Located in South Korea, Camp Greaves is a former US army camp that is adjacent to the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea. For 50 years, the camp was home to servicemen who patrolled the nearby Demilitarized Zone, beginning during the Korean War. Since United States forces moved out in 2004, South Korea has begun to transform Camp Greaves into something amazing.
Camp Greaves was a “Stand Alone” Country During The Korean War
Although used during the Korean War, after the ceasefire agreement, Camp Greaves consisted of 58.8 acres and housed the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry. Located 2 miles from the Demilitarized Zone, it was considered to be in “Stand Alone” country across from the Freedom Bridge and in hostile territory.
The primary mission of the soldiers stationed there was to work with the United States-South Korean allies and block enemy forces. If they failed, their next priority was to then defend the Republic of Korea.
The Camp is Filled With Art Installations
While the historical significance of the base, tours, and youth military simulation are intriguing and logical parts of the Camp Greaves experience, there’s something out of the ordinary as well.
There are numerous structures that have been dedicated to the creation and display of art installations. The base has become a hub for artists and art enthusiasts to experience creations in a totally unique setting. Fifty years ago, no one would have guessed that Camp Greaves would become an art attraction.
Jeonbigo Project 1: Floating Tree
One of the first art installations that visitors get the pleasure of seeing is titled Jeonbigo Project 1: Floating Tree. The artist, Kim Myeongbeom, utilized a dead tree and its exposed roots which is the levitated off of the ground by a grouping of red balloons.
It looks as though the tree has been brought back to life by the balloons and is an impressive sight behold, bringing warmth to an otherwise cold space.
An Installation That Hits Close To Home
Another incredible piece of art by Kim Myeongbeom features a stuffed deer located in the interior of an empty powder magazine ammunition storage area. The deer also has massive antlers that are topped with tree branches to make the tree look like one.
The skin of the deer was brought from the United States and is an homage to the US soldiers who aided South Korea during the Korean War. The branches used for the antlers have also been interpreted as signifying how the site has returned to nature over the years.
Tanyakgo Project #1: Playground 0
Tanyakgo Project #1: Playground 0 is yet another installation by Kim Myeongbeom. It’s a jungle gym inside of a vast and open bunker that is supposedly known for its extreme echo.
The description of the installation states: “the artist aims to examine how subjects in our surroundings are remembered by listening to the whispers of objects and their intimate conversations.” Yet, this can only be accomplished if the visitors respect the artist’s visions and speak softly while observing.
Even The Unused Buildings Have Been Turned Into Art Projects
Here. artist Chung Mun-kyung has created an art project by stuffing collected clothes into the windows of an abandoned bunker that once belonged to the original 506th Infantry Regiment. While these have not been refurbished like some other buildings they were made into art pieces instead.
Inside, there are collections of various belts, pouches, and other military equipment that once belonged to the United States soldiers that called this base home for so many decades.
The Reality Of War
Some art installations at Camp Greaves are more emotional than others. For example, artist Park Seong-jun converted the old bowling alley into a fully immersive piece. The viewer walks in which triggers light and sound.
The viewer then realizes that they’re watching the night vision footage from an actual firefight that occurred, making them feel as though they are involved in the battle. On top of that, there’s a list of the 154 American soldiers on the wall who were killed along the demilitarized zone even after the end of the Korean War.
A Focus On Refurbishing Not Starting Clean
Still committed to their education of the history of the military base, it’s clear that the South Korean government isn’t trying to create a whole new facility, but instead bring it back to its former glory.
According to Lee Young Geun, a manager in the Gyeonggi Tourism Development Department: “Our goal is not to tear down the buildings, but preserve them in their original form because they possess great historical and cultural value, in our estimation.” This is one aspect that makes Camp Greaves so unique.
There Are Real Military Personel On Site
While portions of the former US military base is filled with art, part of the large base is dedicated to active soldiers. An area which is off-limits to video recording is the home of hundreds of South Korean 1st Infantry Division soldiers.
While they’re not placed there to necessarily guard the base, it makes sense that the grounds be put to good use for the active military. Seeing the soldiers also makes the experience more authentic to people visiting the camp.
There Are More To Come
In the upcoming years, the United States is planning on hand over numerous other bases to South Korea with the number of United States holdings going from over 100 to less than 50. This is so, as the US has been consolidating almost all of their troops in bases south of Seoul.
It is expected that many of these bases that are turned over to South Korea will be turned into places like Camp Greaves or used as living accommodations for South Korean citizens.
The Show Descendants Of The Sun Was Filmed There
Descendants of the Sun is a 2016 South Korean war-drama television series. The show did particularly well and was named the Most Popular Show of the year by Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation among other accolades.
Partially filmed at Camp Greaves, the TV series is credited with popularizing and turning the former US military base into a park with separate areas for people to experience natural scenery, culture and arts, and military life. Many fans of the show visit Camp Greaves to see where it was filmed.
The US Army Officers’ Quarters Are Now a Hostel
This formerly abandoned building was built for US Army Officers’ accommodations and sits within a restricted area for civilians in Paju City. This is where the kids sleep in the barracks, which they repurposed to become the youth hostel.
The youth military program at the camp is comparable to a true American ROTC camp. The South Korean government designed the grounds to be as realistic as possible, which isn’t too hard to do, considering it was once populated by the US Army.
A Deeper Look Inside The Hostal
While all of the buildings that are still intact are considered to be “Modern Cultural Heritage” assets, a few are dedicated entirely to the military experience which visitors can enjoy for an extra admission price.
The hostel is one of these, which is fairly large, and where visitors stay in for a few days of military life. It’s comprised of an auditorium and office room on the first floor and a large auditorium on the fourth floor. By utilizing all of this space they can manage to accommodate up to 240 guests.
South Korea Turned It Into a Youth Military Camp
While the United States had control over the base for 50 years, in 2004, Camp Greaves closed and ownership was passed to the Republic of Korea. The transfer was then completed in 2005.
Today, the majority of the facilities on the site remain intact minus some chipping paint as it hasn’t been abandoned for all that long. However, it was renovated as the South Korean government planned to turn aspects of Camp Greaves into a camp for youth who want to experience military life.
Activities On Site For Camp Attendants
To give participants the best experience possible, the camp provides a variety of activities. For those willing to pay a little extra, they will get to learn the ins-and-outs of what it means to be in the military.
That means they will sleep in the barracks, eat military rations in the mess hall, wear uniforms, wake for PT and even have mock battles. It truly is a fully immersive experience.
An Emphasis on History
As a visitor, it’s clear that one of the main emphasis at Camp Greaves is the history of the former military base. There is a major part of the experience that is referred to as the “Security Experience Zone.”
Here, visitors are toured around to various restored buildings where they have the opportunity to watch short films, read about the importance of the many structures, and even look at historical pictures from the five decades that it was in use.
It’s Not Open Exclusively For The Youth Military Experience
While the military experience is one of the major draws to Camp Greaves, it’s far from the only attraction offered. Greaves is open to the public for visitors who either want to tour around the facilities or participate in the activities offered.
There is even transportation provided such as shuttle buses from Seoul as well as the required transport from the Imjingak Resort area into the Paju Civilian Control Zone. The facility welcomes English-speaking visitors.
There Are Tours Available
For those who wish to visit Camp Greaves for a day trip, there are tours available with some picking you up right in Seoul. The South Korean government spent an estimated $40 million in renovations in hopes that Koreans and other tourists will stop by when visiting other attractive-packed areas around the DMZ.
The tour guide takes visitors from building to building discussing the history of the former base, the different architecture throughout the decades, as well as the various attractions available on the premises.
Live Music At Camp Greaves
Since Camp Greaves has become such a tourist hub, welcoming an estimated 100,000 visitors a year, other events and forms of entertainment are not uncommon. Whether they are conventions or speaking panels, one thing they are not lacking is music.
Orchestras, bands, both professional and amateur, are known to come to Camp Greaves and play for the tourists or benefit shows. They also teach and perform classic South Korean Military songs.
The Message Behind It All
While Camp Grieves might seem like a great utilization of space or a fun day trip if you’re in the area, the message behind it all is much greater. One of the purposes is described as “preserving the heritage of the U.S. military, which came to help us,” by an officer with the Gyeonggi Province Office’s DMZ Policy Division.
However, on an even bigger scale, its purpose is to help educate young Koreans about the importance of peaceful unification and is an attempt to help mend their relationship with North Korea as their citizens are welcomed into Camp Greaves as well.