By Dan Thompson (USAG-Yongsan)May 19, 2009
SEOUL - As Memorial Day approaches, veterans cemeteries from Omaha Beach in Normandy, France to Arlington, Virginia will fill with visitors remembering Soldiers who served and sometimes gave their lives fighting for freedom.
However, half the globe away from those pristine lawns with neatly placed, almost glimmering marble headstones is a small plot of land near the banks of Seoul's Han River. It is the final resting place for many American servicemembers.
The Seoul Missionary Cemetery, more widely known as the Seoul Foreigner's Cemetery, may seem like an unlikely place to find graves belonging to American veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, yet more than 20 servicemembers rest in eternal slumber amidst the low hum of Seoul's busy traffic and cawing magpies.
One is left to wonder if the graves have been forgotten.
"We try our best to care for all of the graves," says cemetery manager Jung Yong-sub. "Sometimes we get visitors to the American Soldiers' graves, but mostly people come to see the American missionaries buried here."
While the ornate graves of prominent American missionaries command the small cemetery's hilltop, the tombstones of American Soldiers mostly resting in section H are obscured by tall grass.
Indeed, the only flower adorning the grave of one World War II and Korean War veteran's tombstone is a single yellow dandelion punctuating the green monotony of tall grass like the sharp burst of an occasional car horn in Seoul's creeping traffic.
So why are they buried there' While some American servicemembers appear to be buried at the cemetery along with their Korean spouses, other tombstones offer few clues as to why their remains were not repatriated to the United States.
Especially mysterious are the graves of at least three servicemembers who were killed in action while serving in Vietnam. One of those Soldiers, Staff Sgt. Bobbie Wooten, was assigned to an artillery battery and killed in action June 15, 1969.
Wooten and his comrades' graves are barely distinguishable through the tall grass - in stark contrast to the flawless resting places at Arlington National Cemetery.
When asked if Americans in the Yongsan Community could do anything to help honor the Soldiers of Seoul's Missionary Cemetery, Jung says he is open to suggestions.
"We are normally dealing with inquiries about famous American missionaries, but anyone interested may bring flowers or place a flag on a grave, if they wish."
It appears Jung could use the assistance. The nondenominational 100th Anniversary Memorial Church, which gained custody of the site in 2005, is admittedly more focused on the historical significance of Christian missionaries in Korea than memorializing American Soldiers, some of whom perished in the Korean War.
"The situation offers an opportunity for American civic organizations and individuals in Seoul to fill the void and care for the graves - especially as Memorial Day approaches," said U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan Commander Col. Dave Hall.
Those interested in visiting the Seoul Missionary Cemetery will find the small island of solitude full of ornate American missionary tombs, some of which show battle scars from the Korean War.
Other noteworthy eternal guests include American Civil War veteran Brig. Gen. Charles W. Legendre and Ginchi Paddock. Several still-born or very young children of American families in Seoul also have their final resting place here.
Visitors interested in paying their respects to the hidden U.S. heroes of the Seoul Missionary Cemetery may visit Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cemetery is located about 200 meters from the Hapjeong subway station (line two). Brown signs in English lead visitors in towards the cemetery and subway station maps clearly indicate its location.
"Anyone interested in visiting the cemetery is welcome," Jung says. For information, Jung may be reached directly by calling 02-332-4155 or 011-218-7542.
Follow USAG-Yongsan on Twitter, Flickr and become a fan on Facebook!