As our vehicle made the uphill climb towards our destination, I glared through the window and spied a double chain link fence topped with barbed wire which marketed the beginning of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. In the distance, I had my first look at North Korea.
The two countries had been split at the 38th parallel in 1945 after the second world war. Korea had been a Japanese colony for decades but when the Imperial Japanese government suddenly capitulated after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the colonial era came to a very abrupt end on the Korean peninsula. The US Army quickly dispatched troops to southern Korea, while the communist forces of the USSR raced into the north. America and the Soviets came to an agreement that they would each occupy the peninsula until democratic elections could be held a year or two later. Until then, the nation would be divided in two.
The Korean War adjusted that border a bit in the early 1950’s, with South Korea gaining some ground above the 38th parallel. That was where I was heading, to an area known as Cheorwon. As a fertile plain, Cheorwon was bitterly contested during the war but the communist menace was driven north. An American tank drove right up the steps of the local communist party headquarters, the cement stairs that had been cracked by tank treads as visible to this day.
On the way there, I spotted a deuce and a half filled with South Korean soldiers. With military service mandatory for all males, seeing troops walking around is a common occurrence. As I snapped some pictures, the South Korean soldiers smiled and gave the thumbs up.