Graduation in a tense situation
February 29, 2012
DAESONG-DONG, Republic of Korea - Military escorts, United States and Republic of Korea Soldiers and school children? These are not the normal sights you would see at an elementary school graduation.
But in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) they are all too common. In the village of Daeseong-dong, just 1,050 feet from the border with North Korea, every day is met with military presence, including a school graduation. The town is the only one allowed in the entire southern portion of the DMZ.
On Feb. 17 Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony W. Mahoney; his wife Alisa; Command Sgt. Maj. Sung, Chang Woo; and his wife, Eun Hee Heo, toured the DMZ, the Joint Security Area (JSA), and the village of Daeseong-dong.
The group toured the village, usually off limits to the public, before the graduation. The village, whose residents are excluded from military service and national taxes, usually remains very quiet as the military guards the citizens.
The people who live in Daeseong-dong are under heavy restrictions; they must be in their homes every night by dusk and are only allowed to live away from their residences 130 days out of the year. Residents must also put in requests for family member visits or to leave for extended periods of time.
"The ladies felt like this was a very unique and special event that they were privileged to attend," said Alisa Mahoney, who was on her first visit to the village. "Going to the village is not a normal spot on the DMZ tour and we appreciated JSA Command Sgt. Maj. (Eric) Kloss for arranging the trip to the school and the DMZ."
The graduation was a traditional Korean graduation with ceremonial dress and music performed by the students. The elementary school is the village's only school and only goes as high as sixth grade.
The graduation class this year consisted of only five students. Of those five, only one was a resident of the village. The rest of the students were selected to attend the school from a long waiting list of applicants.