CAMP BONIFAS, South Korea — At 4 a.m. Wednesday, soldiers marched across cracked earth and brush, and only thumping boots and nature broke the silence.
At the same time 58 years before, on a drizzly Sunday morning, artillery rounds from Kaesong landed where Wednesday’s march began.
A day after a government survey showed that many South Korean teens don’t know who started the Korean War, the United Nations Command Security Battalion joined South Korean soldiers for a five-mile road march to remember the sacrifices of millions from 1950 to 1953.
"You only get so many chances in a career here to serve in a place, in an alliance like this," battalion commander Lt. Col. John Rhodes said as his soldiers marched out of Camp Bonifas alongside about 200 South Korean soldiers stationed at the Joint Security Agency.
On June 25, 1950, the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel and advanced into South Korea, taking the unprepared South Korean army by surprise. Aided by Soviet weaponry, the North Koreans controlled 90 percent of the country by August, when they were halted by South Korean and U.S. forces in the southeast.
The allied Inchon landing headed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in September 1950 became a turning point that nearly broke the North Korean army, but massive Chinese intervention signaled another reversal and led to a stalemate near today’s border.
An armistice was signed in July 1953.
"There’s still a huge mission tied to that history," Capt. Bryan Rucknagel said.
Approximately 28,500 U.S. servicemembers remain in South Korea. About 40 from the U.N. Command Security Battalion guard the multinational U.N. Military Armistice Commission force at the Demilitarized Zone.
Pfc. Ian Quinn, who arrived a month ago, noted how transparent his mission is. In today’s combat zones, he said, soldiers fight guerrillas and terrorists who blend in with civilian populations, but Camp Bonifas soldiers just have to look across Conference Row during a tour.
"This is the last place on Earth where you know who the enemy is — and can see him," Quinn said.