Despite being abandoned for decades, the White Horse Hill battleground is still active and hazardous.
Although there are indications of recent activity, it is currently too cold to dig. In anticipation of the spring thaw and the opportunity for searchers to return and uncover further remains of the fallen, the Korean War battle site is still empty.
The demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas would be turned into a “peace zone,” according to a plan North and South Korea agreed to when they signed a comprehensive military deal in September 2018.
This has made it possible for South Korea to dispose of explosive relics of war and hunt for human remains inside the DMZ.
Since the earth freezes in the winter, excavation becomes too challenging for the sensitive job, this work is only done during the warmer months of the year.
In support of the work being done in the DMZ, Australia sends four personnel twice a year as part of Operation Linesmen, the ADF’s commitment to the inter-Korean peace process. This is done at the request of the United Nations Command (UNC).
The four-person team contributes three observers as a member of the UN Command Military Armistice Commission to guarantee that tasks carried out within the DMZ are monitored and adhere to the guidelines set forth in the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953.
A staff officer for mine action makes up the fourth member. The Australian crew worked at White Horse Hill in 2022, which is north of the provincial township of Cherwon and inside the DMZ’s four-kilometer border.
Members of Linesmen Rotation 8 saw the demining and remains recovery activities being carried out by the Ministry of National Defense for Killed in Action Recovery and Identification and the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) 5th Infantry Division (MAKRI).
Flight Lieutenant Joon-Hee Wang, the commander of the Australian force, spoke Korean and was a great help to the mission. In light of the military concerns between South and North Korea, she said Operation Linesmen was crucial to upholding the deal.
The ROKA 9th Infantry Division and Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) 38th Corps engaged in a brutal fight at White Horse Hill in October 1952, according to the speaker.
“Due to an intense shelling campaign by ROKA, PVA, and the United States Air Force, possession of the hill changed hands 24 times and resulted in thousands of casualties.
“Since the DMZ was established, the site has been locked in time, and only now can significant battlefield recovery activities begin.”
Many ROKA and PVA personnel remains were found by MAKRI while Rotation 8 was in operation.
Chinese remains were returned to China after being ceremoniously removed from the battlefield and transported to MAKRI laboratories in Seoul. In order to identify and reunite those killed in battle with their grieving families, the Korean remains were investigated using a DNA database.
The ADF crew had the chance to visit the MAKRI headquarters in Seoul during their deployment, where they witnessed the procedure for the identification and reunion of combat fatalities.
According to him, “the gratification felt by MAKRI and the closure provided to the families made this deployment honorable and memorable for the Australian crew.” The ground at White Horse Hill still clings to a lot of names and memories.
Despite the removal of the remains of 45 troops who were MIA from the hill in 2022, the project still has a long way to go because hundreds of soldiers from ROKA and PVA remain unaccounted for. With 17,000 Australian soldiers participating in the Korean War, 340 of them lost their lives and 1216 sustained injuries.
Another 10 are buried at the Yokohama War Cemetery in Japan, while 281 lie in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery at Tanggok in Busan, South Korea, among hundreds of their UN comrades. There are still 44 Australians missing in action.