UN cemetery: tranquil Korean War memorial

This attraction, the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, was an unscheduled stop. We needed to eat up an hour before checking into our hotel, in the South Korean seaside city of Busan.

This gravesite, one of 2,300 on 35 acres of a gently sloping hill, was unusual because it was identified by state and nation as well as the soldier’s name. Most others were not as specific.

This veteran, Maj. Lyman Tomlinson of Wisconsin, died in 1961. That’s eight years after the Korean War ended. Much of the soldier’s life remains a mystery, but he devoted almost 20 years to military service.

The major, age 41 when he died, is one of only 36 U.S. soldiers buried here. The UN cemetery was established in 1951, for the remains from six other Korean cemeteries, which were gathered here for reburial or to be returned to their homeland.

Abbie Norderhaug, archivist for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, says Tomlinson was in Ashland when he entered military service. He was stationed in Hawaii with the 37th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II.

Five years after the war ended, Tomlinson was on active duty again, this time sent to Korea with the Army Reserve. He died in Korea, survived by his wife in Korea – and one son, Mark, in Ashland in 1961. Details of the death are not part of an Ashland obituary.

The archivist describes the war veteran as “fairly well decorated,” because of the abbreviations on his tombstone. The veteran earned a purple heart, a bronze star, an oakleaf cluster, an Army commendation medal.

So he demonstrated bravery, and he was wounded. He spent a part of his military service in Japan, and he is grave number 3925 in Korea.

There still are Tomlinsons in Ashland, but none who remember Lyman well. “He was my husband’s cousin,” says widow Mildred Tomlinson, 80, “but we were never close.”

“I think he had a little boy,” says Janice Tomlinson, 62, but Mark Tomlinson no longer lives in Ashland, and his whereabouts are unclear.

The U.N. cemetery is a tranquil and respectful setting. There is an interfaith worship center as well as graves, gardens and stone memorials erected by several of the 11 countries whose soldiers rest here.

About 250 of the 21,000 U.S. Army soldiers who are stationed in South Korea today are Wisconsin residents. “We have everyone from private to colonel,” writes Major Tanya J. Bradsher, spokeswoman for this installation.

Army Pfc. Rhiannon Hartwell, who has lived in Madison since age 2, used to be stationed there. “It is a beautiful country with a rich history and culture,” she writes. “I know how little people learn of Korea and the traditions the Korean people hold.

“I personally learned about Korea only from the history lessons about the Korean War. I never learned about the richness of the culture until I was in the Army, and even then, it only paled in comparison to what I learned while stationed there.”

One of South Korea’s biggest tributes to the war is the Dabudong War Memorial Museum, near Daegu and 140 miles southeast of Seoul. It seemed appropriate that we visited on a gray day.

The museum is a solemn and sad site, built in the shape of a large military tank, surrounded by the flags of allies, the tools of defense, the ghosts of freedom fighters.

An estimated 27,500 soldiers – 17,500 North Koreans, 10,000 South Koreans and allies – died here in 1950. Today the hillside memorial houses war records and artifacts, field artillery and tributes to those who died during these battles.

This is the same land where Koreans had defeated Japanese invaders centuries earlier.

The museum, which has been open 25 years, “serves as a reminder of the sacrifice given by many and to educate the next generation about the tragedy of the Korean War.”

“The cries of those days still remain in lingering echoes in these lofty hills, and the blood and tears that were shed mingle with the roaring waters of the river beyond,” an epitaph says.

For more about the United Nations Memorial Cemetery: www.unmck.or.kr.

For more about Korea tourism: www.tour2korea.com, 800-868-7567 (Chicago office).