The National Cemetery

An Autumn Afternoon

Anne and I had originally planned to climb a mountain, but time moved faster than we did, and by the time we got into the car, the sun was a mere hour or three from setting. We changed our plan and visited the National Cemetery, located close to the mountain.

We parked and had a quick look in what we took to be the visitors center. This turned out to be a small shop selling a small number of snacks and an unbelievably large number of artificial flowers. We bought a couple of drinks.

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Continuing on through the main gate, and past the sentries who refused to have their pictures taken, we found ourselves in a beautiful avenue lined with tall trees. The leaves were a deep, beautiful red, a stunning contrast to the beautiful blue of the sky. A short walk down this road brought us to an open-air museum of military equipment.

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Anne sits in a jeep with a big gun.

After a pleasant amble around the tanks and rockets, we rounded a corner and came face to face with row after row of gravestones. I couldn't quite take the sheer number of stones in. Row after row in plot after plot. All the graves had flowers on them!

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Korea's honored dead.

Anne and I went into another museum, one with uniforms, weapons, equipment, personal effects and photographs of personnel that had been killed in combat. It's hard to describe the feelings this brought out in me. Seeing row after row of graves is one thing. Seeing photographs, letter and diaries of ten people is something else completely. I couldn't bring myself to take a picture, which is really saying something for me.

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A family remembers amid the numbered rank and file of soldiers' graves.

Despite the fact that it was a graveyard, it had a wonderfully peaceful feeling to it. We quietly walked around, reading the names on the stones and gradually ambled our way to the centerpiece of the cemetery. A large stone tower had been constructed, and two sentries stood guard on the gate. One of them spoke English and we chatted for a while. They were doing their compulsory military service and seemed completely bored.

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Visitors drift in and out of the memorial tower.

We started looping back to where we had left the car, and so walked around the central lawn to another big structure with heroic statues spread all over it. On either sides were lightly wooded areas in which a couple of families were having picnics and playing soccer. It was wonderful to feel the sense of family in a place like this. It was almost as if they were visiting and sharing time with the dead, rather than simply mourning them.

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Heroic statues adorn a boxy stone structure. I'm not quite sure what this is.

We were hungry when we got back to the car, so we decided to go for Samgyeopsal with one of Anne's best friends, who lives near the cemetery. We hooked up with him and I spent a relaxing hour contemplating while they chatted in Korean.

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Anne's friend Dong Hyuk stirs the Samgyeopsal.

It was only the next day, when I read the English newspaper on the web, that I realised that it had been remembrance Sunday.