COL Chris Martinez
“The Gift of Generational Freedom”
I had the great fortune to serve in the Republic of Korea (ROK) twice during my military career. In 1998, I was assigned to the 102nd Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion (BN) at Camp Essayons in Uijeongbu. Although the unit and the installation no longer exist, the organization took great pride serving in the Alliance, which at the time, was the most forward deployed MI BN in the U.S. Army.
Fifteen years later, I returned to the ROK and was afforded the opportunity to serve in Seoul. Unlike the previous assignment, I was married with children. I took advantage of the experience, sharing the value of service to one’s nation and our family’s legacy on the peninsula with my spouse and children. I recall researching and revealing my grandfather’s service during the Korean War to my son Preston who was three years old at the time. I disclosed heroic stories about my grandfather – a senior noncommissioned officer and infantryman who experienced some of the fiercest fighting in the Iron Triangle before the Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
With Preston so young, I thought he would benefit from visual cues to reinforce the values, stories, and lessons I tried to instill in him. As a result, I frequently took him to visit the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul. Although called a Memorial, it is a remarkable museum with a tremendous exhibition of historical relics and records related to many wars fought in Korea and abroad. It is absolutely grand. Although it is possible to walk all the indoor and outdoor exhibits in a day, it’s nearly impossible to stop at every display and fully appreciate its significance in one visit. Hence, Preston and I visited the Memorial about once a month, each time discovering new treasures.
During our visits, I gained an appreciation what I call “The Gift of Generational Freedom.” Words cannot express how special it was to experience the freedom of walking through the Memorial with Preston, holding his hand, and sharing with him the experiences of my grandfather on the same hollowed grounds he bravely fought on 60 years earlier. On one occasion, Preston and I had the opportunity to visit the Memorial with my father and brother, an Army Lieutenant Colonel retired and National Guard Lieutenant Colonel respectively. On that very special day, three generations experienced the “Gift of Generational Freedom,” honoring the legacy of my grandfather’s service and the powerful Alliance he contributed to that stands ready to deter aggression and defend the Republic of Korea today.
On that day, we discovered a magnificent outdoor exhibit titled The Clock Tower of Peace. It is a remarkable 15-foot bronze statue. From its base stands a tower of military rubble from the Korean War consisting of damaged tanks, artillery pieces, vehicles, and vessels. Atop of the pile are two young girls, possibly sisters torn apart by the war, each holding a clock. One girl stands strongly, holding a clock on her shoulder that displays the current time. While the other girl lays weakly on the pile, reaching for her sister with one hand while sorrowfully resting her arm on the other clock. Her clock is cracked and lies still at 4:00, June 25, 1950 – the date and time The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) invaded the ROK.
Initially, the exhibit struck us as a stark and dreadful reminder of how the Korean War separated thousands of families, most of whom have not reunited in 70 years. These families remain deprived of “The Gift of Generational Freedom” – the very gift I experienced with three generations of my family on that special day. But as we examined the exhibit more closely, we realized it was not complete. Several meters from the base of the tower, sat a third clock, identical to the two on the tower. It was in pristine condition, protected in a glass case, and resting at 4:00 with no date. On the day of reunification, the sculptor will complete the exhibit by raising the third clock to the top of the tower, replacing the broken one and synchronizing the two aloft in perpetuity. The exhibit, in its entirety, is a symbol of hope for when Korea will be made one and its families made whole – whole to experience “The Gift of Generational Freedom.”
Gifts are not free nor should we take them for granted. Service Members, like my grandfather, paid the price in blood and treasure 70 years ago so we can experience “The Gift of Generational Freedom” today. In total, 36,516 U.S Service Members gave their last full measure of devotion for freedom on the Korean peninsula. Their service mattered and we must not forget them. From my assignments in Korea, I learned the best way to honor their sacrifice is by ensuring our service – as individuals and an Alliance – preserves and strives to afford every man, woman, and child the opportunity to experience “The Gift of Generational Freedom.”