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U.S. servicemembers (right) walk toward Seoul Tower alongside South Korean pre-schoolers (left) on Wednesday.
U.S. servicemembers (right) walk toward Seoul Tower alongside South Korean pre-schoolers (left) on Wednesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)
U.S. servicemembers (right) walk toward Seoul Tower alongside South Korean pre-schoolers (left) on Wednesday.
U.S. servicemembers (right) walk toward Seoul Tower alongside South Korean pre-schoolers (left) on Wednesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)
Servicemembers enjoy the scenery at Changdoekgung Palace on Wednesday.
Servicemembers enjoy the scenery at Changdoekgung Palace on Wednesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)
U.S. servicemembers hear about the history of Changdoekgung Palace from South Korean tour guide Shin Young (right) on Wednesday.
U.S. servicemembers hear about the history of Changdoekgung Palace from South Korean tour guide Shin Young (right) on Wednesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)
Pvt. Sean Langley of Special Operations Command Korea checks out the view from Seoul Tower on Wednesday.
Pvt. Sean Langley of Special Operations Command Korea checks out the view from Seoul Tower on Wednesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

SEOUL — More than 300 U.S. servicemembers participated in a spring series of South Korean cultural tours that culminated in a visit to historical and tourist attractions in Seoul on Wednesday.

The 2004 Spring Cultural Tour Series, sponsored by the South Korean Ministry of National Defense, included four tours for U.S. military personnel during April, according to a written statement approved by U.S. Forces Korea public affairs officer Maryann Cummings.

The tours were aimed at junior-ranking military personnel, especially soldiers new to South Korea or who are stationed outside Seoul. The Ministry has sponsored the tours since 1972 to promote South Korean-U.S. relations, the statement said.

Wednesday’s tour included a visit to Changdoekgung Palace in downtown Seoul by about 75 servicemembers serving all over South Korea.

South Korean guide Shin Young, who led a tour group around Changdoekgung Palace, told the U.S. personnel that the building, constructed in 1405, once was home to South Korea’s king.

“The king conducted his affairs here and the coronation was here,” she explained as participants gazed at the stunning oriental buildings and the complex’s large open courtyards.

The group walked along a stone pathway leading to the palace, walking between granite markers that looked like tombstones.

“They are not graves,” Shin said. “They are rank signs. On the right side the military officers stand and on the left the civilian officers stand.”

They also visited the king’s office, where he once met with subjects to hear their concerns, as well as the king’s and queen’s separate living quarters.

Sgt. Lisa Vincent, of the Camp Humphries-based 527th Military Intelligence Battalion, said she preferred the army’s co-ed barracks to the royal quarters. “That is just the way this culture is, but I’m a social person,” she said.

The queen’s quarters had some Chinese characters above the door that Shin translated as “big producing home,” meaning the queen was expected to bear many sons.

“In Korean society we still prefer sons,” she said. “Some ladies go to the hospital to check, and if it is not a boy they sometimes have an abortion.”

The architecture, especially the roofed paths between buildings, impressed Pfc. Christopher Huynh of 2ID’s 1-72nd Armored Regiment. “The king gives his soldiers shade. He cares about them,” he noted.

Ornamental ponds and sumptuous gardens, some off-limits because of the rare birds and 400-year-old trees growing there, surround the palaces.

Tour guide Jo Jun Jung showed another group of soldiers a less extravagant “noble-class” house that the king sometimes used.

Next to the house, a tall chimney was part of an under-floor heating system. A fire was lit on one side of the house and smoke flowed under the floor and up the chimney on the other side, keeping the people inside warm, Jo said.

After the palace tour, the servicemembers visited Seoul Tower, the Korean Folk Village and the Korean War Memorial Museum.

The Ministry of National Defense plans an autumn cultural tour series during September or October.

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