HIKING IN KOREA 1952-1953
When I was a soldier in Korea during the war I was stationed north of Seoul but not quite up to the front lines. Our camp was surrounded by rice paddies that were fertilized with ‘night soil.’ It stunk, especially in the summer time. I hated being cooped up in that compound and every chance I could I took off for a hike in the hills not too far from the camp. Here is a picture of me out on an exploratory walk in the neighborhood. In this photo I am a 22 year-old GI, Pfc, newly arrived in Korea.
The first thing I did when out on a hike was to hire one or more local youths to go with me. They knew the trails, where to look out for the booby traps, the land mines, etc. I usually took my camera with me. Here is a picture of some of the kids who went with me on one of my hikes.
On the trail up to the hills we would encounter brush cutters who made their living gathering brush to be used for cooking and heating the houses.
Way up in the hills we came across an ancient wall of carved granite blocks. It was strange to see that wall up there with no evidence of a road, only the small trail that we were following.
As we got higher into the hills we came upon military observation posts, now deserted as he battle lines had moved northward about 30 miles.
One had to be careful when encountering old bunkers. Often they were booby-trapped. I encountered one with a decomposing body in it. I was about to poke the body with a long pole and one of the boys yelled. He indicated that it was booby-trapped and we would have been blown off the hill if the hidden land mine exploded.
These hills were not just low bumps on the landscape. It was a good day’s hike to get to the top of the ridges from the camp. Often times I would get back to the camp just as darkness was falling. Here is a photo of the hills I hiked in.
Late one evening the company commander called for me to see him. A group of Korean soldiers were in the commander’s tent. He explained that there were reports of an enemy sniper hiding in the hills and since I knew the trails he wanted me to show this group how to get to the ridge leading to a certain observation point that I knew about but hadn’t been to. So, with rifle and ammunition ready for an encounter with Chinese or North Korean infiltrators off we went. When about half way to the ridge the mission was called off as the Koreans got a message that the lights at that point were from one of their own men. That’s the closest I ever got to being in face-to-face armed conflict with the enemy.
Now, I am told, this area is a popular area for persons from Seoul who want to spend a day hiking in the mountains. I have not been back to this part of Korea since the war.