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
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
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
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