RAS Tour Recap: Korean War Remains in Cheorwon
On February 16th, the Royal Asiatic Society visited the DMZ and Cheowon to see Korean War remains and migratory birds. Our guide, Robert Koehler, introduced this area to many first-time visitors and shared his expertise of not only Cheorwon but also the history of the Korean War.
What sets this are apart from other areas of the DMZ is its location around Cheorwon, a place that was home to some of the fiercest fighting during the Korean War. As part of the Iron Triangle, the old city of Cheorwon was completely destroyed by artillery and advancing/retreating soldiers. All that remains of the city are a few building frames that miraculously were spared during the war. In fact, the local headquarters of the Workers Party of Korea (North Korea’s ruling party), a few stones that were once a church and the remains of a police station are all that is left of this city. Most, if not all, of the trees and other plants were destroyed during the fighting and were only replanted during the 1970s.
What made Cheorwon a magnet for fighting is its location and importance as a place where tanks and soldiers can move without mountains impairing their journey. Standing on top of the Peace Observatory (directly behind the DMZ) and looking at the flat ground that is now part of the DMZ, one can truly appreciate the importance this area held as an invasion route to Seoul.
Aside from remains of the former town, visitors to Cheorwon can also see some great scenery and many migratory birds. Located in Cheorwon is the Seungil Bridge, sometimes called “Korea’s Bridge over the River Kwai.” There are many stories about who built it, with the most popular being that the bridge was started by the North and finished by the South Koreans. However, it was recently discovered that the bridge was started by the Japanese and later finished by the US Army during the war.
The area north of the line of civilian control is also a great place to spot birds during their winter journey. I was able to see many of these birds and many people enjoy taking pictures. We also enjoyed seeing some of the beautful scenery around the area.
This area did have a somber feeling surrounding it and, when you saw the remains of the city, you couldn’t help but take a moment of silence. Newly married couples once walked up the steps leading up to what is left of the church. Visiting Cheorwon will give you not only the chance to see the cost of the Korean War to the people who lived but also the chance to see how its results are still impacting Korea.
Pictures and article by Patrick Wunderlich