(The Bridge of No Gun Ri)
The May afternoon is hot and bright, summer is coming. I am standing, staring at a railroad bridge, it’s M shaped arches supporting a track across a small river, a single cement road running through the left side. The walls of the bridge are covered in spray paint, hundreds of white circle and triangles. Each mark a bullet hole. Evidence. If I close my eyes I can almost hear the sound of gunshots echoing off the valley walls triggers pulled by scared young Americans. The sounds of screams turned to silent sobs of men, women and children trapped under the bridge, waiting to die.
(The Circles are bullet holes and the triangles are actual bullets. )
This place is called No Gun Ri. A small insignificant area of Korea that suffered a devastating consequence during the Korean War. Between the days of July 26–29, 1950 several hundred civilians, mostly women, children and elderly were trapped and fired upon until dead.
They were farmers evacuated from a local village and rerouted. Their military patrol pulling out, they continued South until the came to another Military Unit. Rerouted again to the train tracks they were shortly strafed by airplane gunfire. Seeking cover they hid under the tracks under a bridge where firing from both directions continued for four days and three nights. The event was covered up and forgotten about. Except by survivors.
(Inside the peace park museum. There are testimonies, documents and the exposure history inside.)
Chung, Eun-Yong, who lost two children under the age of six, and whose wife suffered major injury worked tirelessly to expose the massacre. During the Korean Dictatorial regime it was illegal to talk about anything bad that the USA had done. So it wasn’t until The Democracy Movement in the 1980s that he was able to publish a fictional book about the event.
( The woman standing is the daughter of the mother depicted in the statue, holding her younger sister.)
This gained the attention of international reporters who researched further into the story, finding US veterans who were at the event willing to talk. In 1999 an AP report was published leading both The United State and South Korea to conduct reports into the matter. Although no longer denying that it happened, the United States has yet to issue an apology for the massacre.
The Korean War has become something of the Forgotten War. I will be the first to admit that my understanding of it was entirely based upon a few meager paragraph in texts books describing a stalemate and the TV show M.A.S.H. A show which focuses on the events of American Military Personal and not the devastating consequences of the Korean people and infrastructure.
(Stock Korean War Photo)
The Korean War officially broke out 25 June 1950 with the North Korean Army Crossing the newly made bordered between the recently divided countries. It was shortly after the USA held a separate presidential election in the South, officially separating the two countries.
(Photo of Korean Air Bombings During War)
Acting on fears of a second Occupation, Only 5 years earlier The Korean Peninsula had been freed from Japanese Occupation which lasted from 1910-1945, The North hoped to remove the new President and reunite Korea, free from all foreign powers.
The next three years were a bloody mess. The Causality numbers vary. The death count ranges and numbers change as the years pass and countries are forced to reveal more accurate numbers.
A CNN article places the Korean death toll at
US Casualties: (Hostile: 33,739 Non-Hostile: 2,835)
South Korea: (217,000 military, 1,000,000 civilian)
North Korea: (406,000 military, 600,000 civilian)
Bruce Cumings, a Korean War Historian states an entirely different, much higher number. There is controversy over the among of North Korean Casualties and is debated wether or not the numbers are higher then the US reports give.
US Casualties: 33,665 (3,275 non-hostile deaths)
South Korea Casualties: 1,312,836 (Civilian and Military )
North Korea Casualties: 2,000,000 (Civilian and Military)
(Photo of Korean Child During the War)
By 1953 a stalemate had been reached and a cease fire orchestrated. To this day peace has never officially been stated and the Two Koreas are still technically at war. The largest standing army lies on the South side of the DMZ line comprised of Korea’s Youngest Soldiers and American Troops.
(Photo of Young Mother and Child )
The site of No Gun Ri has been turned into a peace park where visitors can learn about the event and the seeds of hope and peace are planted. I have visited twice. The second time we were invited to attended a memorial service. It was touching.
(The man in the middle is the son of Yang Hae Chan. On either side are a few of the remaining survivors of the massacre who were children at the time. )
It was personal. In attendance was the AP reporter responsible for the report in 1999. I had a chance to hear her story. I also had the honor to meet survivors of the massacre, men and women, now well into their later years who were children during the time. The director of the park, the son ofChung, Eun-Yong, Chung, Koo-Do was there. On the wall of the listed dead he pointed out aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. So many dead.
(A list of the 226 confirmed dead at No Gun Ri. Many of them very young, very old and women. )
No Gun Ri has become a place for peace. They work on humanitarian causes and justice. One of their programs is a international youth peace conference held yearly. Students learn about human rights and peace.
Out of tragedy comes hope and peace. Lives shattered and rebuilt become a force for change in the world with zeal. Listening to the stories of No Gun Ri I am struck by a thought. Here are men and women whose lives were completely broken. As they spend decade after decade wanting answers and healing, their children are seeking truth and justice and simultaneously build peace around them. Their tragedy and suffering does not begin and end with their story. They see it again and again happening all around and their efforts have become not only for their own healing and peace but for the sadness and peace of the world. The strength to tell their stories of pain and use their empathy to create seeds of peace and justice in the world beyond themselves is reshaping my understanding of hope.
( This mother actually gave birth to a baby under the bridge during the attack. The mother died. The trapped villagers thought the crying baby was causing the soldiers to continue firing so they convinced the father to drown the baby but the firing didn’t stop)