Submitted by Patricia Eng, Union City Library Member
A sentry sat in a guard tower holding his rifle to his side, gazing toward green fields. It was the middle of July, hot and humid, temperatures rising to 100 degrees. Past the fields was an estuary and beyond that were the wooded hills of North Korea. We took snapshots in front of the barbed wire fence that separated us from the guard tower. There were a few other tourists milling around and a handful of activists talking about the reunification of North and South Korea. This was one stop in a two-week tour which included visits to Independence Hall (commemorating independence from Japan), the Seoul Olympic Park, and the Seoul Zoo.
I asked my husband if it was safe to be here at the border of North and South Korea. He said Koreans have been living under the threat of war for so long that nobody thinks it will ever actually happen. Meanwhile, all the men in Korea are obligated by law to serve 2-3 years in the military after turning 18. Although there is no active war, many of them are injured or die during training in the rugged Korean wilderness. My husband was in the Korean army about 35 years ago. He’s talked about supplementing his meager rations by catching and roasting snakes. He suffers from hearing loss because a brutal superior hit him with the butt of a rifle. Occasionally there are confrontations with North Koreans, but more often soldiers are shot by friendly fire.
Recently I asked him how Koreans feel about North Korea building a nuclear bomb and Trumps counter threats. He still holds that it’s all bravado and the ones that are least concerned are South Koreans. But mothers are still crying about their sons going into the military.
Last month we drove down to L.A. to help my son move into his college dorm. I was overcome with emotion. As we were leaving, I gave him a tearful hug goodbye. My husband said, “Cheer up. At least he’s not in Korea.”
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