The Republic of Korea, most often referred to as South Korea, celebrates Memorial Day on June 6 of each year.
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Memorial Day Ceremonies
Memorial Day, or Hyeonchung-il, is a national holiday set aside to commemorate military veterans who died during the Korean War and other military battles. The South Korean people, political leaders and military also use the occasion to remember veterans from other nations who were lost on the field of battle while defending their nation.
The nation of South Korea honours the military in a solemn ceremony held at the national cemetary located in the capital city of Seoul on Memorial Day. The memorial service is attended by the president of South Korea and features a host of military and public dignitaries. The annual event, which began in 1956, always begins promptly at 10 A.M. when the blast of a siren pierces the morning air. To be sure, the sound of sirens can be heard in cities and communities throughout south Korea.
As the wail of sirens fade into the morning, the people of South Korea take a minute to pray silently for their fallen warriors, and tears are shed for loved ones who died far too young. The South Korean flag stands at half-mast, and the official Memorial Day song is played by a military band. Family members can be seen decorating graves with flowers, and offerings of apples, pears, rice cakes and soju, a traditional rice wine, are placed on the graves of the deceased. The occasion is also marked by the appearance of military honour guards and speeches by political and military dignitaries.
Memorial Day provides an occasion for the patriotic people of South Korea to remember their national heritage and spend time with family and friends. The South Korean flag, or Tae-guk-gi in Korean, is prominently displayed throughout the nation. Special Memorial Day ceremonies are also held to honour the dead and the wounded across the land.
Memories of the Korean War, which began in 1950 and ended in 1953, are prominently displayed. The Korean War was fought against the communists of North Korea. Many nations, including the United States and Great Britain, fought against the communists on behalf of freedom and the people of South Korea. The Korean peninsula continues to be divided, and South Korean military forces are still on alert.
The Korean War was a time of testing for both the South Korean military and civilian population. Many civilians, including women and children, were subjected to heinous atrocities, imprisonment, death and starvation. A significant number of family members residing in the northern peninsula were never heard from again. More than 135,000 members of the South Korean military and 370,000 civilians lost their lives during the conflict.
Remembering the Dead
Memorial Day in South Korea provides an opportunity for the people of South Korea to pause and remember their dead and wounded, but they also use the occasion to remember and regret the many conflicts that are currently taking place throughout the world. South Korean politicians also use the Memorial Day stage to comment on the continuing state of hostility that exists between North and South Korea. Memorial Day is especially poignant for the South Korean people because of the ongoing isolation maintained by the government of North Korea.
South Korean Memorial Day is characterised by military salutes, patriotic ceremonies and somber recollections. Remembering the lessons of the past also take the form of dance recitals, theatre events and artistic renderings. Elderly people standing over graves and young people who dream of one day serving their nation all have cause to remember the past and look forward to a peaceful and prosperous future.