Saturday, April 24, 2010

Camp Hialeah

At 10:00 AM, we joined approximately 300 Korean citizens to do something they had not been able to do in over 100 years, walk across the land that has been known at Camp Hialeah. With little fanfare, Busan city officials quietly unlocked the large front gate to what was once a bustling US Army Base. Long gone were the armored hummers and tanks, replaced with walking paths winding through what felt like a military ghost town.

Camp Hialeah had been under US control since the Korean war, closing only recently in 2006. Like most bases on Korea it more or less resembled a small self-sufficient town. There was the commissary (grocery store), Post Exchange (small Target equivalent), the gas station, the post theater, the school, the chapels, and small neighborhoods of quaint 1950's era homes.

Before it was home to so many military families, it gained notoriety under Japanese occupation as horse racing grounds. It went on to serve as the headquarters for the Imperial Army, before coming under US/UN command during the Korean War.

As part of a land hand over, turing US military facilities back over to the Korean government, Camp Hialeah was closed in August 2006. For the next three years it would sit in limbo, slowly deteriorating as the US Army and the Korean central government engaged in a series of negotiations about the return of the land. When we first arrived in Korea, working with the military and the Busan city officials was a major hot issue for Tyler at work. After many environmental studies, and clean-up efforts, the land was formally returned to the Republic of Korea, and then immediately to Busan City on January 27, 2010.

From the end of January, until now, Busan city has kept the land tightly secured, making renovations in preparations to share the militaristic feel of the land with the citizens of Busan. The goal is to give the citizens the chance to view the land as it was under US command. The park will remain open in this fashion through the end of September, after which it will again be closed as it is completely renovated and turned into a massive park in the middle of Busan.

Though the renovations were relatively minor, they went far in providing a park like atmosphere to the formerly bustling base. Removing all vehicular traffic leaves visitors free to wander and explore the base, taking pictures as they go. Select structures were even cleaned up, and opened to the public, allowing a rare, true inside peek at life on the military base. Visitors are free to stroll through residences, the school, chapel, officers quarters, and base command buildings.

For most visitors it marked the first time setting foot on the land, and represented for many their first glimpse of American life. Following our fellow adventurers through building it was fascinating to watch them open cupboards and drawers, explore closets, and marvel at the shape of the bathrooms. For us, something so familiar and so American feeling, was so fascinating to Koreans experiencing the differences.

At the end of the exhibit the base theater had been converted into a historical display featuring old photographs of the camp, as well as plans for the future park that will reside there.

It was a strange experience for me. Having lived in base housing in Seoul, it felt a bit surreal and ghost-town like to wander what I could imagine were once busy streets. I could still picture kids on bikes, and see the footprints of what were once playgrounds. Even the old clothes lines served as a reminder of the daily living that happened on that base. Many a child grew up living there, and I found myself wondering how different our life in Busan would have been when the base was still operating. I could picture myself shopping at the commissary, cooking in my American kitchen, and walking my girls to school. At the same time, looking at the dilapidated buildings gave me a sense of hope and pride for Busan, knowing that this space would be turned into something that so many would be able to enjoy and appreciate.

I am so glad we had the unique chance to watch this huge base be turned over to the Korean citizens again, and so appreciative of the historic chance we had to wander the base, exploring it for the first time (at least for me, Tyler had been several times) with the Korean's who will now be able to fully enjoy it.
At the entrance, checking out a map (entirely in Korean) of the base layout, and the walking trails.

Emily in front of one of the homes.

Some really pretty trees.

Heading in to explore the house.

Old clothes lines and chimneys. A reminder of what life was once like.

Curious photographer.

Picking dandelions.

A really old, rusted out shed.

Historic roof of the old officers club. The red and white is the rising sun of the Japanese empire, painted by the Japanese when used as a horse racing grounds, and later as a headquarters for their Imperial Army. When the US took command, the 8th Army seal (with the red stars) was placed in the center of the sun). A true tribute to the occupation and use of this historic ground.

Juxtaposition of the old vs. the new.

Former helipad.

Korean ladies picking dandelions and other "weeds." They use them particularly in teas. . . the base was filled with ladies pillaging what we would long consider weeds.

Former bus stop, now being used to advertise the new opening of the park.

Seal on the floor of the school gymnasium.

Hannah striking a pose in an old classroom.

At the end of the trail, chalk had been set out for children to do sidewalk drawings. Drawings and written messages filled the street, proclaiming excitement over Camp Hialeah's return.

Our little graffiti artists at work.

Maddie's contribution.

Notice the Korean writing surrounding Emily, all well wishes and greetings.

Signs advertising the opening of the Camp Hialeah exhibit.

Old base theater, now home to the exhibit chronicling the history of Camp Hialeah.


Ryan said...

This was pretty cool to read about!

Ilaan said...

I spent seven years growing up here from 4th to 10th grade, leaving just one year before the base closed. I'm glad to see everything is still up, hopefully I'll be able to visit it once more before anything is torn down. Thank you for the pictures.

Karen V. said...

My parents met at a post exchange on a military base in Korea. My mom is Korean. My dad "American" Swede. Just googled and found this. Thank you for the pictures. It's nice to put their history into a picture in living color. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing these wonderful pictures. I was a soldier stationed at Camp Hialeah for two years and I left in 2004 for bigger and better things, but I never forgot tiny little Camp Hialeah and especially the people that I knew there.

Looking at your photos brought back alot of memories. In fact, third photo down you put up a picture of some trees. I can see the house I use to live in! If you look on the right side through the trees, you can make out a window. That was my house! It wasn't much to look at, but it was warm and clean. It was my home.

The helipad was where my unit use to go for formation and do PT in the mornings. When the Chinooks came in, I remember the powerful rotor wash use to tear the shingles right off the roof of the headquarters building.

I am sad to see how the maintenance has been neglected there. It was an old post, but we really took care of it.

Thank you for posting these photos. I will pass this link on to others I still know who served there.

michael said...

I serviced Hialeah Protestant Chapel as Chorus member around 1977 around.

I want to find my friends and especially pastor in those times.
If anyone knows the name of the pastor in those year or knows about how the pastor is, could you post yours here?

I really want to meet even in online, again.

I am so sorry that I cannot remember their names well.

Steve said...

I was at PAHS twice. The first time as a dorm student from Taegu in the 9th and tenth grade. The second time living on Hialeah in the 11-12th grades. This was in 1969-69 and 1970-71. The school was a group of quonset huts. The gym was the base gym and our snack bar was the base snack bar. The dorms were a bit of a walk and were right up against the wall (the Army Intelligence HQ building separated the girls and boys dorms - didn't work). A watchtower manned by Katusas was at the back entrance to the boys dorm. Still didn't prevent us from sneaking out at night. PX goods went a long way with the Katusas. There were no buildings more than a few stories tall within sight distance of the camp.

Joun Pusan HS Reunion on Facebook if you went to school there. Steve

tonepoet said...

I was stationed there from December 1998 until July 2000. I met my current (Korean) wife there, and we just took a look at the pictures. We really miss that place, it was really a best kept secret. Many good memories, of learning some Korean language, eating Korean food the first time, immersing myself into the culture, and especially meeting my wife. There was a great NCO club there that did an amazing Mongolian grill night and had really cheap hot wings. Good times!!

Unknown said...

I'm hoping that someone who reads this may be able to help me identify places in Korea. I have been told some might be Camp Hialeah. The films and photos were made in 1956. If you are interested and could help, please take a look at the following links at You Tube and contact me through You Tube. Thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

To Michael, I lived on Camp Hialeah from 1977-1979, my junior and senior year in high school. The Protestant Pastor was Chaplain Billy Price. He and his wife, Priscilla are both on Facebook.

Anonymous said...

I lived at Camp Hialeah 1960-1961. Was there when the school, David N. White was dedicated, There were only 8 grades taught at the school 1-8. There were I believe 36 students the first year, and a lot more the 2nd year. Three teachers taught the 8 grages in 3 classrooms - 1-2, 3-5, 6-8 if I remember correctly. Lots of Quonset huts. The Korean people were extremely poor at the time. A couple times I threw candy over the barbed wire. The craft shop was very popular, and so was the bowling alley and snack bar at the front gate - where there was a wrecked jeep kept on display to try to convince drivers to be careful. Thanks Sgt Schofield and Sgt Freeman for helping me build a balsa wood model airplane - which I crashed on the first flight - I still have the plane in my garage - over 51 years later.

Anonymous said...

I was in Hileach from March 64 to September 64. I was assigned to 142 Qm Bn. I met my wife there in Pusan and have been rarried for 50 years

Leigh M said...

I was stationed there from 1996 til ETS in 2007. Amazing story here!!!!

Anonymous said...

I was stationed at Camp Hialeah with 4th QM from 91-93. I've posted your blog to the 4th QM group wall, and everyone is so thankful for the update, as am I. The only thing that could have made it better is if we had sent a list of our old haunts to take pictures of :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to share these pictures. 1st - 8th and 11th to graduation were spent on this little base. Wonderful memories, sad to see it close. I had wished that someday I would be stationed there. Thank you for taking the time.

Unknown said...

It was strange to look through the pictures, especially when getting to the pic of the theater. Gained a little fame because of that theater. MSgt Manu Ikaika and I (MSgt Jeff Coon, USAF) were the ones who got the theater back open in 96 and were its first projectionist then. Sad to leave it in 97 when the family and I headed back to the states. We did try to stay another year but it didn't happen. Thank you for the update.

oldshield said...

I lived on Camp Hialeah from 1977-1979. The pic of the evergreen trees on the corner going left and right was where I lived. First house on the left side after the trees. Anyone out there from that time? You can find me here:

Anonymous said...

I worked as one of the airline girls from 90 to 93. I worked for Delta. I have a lot of good memories there. Since then I came to the States, went to the grad school and got a Ph. D. I still wonder what happened to all those people I met there. These pictures remind me of all those good times I had.

Anonymous said...

This is Mr. Merkes. Not sure if you remember me. We lived there during that time.

Albert Mudge said...

Yes we enjoyed living there. We were there from 1984-1986 at SAACT TEAM # 4. We lived in the Officer's Housing on the hill. There were no pictures of these. Also they had to move the. People from down town to that area after they had people demonstrating . But we loved the people my wife is Korean we have been married for 52 years now thanks to her. God Bless all the people that worked for the US Army.

Pat Bailey said...

Thank you for posting the pictures. I was stationed there from 1977 to 1978. This brought back some good memories.

Patrick Bailey

Anonymous said...

Great pictures I was going to school there from 1980 to 1986 (7th-12th) grade. Wanted to mention that the officers club ceiling picture also had 8th Army unit insignia in the middle and the old shed picture was where lawnmowers and other gardening tools was stored. Also wanted to say the 84'-85' year was the best in Pusan American High School winning every sporting event for girls and boys!

Anonymous said...

I spent my freshman year at PAHS 80-81. Thanks for the pictures and writeup.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to why you call it Busan. When I was there it was called Pusan

LDB said...

I taught at PAHS 1994-2002. Ms. Magoon's history class was instrumental in getting the theater cleaned up and re-opened.

Thanks for sharing these pictures.

Dan Miller-Izuka said...

Thanks for the pics. I graduated from PAHS in 1971. Our home was in Taegu, but commuted weekly via train to Pusan and lived in dorms. PAHS at that time was a series of Quonset huts. It was a great experience there and have many life long friends. We have a reunion for Panthers for years 1968 through 1985, every 3 years. We are meeting up in Portland Oregon this July 2014.

Anonymous said...

I was in the graduating class of '73. Thanks for posting the pictures of Hialeah.

Anonymous said...

My father worked for FAO in Pusan from the year 1970 to 1973. My family lived in Namchen Dong. I want to the US Army elementry school on Camp Hileach. These pictures bring back a lot of memories. I want to thank you for them.

Branden said...

Went to school here from 2001-2005, 3rd to 7th grade. It was fun, and I still remember every house I lived in that base. Every part of the base was within walking distance, so that was nice.

Elton said...

My family and I live on Hialeah from 79-82 and we loved every minute of our time there. I was chief of the Pusan Contracting office located next to the theater. We lived straight up the road, last house on the left and had grown very close to most of the families living there. I coached youth services sports and the Pusan High School sports which all my kids participated in (Ryan, Todd, Angie. We adopted our Korean daughter Jessica there before we left. Wonderful memories with great people. Couldn't have been a better family setting. Thanks for the memories to all that were there with me......

John Schmidt said...

I was there in 1985-86 with Chief Mudge in SAACT Team 4. Had a great time going into the 'ville to the Good Time Club and drinking warm Crown beer. I loved the food from the KATUSA snack bar. Driving in Pusan was insane. Trips to Jinhae to off load ammo ships and the beautiful island of Cheju Do. A wonderful place.

Anonymous said...

I lived there 1962-1964 as a dependent-very poor there- one signal in Pusan at "Slicky Boy Corner"- Larry Fenstermaker

Anonymous said...

Found this site by accident our son is in pusan today we were there from 81 to 83 lived on top of the hill loved our house ny husband was commander of clsck during our tour. So sad it is gone with many other posts