Why a Kiwi soldier is proud to have served in Korea

22:53, Jul 25 2013
Korean DMZ
RIGHT ON THE BORDER: Soldiers on the South Korean side of the border look north.

Just forty kilometres north of Seoul, South Korean troops stand halfway behind bright blue United Nations buildings, in the hope of providing a smaller target while using one eye to gaze north.

About 100 metres away a lone North Korean soldier stands in front of his command post, staring intently, although we are assured others are also watching, and recording.

The Joint Security Area - sometimes called "truce village" - is the only point in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) where troops from North and South Korea stand face to face. Just as they have for decades in the Korean Peninsula's uneasy truce - the war has never officially ended. It was here that an armistice was reached, and it remains a symbol of the obvious distrust from both sides.

For Harry Rodgers, who served for several years in the navy before becoming a bus driver in Wainuiomata, the area represents but the futility of the ongoing conflict, and why he is proud to have served here 60 years ago.

He is part of a delegation of New Zealand veterans returning to mark 60 years since the ceasefire this week, which yesterday took a tour of the area.

This took them halfway across the four kilometre wide DMZ, past many barbed wire fences (some of them electrified), past the world's largest minefield and past barriers packed with explosives which would be detonated to prevent it being used in the event of an attack.

Most bizarre of all, the tour took the veterans past paddy fields, where rice is grown by residents who live tax free in a modern village within the DMZ, but who must also accept both strict curfews and the ongoing threat of conflict.

Rodgers said the whole scene just made him sad.

"It's a waste of bloody time. Why can't they just let people live and let live? Instead of trying to suppress them all the time, living in a state of fear," he said, gesturing at the troop to the North.

"All of this show is being carried on, they're laughing and thinking its a great joke, but none of it is being done for the people, who are starving. Communism at its finest," he said.

"That's why I was proud to fight for South Korea. I still am."

The Korea he remembers bears little resemblance to the one of today. The last Rodgers saw of Seoul there was barely a building left standing after three years of war, which saw the city fall to the North Koreans twice.

However when he flew back in on Wednesday evening - he was selected to sit in the cockpit of the Airforce 757 when it landed in Seoul - he saw "a vast, modern city. I can't believe what they've done in 60 years."

New Zealand entered the war after an appeal from the United Nations to intervene, after the North Koreans attacked the South without warning in 1950.

Our army still provides some support to the United Nations forces which monitor the area, policing the peace.

Lieutenant Commander Ian Marshall, one of three Kiwi troops currently posted at the DMZ, spends most of his time monitoring armistice violations. He said working in the area was "very surreal" and was the highest security area he had ever encountered.

"You know that at any time, anything could set it off."  


Korean DMZ
RETURN TO KOREA: New Zealand veterans Victor Pidgeon, left, and Bill Billington on the DMZ.