A Mysterious Korean War Temple Case fit for Sherlock Holmes.
Hello Again Everyone!!
The other day I received an interesting email from a man named G. In it he told me how his father had served in the Korean War and how he had a couple pictures he wondered if I could help identify for him:
Came across your website in doing research on my father’s military service during the Korean War. I have a few pictures of temples/shrines he took, was wondering if you would be willing to look at them and possibly tell me what they are?
It was definitely an interesting proposal, and I honestly wondered if I could identify what he hoped I could do for him. There were a couple reasons for my initial hesitation. First, a lot of Korea was destroyed during the Korean War, so I didn’t even know if the temples or shrines even existed anymore. Another concern was a lot of Korea has undergone a lot of extensive reconstruction. But having a brother and father that have served in the military, I thought the least I could do was try and help G. with any information I could provide. So I told him to send the pictures that he had and that I would do my best.
If there is any way that I can help you, I’m more than willing to help. With the pictures, if there’s any information that you could send that would be appreciated like the area they were taken ex. city, province. It would go a long way in helping me help you. Sincerely, Dale.”
After initially looking at the pictures, I was unable to immediately identify either of the two pictures. At first, I thought one might be the famous Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do. But after closer scrutiny, I dismissed this temple as a potential location.
G.’s father during the Korean War in front of an unknown pavilion.
So after eye-balling the two pictures thoroughly once more, I decided to look at the places that G. provided for the movements of his father during the Korean War:
“…I can give you a summary of his movements across Korea in the early fluid years of the war. Landed at Inchon [Incheon] in October of 1950, then was convoyed down to Pusan [Busan]. From Pusan [Busan] he was shipped to another landing at Wonson. From Wonson went by road up to Hamhung/Hungnam area. After the Chinese entered the war, he was evacuated back to Ulsan. He spent the rest of his tour riding rail security on the eastern lines based around these towns as far as I know:
He also would make runs up to Andong and Wonju.”
Unfortunately, because of the large amount of area that G.’s father covered during the Korean War, which included two countries and three separate provinces, the location of G’s father’s movements didn’t help me all that much.
So the next thing I decided to do was more closely scrutinize the details of the pavilion in the first picture. Instantly, I was drawn to the Chinese characters that hung on the second floor of the pavilion. At first, my wife attempted to read these Chinese characters, but she said they seemed a bit off. So the next thing I did was send the pictures off to a friend, who just so happens to be a Buddhist monk in Korea. With his colleagues, he was able to read two of the three characters. He was able to read the characters as __ 경 루. However, he was unsure that the pavilion matched the only pavilion with a similar name in Gyeongsang-do. The pavilion’s name that he thought it might be was: 찬경루 (Changyeongru). So plugging this result into Google Image, I came back with only one pavilion with a similar name in the entire two provinces of Gyeongsangnam-do and Gyeongsangbuk-do, which were the two provinces that G.’s father moved the most in during the Korean War. And while a lot had changed around the Changyeongru Pavilion, which I later found out was due to extensive renovations and reconstruction by the Shim family, it was the pavilion that I was looking for.
The modern looking Changyeong-ru pavilion in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do. So much has changed in and around this pavilion in present day Korea.
With this knowledge in hand, I was able to provide G. with the following information:
Wow, that was a difficult one, but I think I was able to one hundred percent identify the structure in the first picture. With a little help I was able to identify it as Changyeongru (Chan gyeong ru) or 찬경루 in Korean script. The first picture is not a temple, but instead, it’s a pavilion.
The pavilion is in the city of Cheongsong in Gyeongsangbuk-do province.
This pavilion was built by Magistrate Ha Dam in 1428, the 10th year of Joseon King Sejong’s reign. According to the chronicle of the pavilion’s construction, the pavilion was made and named in tribute to the progenitor of the Cheongsong Shim clan. It was built by her sons and is still currently owned by the family. The pavilion has undergone a lot of reconstruction and renovation through the years.
From the Busan train station, it would take three hours and forty minutes by car. This is a distance of 188 kilometres.
From Daegu it would take two hours and twenty minutes by car. This is a distance of 117 kilometres.
I am less sure of the second picture. But I do believe that the two pictures were taken at two different places. However, if I’m to guess the proximity of Changyeongru to notable or even famous temples in the area, the only one that sticks out is Bogwangsa Temple (Bo gwang sa). The temple is only 2.9 kilometres away from Changyeongru pavilion, and it takes 13 minutes by car.
A look at the main hall at modern day Bogwangsa Temple in Cheongsong, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
Here’s a little history on the temple. It was built in the 7th century by the famous monk Uisang-daesa, who is a leading figure in Korean Buddhism.
In the second picture that you sent me, it’s probably a main altar inside of the main hall. Sitting on the main altar, in the centre, is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise ).
An amazing look into Korea’s past. This is possibly the main altar at Bogwangsa Temple during the Korean War with Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) in the centre of the triad.
I hope that helps you in knowing more about your father’s service.
G. was extremely happy that I was able to identify the pictures his father had taken some 60 years ago in a Korea that is barely recognizable to modern day Koreans. Perhaps his father didn’t even know the places he had travelled and the places he had taken pictures of so long ago.
I asked G. to share his story to which he agreed. I’m glad he did because it’s a really unique story about how much foreign powers helped Korea, as well as to show just how much Korea has been able to pull itself up “by its bootstraps” to become the beautiful and modern country it is today.