08-18-2013   1 comment

Today I’m going to tell you a story that is true. I’ve had a few moments in my life that deeply affected me but this one more so than many of the others. I’m going to tell you this story in as much detail as I can remember and then when I’m finished I’ll have a few more comments to make.

* * *

It’s 1968, it’s summer time, and it’s very hot here in Korea. It’s 5:00 am, the best time of the day to avoid that hot and sweltering heat of the day. I just finished walking a little more than five miles to reach  this valley which is very isolated.  I’m in the northern part of South Korea just below the DMZ.  I’ve been hearing stories about this place since my arrival in Korea with most of the information received from the elders of the village where I’ve been living. I’ve traveled here to see for myself if the many stories of ghosts and apparitions are really true.

I walked the length of this valley before sun rise and have begun climbing into the surrounding hills so I can have a more panoramic view of the entire area. I’m about 300 feet above the floor of the valley sitting on a huge boulder. It is  unearthly quiet, not a single sound to be heard, and there’s a dense fog rolling through the valley not much higher than 10 feet from ground. I’m just high enough above the fog to be chilled by the light breeze and it sends a shiver through my body. No more than 15 years ago a battle took place in this valley and it lasted for days. It will never be known just how many soldiers died here but it was hundreds and hundreds. It’s something of a memorial to the Korean War that everyone would like to forget since the battle included both North and South Koreans, Turks, and Chinese.

I’ve been told by the village elders who lived through the Korean War that this battle was a massacre. The dead were stacked four deep in places and the carnage was indescribable. Within days of the completion of this battle hundreds of Korean villagers with help from others were tasked to bury the dead. In accordance with Korean tradition the bodies were placed in a sitting position on the ground with their legs crossed and arms folded across the chest and then covered with a mound of dirt. It took many days and hundreds of people to complete the burials and it was something none of them would ever forget.

So here I sit on my boulder as the fog slowly dissipates. I can just see the tops of the hundreds and hundreds of mounds filling the valley as far as the eye can see. The fog intertwines in and around the mounds almost like water and as each minute goes by the fog lessens and lessens until the mounds are fully exposed. I climb down from my perch being careful not to slip and begin my walk slowly and quietly back through the mounds. I picture in my mind each of the bodies contained within the mounds and it’s almost like they’re talking to me. I’m not frightened by this experience but I’m certainly affected by it. I can feel the moisture on my skin drying and I turn around quickly because I can feel a presence near me. All I see are my solitary wet foot prints meandering in and around the mounds and nothing more.  

I can picture the battle as it may have occurred and I can almost hear the rifle shots, mortars, the yelling, the screaming, and the dying. I saw no ghosts but I felt the presence of every person who died in that valley on that day.  They seemed to be clustered around me wondering in their own minds what could have possessed me to come here. I’m not sure why myself but I’m certainly glad I did.

Many of the villagers living in this area are of younger generations and remember little or nothing about the Korean War. I only know what I’ve read in books and stories I’ve heard from a few of the career soldiers with whom I’ve been been assigned. It was an ugly time where many ugly things occurred and then were forgotten. As the years go by this place will slowly disappear in the minds of the locals as things like this have been forgotten thousands of times in the past. There’s no big and fancy wall with the names of the dead posted. There is no map to show the tourists where to go and see these mounds, take a few pictures, and then return home with stories to tell their friends. I firmly believe that the great majority of people killed here in this valley had families who never knew when or where their father’s, son’s, and husbands died. 

I’ll never forget this valley, this day, or any of them.

* * * 

I hope you were able to picture that valley as it was during my short but intense visit.  This was just one of many places in Korea where terrible moments occurred causing much death and destruction.  It amazes me that a country can rebound from such devastation to become the beautiful place it is now.

One response to “08-18-2013

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  1. Must have been some experience, for you to remember so well, so many years later. Thanks for sharing.

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