UIJONGBU, South Korea — Most retired soldiers and civilians living in Area I will leave South Korea as U.S. facilities here close, say members of the Uijongbu Veterans Club.

And many of them say they’ll head to the Philippines.

The club, where veterans come to drink and chat outside the front gate of Camp Red Cloud, estimates 200 retired U.S. soldiers and civilians live in Area I, just south of the Demilitarized Zone bordering North Korea.

Last week, Veterans Club members said they were watching base closures in Area I closely. By year’s end, six Western Corridor bases — including camps Greaves, Stanton, Gary Owen, Giant, Edwards and Howze — will close. A number of other facilities in Area I, including Camp Page, also will close in the next few months. Over the next half-dozen years, the United States plans to move all of its forces south of Seoul.

The veterans said many more retirees used to live near the DMZ but in recent years have died or moved back to the United States. Camp closures will accelerate that exodus, the veterans said, because retirees rely on the U.S. bases for such facilities as the commissary, restaurants, medical clinics, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities.

Dan Cardwell, 43, retired three years ago as a test examiner at the Camp Edwards Education Center; he now has a part-time job as a production engineer with MWR. Cardwell is younger than most U.S. retirees in Area I but, like most of them, has a South Korean wife.

Retirees living in Area I “who are not employed are probably going to go back to the States or go to the Philippines when the bases close,” he said. “Retirees don’t earn much. If you are living on $1,000 a month, you want to take it to a place where $1,000 a month is worth something.”

Another old soldier at the Veterans Club, Edward Richardson, 66, said he was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, but served with the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam from 1956 to 1960, with the U.S Army there from 1976 to 1978 and in South Korea from 1984 to 1986.

After 15 years of living in South Korea, he said, he’s thinking of leaving when the United States pulls out of Area I.

“Prices are going up and a lot of guys are going back to the States. They don’t want to stay in Korea because it is too damn expensive,” he said.

Moving south to follow the U.S. forces is not an option for most retirees, Richardson said.

“The GIs get COLA (cost of living allowance) but the retirees get nothing,” he explained. “Everything we pay for comes out of our pockets. The rent would be too high to live down south.”

Richardson said he’s planning a trip to the Philippines in January and might move there permanently.

“When they made the U.S. leave [the Philippines] their economy crashed. All that money that used to be spent at Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base was gone. A guy down there can get a three-bedroom home on the beach with a fenced-in yard for $300 a month,” he said.

“Where else in the world can you match that?” he continued. “Utilities are extremely cheap. Beer is 15 pesos a bottle. It is tropical. You don’t have to worry about the snow and ice. It is hot, but get an air conditioner. That will take care of that. Everybody knows the place is a paradise. It can’t be wrong because I have heard it from too many people.”

The veterans express little nostalgia for the bases that are closing.

“Everything changes. In a way it is good. I can see the States’ point of view because they have little outposts here and there and they want to consolidate,” Richardson said.

Cardwell also sees sense in the base closures.

“People have to do what people have to do,” he said. “If they want to turn the front lines back over to the Korean people that is fine.”

Another Veterans Club regular, Paul Wheat, 58, used to work for the Communications Electronics Command helping repair top-secret electrical equipment before he retired in February to teach English part time to Korean employees of the U.S. military KATUSAs at Camp Red Cloud.

“I visited almost all those [Western Corridor] bases, but mostly worked at Camp Bonifas and the Joint Security Area (JSA), Camp Greaves and Camp Gary Owen. I expect the South Korean army is capable of taking them over, but I would have liked to have seen the JSA supported a little bit longer,” he said.

Wheat said all the veterans in Area I had the option of returning to the United States and that many would do, that but that he planned to stay in South Korea.

“I am marred to a wonderful Korean woman and I want to stay with her. I am going to stay as long as my wife wants me to stay,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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