I returned to Yongsan after leaving 54 years ago in mid-September to participate in a tour for military retirees by Dragon Hill Lodge. I thought I would be very emotional when I finally arrived in Seoul. However, I did not feel any different than I normally do when I go on a tour. I shocked myself. I realized that it was very unfamiliar, like many places that I first went to explore and find out about during my travels. What would I find inside and outside of the gates around my childhood home? Would there be anything left I remember?
After showing of my dependent military identification card, I was finally allowed thru the gates to Yongsan Garrison in Seoul. I have spent many years as a military child, spouse, and soldier living on or being around various United States military instillations. As I rode and walked around the base during my stay at the Dragon Hill Lodge, it just reminded me of the other military posts I have been to. For me, finally getting in the gate was very anticlimactic.
With the help from MS Coco Cugat and Mr. Nam Sang So at Yongsan Legacy, I discovered that I grew up at Samgakji, a precinct in Yongsan. I was told that the Korean War Museum was built on my childhood neighborhood. Where the Wedding Hall now stood probably was where my childhood home was located. Mr. Nam told me that the little stream that was between the neighborhood and the military base still existed. However, it was buried when the memorial was built and still flew underground.
On my first day in Yongsan, my husband and I walked around the area and went to Korean War Museum. I felt like a tourist. As I was walking, nothing looked familiar. The Korea I remember and dream about no longer existed, but I knew it would probably be like that.
Prior to going to Korea, I discovered that the museum had a memorial dedicated all individuals killed in the Korean War. My husband’s 20 year old Great Uncle, PFC Ellis A. Choma, was killed in Kajon-Ni. When my husband and I found his name, I began to weep because I found it very ironic that on the former neighborhood that I grew up at is a memorial honoring my husband’s great uncle. My Korean part of me said it is fate.
As we were leaving the Korean War Museum, it began to rain. We were walking by the front of the Wedding Hall and one of the guards began running toward us from the guard shack. I could not understand what we could have done to get his attention. He approached my husband and me, put an umbrella in my hand, and turned around and ran back. Of all the people who were walking in the light mist without rain gear, why did he single me out? Again, I softly wept. I was overcome with emotions of awe and great joy. I took this simple act of kindness as my welcome home from a fellow Korean. I finally felt at home.
By Marsha Altvater