U.S. servicemember chosen to ring in South Korea's ‘Liberation Day’
July 31, 2008
SEOUL — When Maj. David Morgan went to a briefing with a South Korean general last month, he didn’t know he was about to become a mini-celebrity.
Morgan, an operations exercise planner, was asked to provide biographical information before the meeting and told planners that both his father and grandfather fought in the Korean War.
When a South Korean public affairs officer heard that the major was the third generation in his family to serve here, he asked Morgan to share his story with the South Korean press. Morgan agreed, and within a few days, his family’s story had appeared in seven South Korean newspapers.
A few days later, Morgan’s wife, a Korean-American who moved with her family to the United States after high school, got a call from the Seoul mayor’s office. The office wanted to know if her husband would be part of the city’s Liberation Day celebration on Aug. 15.
His job: To be one of 12 people to ring Bosingak, a ceremonial bell that is the country’s "Number Two National Treasure."
"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Morgan, 38. "My wife told me that only very famous people normally participate in the ceremony."
This is the first time a U.S. servicemember has been asked to ring Bosingak, a name that roughly translates to "loudly ringing trust between the king and people."
Roh Seok-taek, chief of the city’s Cultural Property Division, said Morgan was selected because of his family’s unusual history, not because he’s from America.
"Seoul sees him as a wonderful example of someone who has real love for Korea and the Korean people," he said.
The city has not released the names of this year’s other bell ringers.
Only 11 foreigners have participated in the ceremony, which marks the anniversary of the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1945 and the founding of South Korea three years later.
Roh said he doesn’t expect opposition to having a U.S. soldier ringing the bell, despite ongoing protests against the importation of U.S. beef and a protest on Saturday against the U.S. military here.
Morgan served a one-year tour at Camp Casey in 1992 after he graduated from West Point Military Academy, and is now on his second tour of South Korea. Still, he knew little about the ceremony before being asked to be an honorary bell-ringer. Since his story and photo appeared in the South Korean press, he said he’s been recognized on the street.
The city offered to rent a hanbok, or traditional Korean outfit, for Morgan to wear during the ceremony. Morgan and his wife, whom he met when they both lived in Texas, decided to have their own hanboks made as reminders of the event.
Morgan said his father was happy to hear about the invitation.
"He said it was a great honor for me. I said, ‘No, it’s for the whole family.’  "
Bosingak is rung three times a year: On March 1, Independence Movement Day; Aug. 15, Liberation Day; and during the first seconds of New Year’s Day.
The bell that Morgan will ring was made in 1985 and is a replica of the original bell, made in 1398 and now on display in the National Museum of Korea.