By Mary B. Grimes, USAG Daegu Public AffairsJanuary 7, 2014
DAEGU GARRISON (Nov. 2013) - The Camp Carroll Community Activity Center (CAC) continues to hold true to its commitment to provide U.S. Army Garrison Daegu and Area IV Soldiers and Family members every opportunity to explore and enjoy Korean culture during their stay in South Korea.
The strength of that commitment was further evident when nearly 50 Soldiers from Camps Walker, Henry, and Carroll, along with DoD Civilians and Retirees from the Area IV community, braved winter-like temperatures to participate in a CAC-sponsored tour to South Korea's historic Beopjusa Buddhist Temple in Songnisan National Park.
Located in North Chungcheon Province, the 1500 year-old temple accentuates the southwestern slopes of Mt. Songnisan. Designated more than 40 years ago as Korea's sixth national park, Songnisan National Park is home to a plethora of Buddhist cultural assets, and national treasures. The 90-minute drive from Daegu to the historic park is well worth the 146 miles (236 km) of serene landscape and countryside. Add to this the remains of a significant snowfall, and the icy 20-minute trek from the national park's parking lot to the actual temple site -- the tour was made even more challenging and memorable.
Excitement and anticipation seemed to be the order of the day as the Soldiers began boarding the tour bus in front of the Camp Carroll CAC. For many, it was their first ever visit to Songnisan, and as several would confess, it was an ideal opportunity to get away from the base and actually experience life in Korea beyond the installation gates.
Such a decision exposed the U.S. Soldiers to what might be accurately deemed one of the most breathtaking sites along the South Korea peninsula. Nestled in the foothills of Songni Mountain, one of the most attractive aspects of a visit to Beopjusa Temple is the tranquil environment where one is almost immediately swept away by the harmony, the peace, and the calm. According to officials, the Beopjusa Temple is one of the head temples of the traditional order of Korean Buddhism -- better known as the Jogye Order. This form of Buddhism has a history that goes as far back as the Unified or Great Silla period (668-935).
That period, according to historians, represented a dynasty that unified three kingdoms of the Korean peninsula...Silla, Paeche, and Koguryo. Important to note is that both the Paekche and Koguro kingdoms eventually fell to the allied armies of the Silla king, and the Tang Chinese emperor. This would eventually lead to the creation of a new political and cultural era. It became the era Koreans now refer to as the Unified Silla period.
Historians also point out that this period produced more granite Buddhist images and pagodas than any other. They go on to add that architectural ornamentation such as roof tiles decorated with floral and animal designs, all were of the highest quality. Examples of this handiwork were became even more clear to the Area IV visitors to Beopjusa as they made their way across the temple grounds.
At various stops throughout the tour, the group of curious American Soldiers and civilians were able to see for themselves, roof tiles and carvings that spoke to the skills associated with artisans of the Silla period. First constructed in the seventh century by the monk Uishinjosa.The Palsangjeon Pagoda and Golden Maitreya Statue of National Unification are the two of the more famous and immediately recognizable structures at Beopjusa.
Indeed timing is everything. With the Palsangjeon Pagoda currently under repair, the group was not able to get a glimpse inside the historic national treasure. However, what the Soldiers might have missed in the viewing of the pagoda, they made up for in photographing the Golden Maitreya. Standing a towering 33 meters high, the 160-ton statue lived up to its reputation of being simply magnificent.
"You'd have to be here to really appreciate just how huge --how awesome the Golden Maitreya is," one Camp Carroll Soldier said. "I'm glad I came here today. This is the kind of experience that you don't forget because you can say you were actually a part of it. It's definitely something you want to write home about."