CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea (U.S. Army) — Nestled in the serene rolling green hills of Jochiwon, South Korea, rests a memorial statue dedicated to the Soldiers of the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, and the sacrifices they made delaying the north Korean Army's southern advance.
This allowed what remained of a shattered resistance to regroup and eventually take back their homeland from the invading Army, but at a significant price. In total the unit suffered 517 casualties during the three days of battle. They were fighting for a country not their own but each one willing to sacrifice their lives to ensure South Korea's survival.
"I am part of the Korean War generation and I really experienced the Korean War," said Jung, Tae Jo, the president of the Seijong chapter of the Korean Military Merit Award Association, who fought in the Korean War, earning two Hwarang Military Distinguished Service Medals. "U.S. Soldiers who have nothing related with our country sacrificed themselves here just to defend us."
This is the eighth time members of the Korean Military Merit Association (Seijong Chapter) have held the annual Gaemi Hill Memorial Ceremony, located near Jochiwon, for the fallen Soldiers with the support of Seijong city.
"What I thought was U.S. and Korea should repay their sacrifice," said Jung. "If it were not for their sacrifice there would be no Korea now, so, I thought someone should be responsible for the debt. Then I thought Seijong city and Korea Military Merit Awards Association Seijong chapter should take the lead."
The event began with each country's national anthems being played by the Korean Army's 32nd Division's military band and was followed by a moment of silence for the Soldiers lost at the historic site. As the Korean War veterans and the U.S. Soldiers bowed their heads, memories of the lives lost floated in the thoughts of those in attendance. It was a sobering moment that made at least one Soldier in attendance understand the depth of sacrifice that is sometimes required as a Soldier.
"I feel like [the memorial] is something that needs to done to honor those who are not here anymore and pay our respect," said Pvt. Joshua Gordon, from Ann Arbor, Mich. assigned to the Company E, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade. "Memorials kind of wake you up to the fact that this is a hazardous job where you might be asked to go to war and give your life."
The silence was then broken with the thunderous sound of gun fire as the Korean 32nd Div., 1970 Corps, 7th Battalion, firing squad conducted their 27-gun salute and signaled the beginning of the floral tribute and burning of incense. One by one the various participants walked up to the memorial and placed a white rose at its base, burned the incense, and gave a respectful salute in a show of gratitude for the blood that was shed in service to their country and the Korean people.
"The purpose of the memorial is to look back upon sacrificed Soldiers with respect and affection," said Jung. "The floral tribute is important because it is something we do to repay their favor and to show respect."
The ceremony ended with addresses given by the mayor of Seijong, Yu, Han-Sik, Jung, and the commander of 2nd CAB, Col. Walter T. Rugen. While all the speeches praised the Soldiers of the 21st Inf. Reg., and the other Soldiers lost during the Korean War, Rugen's words highlighted the U.S. commitment to its allies of more than 60 years.
"Sixty years ago a bond between the militaries of our two nations was formed that stands as one of the strongest in the world today," said Rugen. "We share that close bond of arms and we are joined by a common set of democratic values needed to guarantee success in the future. As a Soldier I get the opportunity to train alongside your army and am part of this great alliance. I am very proud of that."
While this year's memorial ceremony is now complete, the commitment to the Soldiers that were lost still lives in Jung's heart. He has special plans for the future of the memorial and their decedents.
"There will be a lot of construction going on at this facility because people should know about U.S. and Korea's relationship," said Jung. "I also hope tourists from the U.S. come and visit this site and feel like Korea is a country who knows to repay another's favor, and I want this place to be the best place that praises the U.S.'s distinguished service in Korea. I'm also planning to establish a scholarship just for 24th Infantry Division. I will give it to descendants of 24th Infantry Division, who fought in the Korean War. I dream that they go all around the world and feel that Korea is a friend."