Mapping Yongsan Garrison’s history through personal narratives by By Kyung Lee
As 2017 draws to an end, most U.S. military and non-military personnel stationed in Yongsan Garrison will pack their bags and resettle to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, with ownership of the military base transferring back to South Korea.
Soon, the routine clacking of U.S. Army boots along with social and cultural rituals of armed servicemen and women, civil employees, and Korean nationals who occupied the military base since the Korean War will end to the sound of jackhammers drilling into the earth with ambitious plans to construct a mega national park.
With incorporating the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s goal to demolish 90 percent of 1000 existing structures for the park, there’s no denying that much of the past events surrounding these structures will remain confidential and buried if no one endeavors to unearth its rich personal narratives.
But for Daniel Oh and Coco Cugat – both founders of the Yongsan Legacy project – documenting people’s intimate memories of the garrison can certainly provide accurate map-making to fill the 70-year gap of history that gives modern Korea its social identity.
From archiving the odd pick-pocketing incident of two American and Korean companions near the base entrance to stories offered by Korean proprietors working full-time, the project plans to preserve other untold stories that occurred both behind and beyond the garrison walls.
Taking into account that the 60 to 70 of people working in Yongsan Garrison were Korean including those drafted under KATUSA, there’s no justifying the project’s efforts if neglecting the fact that some Korean pop stars, budding entrepreneurs, and military units had serious personal connections with the base that bore their successes.
“For outsiders, Yongsan Garrison offers an opportunity to see the remarkable progress that Koreans have made since the Japanese Colonial times, and for Korean nationals, the base provides a chance to pause and reflect on their past and appreciate the present day,” Mr. Oh said.
Rather than tying Yongsan Garrison to the likeness of a “black hole” that stretches more than 70 years, the project is determined to reach out to more U.S. veterans, Korean nationals, and other witnesses to give their unique accounts of what happened so that developers, artists, and programmers augmenting intangible realities can navigate through organized data and past cultural exchanges for a park to hold such memories intact, with ultimately designating the base as a significant preceding event to present-day Korea.