Friday, 6 June 2014

Memorial Day: Remembering The Fallen At The Seoul National Cemetery

War is cruel; we all know that. And today, Memorial Day in South Korea, at 10AM, the siren wails all over the country for everyone to pause for a minute and remember those who died for the country.

And at the Seoul National Cemetery in the Dongjak District, the fallen rest eternally on a plain and on the hills surrounded by a forest of as if to guard them as they lay in their eternal slumber.

This place is very quiet, especially on ordinary days when you can only see a few people strolling around perhaps to visit the graves of their family members who died during the Korean War, or just to walk around the place and absorb its tranquility.

Rows and rows of thousands of headstones marking each grave line up in perfect geometry at the national cemetery, looking like lines of battalions of soldiers ready to go to war. But sadly, they all had fought their last battle and had made the ultimate sacrifice for the country. 

On Memorial Day, the cemetery is visited by thousands of family members and ordinary citizens paying their respects and honoring the memories and lives of these soldiers, policemen, martyrs and other unnamed heroes, who all are forever remembered and honored in this cemetery.

And as I roamed the Seoul National Cemetery for the first time on one cool autumn day, I was able to also pay my respects, not only for the heroes and soldiers whose remains were identified, but also for those unknown. 

According to the Korea Tourism Organization website, there are 165,000 remains of soldiers, policemen, martyrs, reserved officers and meritorious citizens entombed here. At the Memorial Tower, memorial tablets for 104,000 soldiers who bodies were never found, and about 7,000 for unknown soldiers whose remains were not identified. Although their remains are missing, or unidentified, they are still accorded the honor and respect of a fallen hero.

Today, there may be memorial services for these heroes. And if you have time and want to visit the Seoul National Cemetery, it's at the Exit 8 of the Dongjak Station (Line 4 or 9). I was told nobody is allowed to hold picnics here as this is a sacred ground.  But if you want to pay your respects and enjoy the serenity in the middle of the city, I highly recommend you join the thousands of citizens heading there today. 

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