believed that reunification was within reach.

Operation Chromite: On Sept. 15, 1950, General MacArthur successfully led UN forces of 75,000 troops to land in Incheon. The UN forces subsequently recaptured Seoul and other territory. This was the greatest turning point in the Korean War. To this day, General MacArthur is still remembered as the ultimate hero of the Korean War.

3. Chinese Forces and a war of attrition
At the very moment when the prospect of reunification seemed close, Mao Zedong, after gaining the upper hand in China, sent troops to assist North Korea, a fellow communist regime. The Chinese forces, with tactics such as human wave attacks, shifted the overall situation of the war again. The UN forces launched a full-scale counterattack. From that point, the war transformed into a brutal war of attrition with no gain for either side.

4.Truce talks and the Korea-US Mutual Defense Treaty
Amid the ongoing war of attrition for nearly three years, both sides grew significantly weary. The Korean War was finally halted with the signing of an armistice on July 27, 1953. Koreans who had hoped for reunification were greatly disappointed. Also, the ROK government had great concerns about the future after the war. South Korea entered into the Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty, which provides a war deterrent against further aggression from the North.

- ROK Armed Forces Rooms 
In these exhibition rooms, you will gain comprehensive understanding of how ROK forces have evolved after the Korean War. They also highlight the history of ROK forces participating in UN peacekeeping activities in various countries. It shows the transformation of this country from the one that received aid, to a nation that now provides aid to others.

Vietnam War
As an ally of the United States, ROK forces participated in the Vietnam War, deploying a cumulative total of approximately 310,000 troops in the span of about eight years. The exhibits vividly show the challenging conditions of the battles such as mountainous terrain and jungles.

- War History Rooms (Before the Korean War)
Korea, throughout its history, has endured invasions from various powerful nations including China, Mongolia, Japan, the United States, and France. Despite these challenges, the nation has preserved its history and identity. Through exploring these halls, you’ll learn thousands of years of Korean history from the prehistoric era to Japanese occupation.

Imjin War and Turtle Ship: In 1592, Joseon faced a major crisis against strong Japanese forces for seven years during this war. However, the invasion was ultimately repelled through the courageous efforts of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and other notable figures. Admiral Yi’s Turtle Ships achieved remarkable victories in numerous naval battles, becoming a source of great pride for all Koreans. Yet the war resulted in widespread devastation, with brutal massacres and enslavement of many Koreans kidnapped by Japanese.

The U.S expedition to Korea: In 1871, during an era of Western imperial ambitions in Asia, the United States launched an invasion of Korea as retaliation against the General Sherman incident and to forcibly open Korea to trade. It marked the first and only war between the United States and Korea. This event portrayed in the hit K-drama series “Mr. Sunshine,” which features a Korean-American Marine Corps officer as the protagonist.

Tips for exploring indoor exhibition halls

  1. The vast indoor exhibit is divided into seven sections. Grab a pamphlet at the entrance to help navigate the three-story museum.
  2. Free lockers are available at the entrance, some of which are spacious enough to accommodate large backpacks.
  3. Most exhibitions provide English explanations. Also, you can join a free English guided tour. For more information, inquire at the information desk or call +82-2-709-3077
  4. Take enough time to explore the entire museum. There is a wealth of information about the entire history of Korea to absorb. Remember that the last admission is at 5 p.m. and the museum starts closing by 5:40 p.m. 

Things to know
Admission: FREE
Hours: 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. (Closed every Monday & if Monday is a holiday, Tuesday is closed instead)
Address: 29, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, NAVER MAP
For more information: Website

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