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Friday, August 7, 2009

to Dad 7/27/09

RoseE writes:

"Dear Dad,

Sorry . . . you get the cutesy page with a girl in a tree. It's catch-as-catch-can on this letter pad. Maybe next week you'll get one of the military-themed pages. Or at least something with fish.

To make up for it, I'll tell you more about the UN Cemetery. We went last Monday after doing a Cosco run, so I was burdened with three boxes of crackers (they caused a lot of trouble on the subway. When we reached our stop, I picked up the boxes, saying absently, "C'mon, crackers!", then looked up to see Sisters Beckstead, Ogelvie, and Musser staring at me in horror.) But the guard let me leave them and my bag in his office, so it worked out.

At a chapel near the entrance, they show an orientation video giving a quick background of the Korean War and describing the history and purpose of the cemetery. The video informed us that the Chinese used "human wave tactics"* in their counterattack. I had to explain to the other sisters what that meant, and then later in the week Elder Kering found me and asked "What are human wave tactics?" Apparently this had been bothering him for days.

The Memorabilia Hall had a number of photographs of men who'd served in the War, then come to the cemetery decades later and spotted themselves in one of the pictures on display. So the cemetery staff took another picture and hung it next to the old one. So you walk along the wall, looking at these pairs of pictures--blurry, sepia-toned old shots of young men covered in dirt, and clear color photographs of those who made it through and returned with their families to see the country they saved. But all the other people in those pictures died out there in the mountains.

There's no way this place could have been a starving little war zone less than sixty years ago. There's no way. New York's needed two hundred years to grow into the vibrant, distinctive, well-infrastructured place that it is. Busan seems just as busy, as complex, as dynamic, in some ways almost more modern, and it . . .and Taejeon and Seoul . . . have just sprung up out of nowhere in the blink of an eye. It is a miracle. And if the North had not been held back, this place would be a ghost town, a graveyard like Pyungyang.

That's what I thought about in the U.N. Memorial Cemetery. I thought about the drone of traffic outside the fence, and the apartment buildings and driving ranges I could see over the trees, and the brand-new Costco by the river down in Haeundae, and about the temple up in Seoul. I probably know more about Korea than most of those boys did, those thousands of American and Australian and French and Canadian and New Zealander and British boys that came here and never went home. They probably knew so little about this country they died to save. But it's a country filled with life and hope and excitement now. Great good has come of it all--millions of people alive and well-fed and free and happy. And a couple hundred foreigners with plain blue books and worn out shoes.

The long and short of it is that history happens very fast in Korea. It's astonishing they've had time to build a memorial at all.

I miss you a lot, Dad. I wish you were here for me to talk to.


*human wave tactics is a term for an attack by massed infantry on a defended enemy position, intended to overwhelm the defenders by sheer weight of numbers, regardless of inevitable high casualties.

1 comment:

  1. I should add that the Chinese Human Waves, overran positions not by firer power(many didn't have guns) but UN troop ran out of ammo or their guns melted down.