Subscribe
South Korean men selling homing pigeons in a market near Anyang, taken in 1968.

South Korean men selling homing pigeons in a market near Anyang, taken in 1968. (Courtesy of Neil Mishalov)

South Korean men selling homing pigeons in a market near Anyang, taken in 1968.

South Korean men selling homing pigeons in a market near Anyang, taken in 1968. (Courtesy of Neil Mishalov)

Two young Korean girls near the village of Anyang, South Korea, in Feb., 1969.

Two young Korean girls near the village of Anyang, South Korea, in Feb., 1969. (Courtesy of Neil Mishalov)

A "country gentleman" in his fields near Anyang, South Korea, in May 1968.

A "country gentleman" in his fields near Anyang, South Korea, in May 1968. (Courtesy of Neil Mishalov)

SEOUL — Thirty-five years ago, Neil Mishalov was a young U.S. Army draftee with two slide cameras and a habit of snapping shots of anything and everything that caught his eye.

This September, Mishalov — now 60, retired and living in Berkeley, Calif. — will return to South Korea for the first time since his 13-month tour of duty ended in 1969. This time, his trip is being paid for by Anyang City, which is celebrating its 30th incorporation anniversary in part by displaying 100 photos he took of the fledgling village south of Seoul in the late 1960s.

“When I got back to the States after my tour was over, I shoved the slides in a carousel, showed them to my family and, of course, they all nodded off and fell asleep,” Mishalov said in a phone interview from his home.

“After 34 years in storage, 600 slides were sitting in the basement, and I went through them again. I started to scan them into the computer, not so much to put them on the Internet, but to be able to look at them for myself.”

Mishalov posted photos on his personal Web page, mainly for the benefit of old chat-group friends from the 83rd Ordnance Battalion, where he was stationed.

What happened next shocked him: within weeks, his Web site was overwhelmed. Apparently, South Korean Web-surfers had stumbled across the page and were forwarding it to everyone they knew. By July, his site recorded 1.9 million hits — his service provider was overwhelmed and took down the Web site.

“It really surprised me,” Mishalov said. “People were very thankful in messages they left on the site, and they are really looking at the pictures as something of historical significance.

“Look at it this way: When I was over there, particularly in the area where I served, this was a very poor country. If someone had a camera, they were probably just taking snapshots of their family, not pictures of an old farmer behind his oxen.”

Mishalov’s site took on a life of its own.

“After being hidden away for all these years, the pictures just came to life all of the sudden,” he said. “These were a lot of scenes that people didn’t record at the time.”

After Mishalov’s site was featured in a local South Korean newspaper, Anyang City officials contacted him. As part of the festival celebrating the town’s 30th anniversary of incorporation, they wanted to display some of his work. And they offered to fly him to South Korea and make him an honorary Anyang citizen.

The city “has changed a lot,” said Chong Wol-ae, head of the Anyang City Culture & Sports Department. “All those old images are gone from the city now. I found a photo of Anyang Resort Area from his Web site. I’m sure people will just love it. We used to play in the swimming pool there but we can’t do that any more. Not enough water.”

After the exhibition, copies of the photos will stay in Anyang City and be used for research, officials said.

“It was surprising, really, to see those photos,” said Kim Song-soo, Anyang City’s Welfare and Environmental Bureau chief. “They are valuable data for Anyang City and this country. They are things we can’t find elsewhere, as they are a work of art.”

“I do have hundreds of photos that I took here, but they are just photos of people, no historic values in them,” Kim said. “Even some photos taken by city officials are all related to some kind of business. He took those photos and has kept them well. I suppose that’s not possible if he doesn’t love Anyang City and this country. I don’t know how to thank him enough.”

Hundreds of young and old Web surfers in South Korea — one of the world’s most-wired countries — have left messages on Mishalov’s site.

“You might not know how these pictures are valuable for us because it is very hard to find our history’s footprint and peoples’ lives in the past due to rapid economic development and social changes,” wrote Choi Ji-min. “Many young people like me are logging on your Web site to see a little bit of the past you preserved.”

Michelle Kim, who as an 8-year-old moved with her family from southern South Korea to Seoul in 1968, wrote, “Thanks to you for taking me to the journey of the poor but happy old days of memories from my childhood.

“It was like I was watching the color videotape somebody recorded without my recognition in 1968 and 1969 and now showing me the film after all those years.”

Mishalov’s site also is a treasure trove of images from U.S. military bases in the late ‘60s. Part of his duties at the 83rd Ordnance Battalion mandated travel to bases throughout the area.

Pictures on the Web site, www.mishalov.com, show the old Yongsan Garrison and an earlier version of Osan Air Base. But it is the images of everyday South Koreans that are most striking, and most dear to Mishalov.

“The pictures of the Korean people — I hadn’t seen those in 30 years, and it was almost like seeing them for the first time,” he said. “Looking at the pictures, I could literally remember taking them.

“I was just shy of 25 years old, I had never been overseas before in my life. It was an incredible experience for me,” Mishalov said. “It still affects me all these years later.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now