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We Will Learn How to Catch Ghosts!

Posted June. 22, 2005 06:00,   


“The Marine Corps’ 1,000th class reports to training camp. Pil Seung!”

It was the afternoon of June 21 at the square in the Marine Corps Training Drill Camp (commander: Brigadier General Yang Soo-keun) in Ocheon-up, Pohang City, Gyeongbuk. The 509 trainees, or the Marine Corps’ 1,000th class, entering the camp bode farewell to the 1,500 parents, brothers, friends, girlfriends that accompanied them to the camp with a roaring statement and bowing.

It has been 56 years since the first marine class of 380 marines was created on April 15, 1949 at Deoksan Airfield, Jinhae City, Gyeongnam. Up until now, 630,000 marines have been trained. During the Korean War, the courageous acts of the Korean marines earned them the nickname “the ghost catcher.’ The first Korean combat unit to be deployed to the Vietnam War was the Cheongryong Unit (Blue Dragon), which was also a marine unit.

The young men that entered camp this day had a confident look, even though they are not officially marines yet--maybe because of the pride that they have for beating a three to one competition to become a part of corps’ 1,000th class.

“It feels good. How longed have I to become a marine. I will become the best marine in Korea with the determination of burning my youth for two years.”

Those were the determined words of Park Jae-sung (20) from Gwangju, who finally got accepted after applying seven times. Park proudly said, “My older brother is part of the corps’ 973rd class and is currently serving in the 1st Marine Division. I’m proud to follow the steps of my brother, who is a great superior to me, and becoming a marine myself.”

The marine training camp receives two classes every month, so the difference from one class to another is only 15 days, but the strict order between classes continues until even after they are discharged, continuing the age-old tradition, “Once a marine, always a marine.”

The current average competition rate for marines is somewhere between one out of four and one out of five. At the beginning or end of a university semester, when students take a semester off to enlist, competition soars up to 10 to one. About half of the trainees applied over an average of two times to wear the symbolic marine octagonal hat.

High school grades, voluntary work, and physical fitness are used to evaluate candidates, and a one-point bonus is awarded for every single past application to the Marine Corps. It is meant to reflect the will to become a marine.

Han Gook-in (19, from Ildo-dong, Jeju City) who enlisted this day after finishing his first year at Cheju National University Engineering College, is from a marine family. His maternal grandfather was a member of the first marine class, and his cousins have all followed suit.

Maybe due to the recent shooting spree at a unit in Gyeonggi Province, many parents told their sons to persevere.

Kim Joo-hee (55, Bongcheonbon-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul) sent off his second son, Myung-jae (18), who recently graduated from high school, and told him, “No matter how hard it is, persevere and endure it like a man.” His older son will be discharged from the marines this coming weekend.

Choi Young-sup (53, Woohyeon-dong, Buk-gu, Pohang) said, “It is a big problem that today’s kids lack patience. I wish that Korean youths going not only to the marines but other branches encourage each other, endure like men, and get along like brothers while protecting the country.”

The trainees will undergo six weeks of basic training and be reborn on August 5 as the 1,000th Marine class.

The Marine Corps Training Drill Camp will prepare a photo exhibition of the drill camp as well as the drill camp experience by retired marines in time with their completion of training, while Pohang City plans to hold a Marine Corps Festival on August 6 and 7.

Kwon-Hyo Lee boriam@donga.com