The DMZ (October 26, 2006 ) -- On their fourth day in South Korea and three days before their opening game in the Peace Queen Cup, 12 members of the U.S. Women’s National Team took an hour bus ride north from their base in Seoul to visit one of the world’s most interesting and unnerving landmarks, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. The trip had even more of an edge to it considering the recent controversy over nuclear testing in North Korea, but the U.S. team was very well taken care of by the USO, the Korean hosts and U.S. soldiers.
The 155 mile long and 2.5 mile wide DMZ stretches along the 38th parallel from coast to coast on the Korean peninsula, separating North and South Korea, and is the most heavily armed border in the world. After the creation of the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in 1948, the 38th parallel became the de facto international border, a focal point in the Korean War that claimed three million lives and one of the most tense fronts in the cold war. Since then, the DMZ has had a history of skirmishes between the two sides.
Bisecting the DMZ is the Military Demarcation Line, or MDL, an imaginary line marked by white posts every 10 meters or so that serves as the real border between the two countries. The U.S. players actually got to walk right up to the line, which is represented by a concrete slab between two buildings, and even went into North Korea, which you can do if you enter one of the United Nations buildings that straddle the MDL. The MDL even goes right down the middle of a conference table where the North Koreans and the UN representatives meet face-to-face.
The players also came face-to-face with North Korean soldiers, who took pictures of the Americans from just a few feet away.
The U.S. team was escorted on their tour by U.S. soldiers from Camp Boniface (named after a solider who died during an incident at the border in 1976). The soldiers are part of the United Nations Command Security Battalion, Joint Security Area (or JSA), which features both U.S. and South Korean forces. The escorts could not have been nicer while explaining the history of the two countries, how the DMZ came into existence and their way of life there. Several players got rides in and on a massive camouflaged humvee, and the team got a look from afar at the village on the north side of the DML, called the Propaganda Village. It looks modern, but is sparsely populated, and is maintained only by a small crew who clean and turn on the lights.
The U.S. players also got to walk on the “Bridge of No Return,” thusly named as it was an exchange point for prisoners after the Korean War. The released prisoners would choose the side they wanted be on, but could never go back once they had chosen. The players only went halfway on the bridge of course, as they did not want to step into North Korea territory.
The players also saw the tallest flagpole in the world, built by the North at 525 feet in response to one South Korea built that was just 328 feet tall. The flag flown atop the North Korean pole is also one of the largest in the world, weighing over 600 pounds. It has to be immediately removed if it starts raining, as the pole could not support the increased weight of the water-logged flag.
For photos of the USA’s once-in-a-lifetime trip, go to the ussoccer.com photo gallery. Look for an upcoming all_access video on the players visit as well. Read on for reactions from the U.S. players on their visit to the DMZ.
U.S. captain Kristine Lilly
“It was amazing. Our army escorts were awesome. We want to thank Sergeant Rogers, Corporal Branch, Captain Fischer, Sergeant Bulrice and all the rest of the guys. They were great. They explained what they do there and how they live and how much difference there is between the two sides. It was surreal, really. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. How often does an American get to go to North Korea? We were taking pictures of the KPA soldiers (Korean People’s Army) and they were taking pictures of us.”
U.S. midfielder Aly Wagner
“I just thought it was pretty special that we were there during a time of increased tensions and we actually set foot in North Korea. I guess I had no idea what to expect going in there, whether I was going to see guards squaring off on both sides with their weapons pointed, which we didn’t see, but at the same time, the atmosphere felt even more tense. The fact that if I took one more step on a concrete slab it would violate an armistice was a bit intimidating, but they let us get right up close to it.”
“The soldiers were saying how honored they were that we took time out of our day to come meet them, but it’s the exact opposite. We were honored to meet them and that they took time out of their day to show us their life.”
U.S. defender Tina Frimpong
“I just felt very lucky to be there. It’s just another great thing about traveling around the world and playing for your country that you get to have experiences like this. I can’t wait to get back to the USA, show my daughter the pictures and explain it all.”
U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd
“I thought that it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. It was great meeting the U.S. soldiers, seeing what they do every day and hearing about their lives. We travel around the world and often we don’t get a feel for the culture, but today was different. We got a first-hand look at how a divided country lives.”
U.S. midfielder Joanna Lohman
“It was exciting, scary and informative all at the same time. We got to learn a little bit of history of Korea, visit our U.S. soldiers who are defending our freedom and experience something that very few get to do.”
U.S. forward Lindsay Tarpley
“I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all. To think this goes on here every day. I definitely feel a bit sheltered and it makes you appreciate where we live and what we have even more.”