A longtime coin collector’s visit to South Korea

United Nations medal captures Korea’s mountains and the DMZ line running from northeast to southwest
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 09/25/16
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Guest Commentary from the Oct. 10, 2016, issue of Coin World:

From Sunday, May 29, 2016 to Wednesday, June 1, 2016, Rotary International held their annual convention in Seoul, Korea. DJ Sun, my Rotary District (5280 Los Angeles) governor, who was born and raised in Korea, arranged for a special after tour of his homeland. 

As we went through the country, everyone was struck by several things. There is no graffiti. Rush hour was indistinguishable from any other first world country. Rice fields are usually planted between mountains, which comprise about 70 percent of the country. 

Because of a mix-up in the reservations, my wife and I could not go to the DMZ, the no-man’s land between the two Koreas. With the DMZ only 25 miles north of the capital, the subway can double as a bomb shelter. 

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A brief history of 20th century Korea is important. From 1910 until 1945, Korea was a colony of Japan. At the end of the war in 1945, the country was partitioned. The north ended up as a ruthless communist dictatorship, while the south was set up as a pro-Western nation. From June 25, 1950, until July 27, 1953, a devastating war raged on the peninsula. By the war’s end, 5 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives. 

There were many highlights of the trip. First and foremost was visiting the Korean War cemetery. The dramatic Korean War memorial details the tragedy of that war. 

The most touching and emotional part of the trip was visiting the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, which is the only cemetery in the world where the United Nations has sovereignty. To pay my respects to those of all nations who made the supreme sacrifice, I wore my Marine Corps hat. As I approached the entrance, Koreans who were there saw my hat, bowed down and said, “Thank you.” They well remember the marines who played a critical role in keeping their country free. 

Once across the entrance, you are no longer in Korea, but on international soil. Within the cemetery, which covers 35 acres, are approximately 2,300 graves of troops from many nations. They are set out in 22 sites and are designated by the nationalities of the buried service members. 

During the trip, I acquired three different medallions. This column focuses on the United Nations Medallion. The diameter is 1½ inches. 

On the obverse is the logo of the UN, which is the flag of the world with a blue background. Around the top of the rim is UNITED NATIONS COMMAND. The bottom part of the rim is MILITARY ARMISTICE COMMISSION. Between the two texts, at both 3 o’clock and at 9 o’clock are two five pointed stars. 

The reverse is dramatic. Centered across the top part of the rim is MEMORY OF KOREA, while centered across the bottom is DEMILITARIZED ZONE. Between these texts are clusters of 10 leaves on each side. Centered is a regional map of the area that shows Korea being sandwiched between its two powerful neighbors: China and Japan. The two main features of Korea are the mountains and the line running from northeast to southwest representing the DMZ. 

The Korean people know their history very well. Their top priority is the peaceful reunification of the country. Hopefully, in my lifetime, I can see their dream come true.

Joel Forman is a longtime coin collector and a senior appraiser with certification in numismatics accredited by the American Society of Appraisers.

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