Moving memories worldwide to commemorate Korean War Armistice’s 70th anniversary
One of the most notable historical events to happen in South Korea in the past century, the Korean War saw a total of 63 countries sending in troops and providing medical and material support to the Republic of Korea. The three-year-long conflict saw the largest number of countries involved in supporting a single country’s fight for peace in human history, and only ended in 1953 after the signing of an armistice, agreeing that North and South Korea would remain divided.
70 years on, stories of the Korean War remain a reminder of the importance of peace that needs to be passed on to future generations.
In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, the United Nations Peace Memorial (UNPM) Future Planning Team in Korea has spearheaded the organization of a Korean War collection exhibition to honor those who lived through the conflict.
“As we commemorate the significant 70th anniversary of the Korean War's armistice this year through the collecting campaign and special exhibition, we hope to pay tribute to the 22 UN Allied Nations' veterans by preserving the history of the Korean war, and fostering a deeper understanding of the significance of peace,” said Kim TaeEun, Team Manager of the UNPM Future Planning Team.
Unveiling the Tapestry of History
Launched in collaboration with the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, the national campaign aimed to preserve the history of the Korean War by engaging people from all walks of life. The UNPM team set out to curate artifacts that chronicled past livelihoods, the history, and impact of the war to build an experiential learning journey.
With active support from the Veterans Association in promoting and organizing the initiative, the campaign received donations through diverse avenues, and the UNPM Future Planning team organized an open call to veterans who participated in the war, as well as their families, to share records from the time, military equipment, and historical and cultural relics — significant symbols of the resilience that carried veterans through their wartime experiences. The UNPM Future Planning Team then flew in the memorabilia from all over the globe to be displayed at the exhibition.
“The collection campaign is incredibly special because it features the genuine reflections of individuals and their journeys, adding a personal touch to the narrative. Their stories capture the essence of war that textbook historical facts can’t,” said Kim. “It was heartwarming to witness the support from families of veterans who have passed, because it's a testament to the legacy that has been passed down through generations.”
Each item featured in the exhibition holds intimate connections with the personal recounts of veterans across the world, connecting their past experiences to the present tapestry of stories that transcends the passage of time. Donated mementos, such as uniforms, personal belongings, letters, and photographs, provided a glimpse into the everyday lives of the soldiers, showcasing their personal experiences, struggles, and camaraderie and connections to individuals who fought during the war.
To depict the operational challenges faced by the soldiers on the battlefield and the technological advancements of the time, military equipment and artifacts, including weapons, vehicles, communication devices, and other tools used during the conflict were also exhibited.
“By bringing together these different elements, we wanted to piece together a cohesive narrative that chronicles the experiences of the soldiers, the historical context of the war, and the overall impact it had on individuals and society. We hope that visitors will connect emotionally and intellectually with the stories of the soldiers and gain a deeper understanding of the Korean War,” said Kim.
A Luminary in the Corroboration of History
The campaign collection, which took place from February until November 2023, welcomed physical and digital contributions. In addition to the United States, donations were flown in from countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Belgium, South Africa, Norway, and Sweden.
The donation process necessitated special expertise in transporting and preserving the quality and integrity of various goods. To coordinate the various international shipments, the UNPM Future Planning team reached out to DHL Express South Korea to arrange for individual pick-ups for each donation.
“We saw this as an opportunity to connect veterans from around the world to the people in Korea,” shared Park HyunMin, DHL South Korea Deputy Manager and Korean War Collection Delivery Project Manager. “It’s a piece of history we are transporting and pieces that form a tableau of bygone epochs. For that, we are deeply moved and honored to be a part of preserving pieces of history behind the war.”
But the journey was not without its challenges. For starters, craft items such as airplane models had intricate and delicate structures that needed careful packaging, while some items such as old photo albums, medals, medicine badges, and identification tags with metal parts were rusty and vulnerable to damage during transit.
Heavier and bulkier items faced a series of other challenges, as they had to be transported separately. For instance, one of the more difficult deliveries that the DHL team encountered exceeded 1m in width, length, and height, and weighed over 21kg, making it difficult for the local pick-up staff to handle the shipment alone.
To minimize the risk of damage and breakage during transportation, the DHL Express South Korea team provided guidance on suitable inner and outer packaging, and supplied the necessary packaging materials.
Other challenges included delays to pick-up caused by incomplete shipping documents, due to the negligence of a local shipper, as well as difficulties in the domestic import customs clearance process. Thankfully, Park’s team was able to liaise with the local shipper and local embassy staff to rectify the problem and successfully picked up the item. The customs clearance staff also assisted the DHL team to apply for duty exemption, allowing the delivery to proceed smoothly.
With each shipment, the DHL Express South Korea team made special arrangements to ensure the requisite care and adherence to strict security standards throughout the transportation process, handling the relevant shipping documents and administrative work documents swiftly.
“The DHL South Korea team understood the wider significance beyond the everyday job. Apart from needing a strong international network to facilitate a seamless experience for the stakeholders involved, it was about respecting the veterans and their families by ensuring their possessions were safely delivered to fulfill the campaign’s purpose,” said Kim.
Narratives Etched in Time
The collection of donations successfully concluded in November, with 22,319 artifacts gathered. From mid-November 2023 to the end of 2024, visitors to the UNPM Korean War Memorial exhibition will have the opportunity to experience the thoughtfully curated tribute to the veterans, which offers a nuanced understanding of the experiences of individuals who lived through the Korean War.
The overwhelming response is a testament to the shared commitment of veterans, their families, and organizations working together to enhance public awareness and safeguard the war's memory. Through the exhibition, the UNPM Future Planning team hopes that current and future generations will be able to grasp the impact of the Korean War in a more profound and empathetic manner.
“Our primary goal was to vividly portray the realities of the war, honor the sacrifices of veterans, and highlight the significant impact it had on the Korean Peninsula and the world. We hope that visitors will learn about the importance of peace and reconciliation, and learn from the past,” said Kim. “Moving forward, our United Nations Peace Memorial remains fully committed to the campaign's continuation, as we strive to honor and remember the valor and legacy of veterans well beyond this year.”
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