Day three in South Korea: North to the DMZ
Posted February 6, 2018 3:11 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 3:20 p.m. EDT
Fifty journalists boarded a bus before 5:00am Tuesday morning in the media village at Gangneung. Photographer Richard Adkins and I were privileged to be part of the group. Twelve degrees outside, the bus not a lot warmer, in fact for much of the ride my window was covered in frost, from the inside! The weather and the chance to see a part of history, as well as a strip of land often in the news because of the uncertainty of North Korea’s president, had us filled with anticipation and much conversation.
First stop was Yongsan Command Base in Seoul. Home to 13,000 military and civilians, the base will be transferred to SK in 2020. I talked with Staff Sgt. Philip Brice of Wallace, of North Carolina, about the North, about the cold and about home. (The thing he misses most are blueberries.)
We then headed north and west. For 35 miles we passed frozen rivers and miles of barbed wire. The bus became a little quieter. Expectation was shifting to reality. How would we accomplish all we wanted to do with limited time and access? More than one of my new colleagues brimmed with confidence and would not be denied, even though the military had different ideas. And make no mistake about it, the military was in charge.
We made our way onto the complex near the Demilitarized Zone, which is 160 miles wide from coast to coast, two and a half miles thick. Once called the most dangerous place on earth by then-President Bill Clinton. Once we got there, it was all business. Strict rules on when and where we could videotape or photograph. “Point your cameras only to the north," we were told by Pvt. Nicholas Gomez time and time again.
While the stops were brief, each was meaningful. The actual DMZ. The desk where the armistice was signed in 1953, which was designed and crafted to last 60 days — it’s now been in place more than 60 years. There were photographs of people affected by the war. Reminders of those who died. The actual white towel waved by a North Korean indicating they had had enough and wanted to surrender. Outside, several of us entered a beautiful Buddhist temple. Not a word was spoken. Abstract had become reality and expectation gave way to contemplation.
The ride back to Gangneung was quieter. Sure, we were tired, and maybe some of us were reminded how tired we are of war. More than 30,000 Americans died on Korean soil. Another 100,000 wounded. At least 7,000 continue to be listed as missing. All those deaths and the battles weren't officially called war. It was the Korean Conflict. All that killing in a little over three years.
We are here to cover the Olympics. In a few days, the Winter Games will begin, and athletes from all around the world will compete, including North and South Korea together as simply Korea. They will wage a battle royal with each other for a gold, silver or bronze medals. There will be tears of joy and anguish. Each of them will also live to see another day.
For this reporter, today was a reminder that even when we are ready to celebrate an athletic victory, as long as we have the means to kill, we will wage war. Real war. Not imagined. May each of us find our own peace on earth.