Marine Likens Korean Culture to Corps Family
By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, South Korea, June 19, 2007 Sit down to a meal with Marine Lance Cpl. John Walker and he may eat off of your plate. He may even drink some of your beer.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left, tours the new barracks at Camp Mujuk, Pohang, South Korea, with Army Command Sgt. Maj. Barry C. Wheeler, 8th U.S. Army Korea command sergeant major, and Marine Master Sgt. Antoinette Waller, staff noncommissioned officer in charge at the camp. Gainey is on a weeklong visit to meet with servicemembers in South Korea. Photo by Fred W. Baker III
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
It’s one of his favorite customs here, he said.
The lanky, blond, blue-eyed Marine first came to Korea two years before joining the Corps. He was visiting his brother, who owned a business in Seoul. Walker liked the country and ended up staying for a couple of years to teach English and to learn to speak Korean.
He returned home to St. Louis, where he joined the Marines and had hopes of returning to Korea one day. Walker’s father and grandfather were both Marines.
“I love the Marines. I always wanted to be a Marine,” the 25-year-old said.
His first duty assignment was Okinawa, Japan. Remarkably, within months, he was assigned to a temporary tour in Korea to the Marine training base Camp Mujuk.
The camp covers only about 85 acres and is home to a small, tight-knit group of about 35 Marines who maintain the camp and prepare it for the exercises that bring hundreds of Marines here a few times a year to train.
The nearest town is Pohang – a $10 taxi ride from camp – on the eastern coast of the peninsula, about 250 miles south of Seoul.
Medical and dental facilities and commissary and base exchange shopping are more than an hour drive northwest to U.S. Army Garrison Daegu. The Marines typically make the drive every Saturday to buy what they need for the week.
The remote location and relatively small size of the camp belie the new barracks with apartment-style rooms, gym and dining facility that give the staff amenities better than most have seen on larger installations.
Walker is a small weapons specialist and has been here eight months – two months longer than the typical six-month tour.
Walker said he is in no hurry to leave.
“We’re like a team, like a family,” he said. “If you come here and you have an open mind, then you will learn a lot. The Korean society can teach you a lot about how to act and to live your life. The Korean society is wonderful. They have big hearts.”
Walker spends his time lifting weights, running and hanging out on the one-street-strip of Pohang that is home to restaurants, a movie theater, shops and even some American fare such as McDonald’s and TGI Friday’s.
“Everything you need is here,” he said. His favorites are the beaches, the restaurants and the night life.
He is careful not to behave in a way that will disgrace the Corps, Walker said. Koreans base their opinions on the whole organization on how they see the local Marines act, he explained.
“One bad apple can spoil their whole perspective of the Marine Corps,” Walker said. “If I go out and act stupid, or make a fool of myself, they are going to think all Marines are like that.”
Walker’s duty is on a normal schedule except for training times, which gives him ample time to enjoy the country and learn its traditions and heritage.
He offers simple advice to those new to their assignment in South Korea.
“Try to learn the society before you judge it,” he said. “When I first came, I thought the food was disgusting. Now I love the food.”
Walker said he especially likes Yukgaejang, a spicy beef soup, and loves the tradition of sharing food from each other’s plates.
“It’s how you make it. If you come here and try to learn the language and learn the society, then you are going to do fine and you are going to end up enjoying Korea,” Walker said.
Walker compared the Korean culture to that of the Marine Corps.
“I really like Korea because everything is ‘us.’ It’s not you or me. It’s like a big family -- even if I don’t know you and you don’t know me,” Walker said.