64 years after Korean War, North still digs up bombs
In the 10 years he has been digging up ordnance from the Korean War, Maj Jong Il Hyon has lost five colleagues to explosions. He carries a lighter one gave him before he died. He also bears a scar on his left cheek from a bomb disposal mission gone wrong. Sixty-four years after it ended, the war is still giving up thousands of bombs, mortars and pieces of live ammunition. Virtually all of it is American, but Jong noted that more than a dozen other countries fought on the US side, and every now and then their bombs will turn up as well.
“The experts say it will take 100 years to clean up all of the unexploded ordnance, but I think it will take much longer,” Jong said in an interview with The Associated Press at a construction site on the outskirts of Hamhung, North Korea’s second-largest city, where workers unearthed a rusted but still potentially deadly mortar round in February. Last October, 370 more were found in a nearby elementary school playground.
According to Jong, his bomb squad is one of nine in North Korea, one for each province. His unit alone handled 2,900 leftover explosives - including bombs, mortars and live artillery shells - last year. He said this year they have already disposed of about 1,200. Fortunately, there have been only a few injuries in the past few years. But Jong said an 11-year-old boy who found a bomb in May lost several fingers when it went off while he was playing with it.
North Korea is just one of many countries still dealing with the explosive legacy of major wars. In Asia alone, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and even Japan have huge amounts of unexploded ordnance left to clean up. The three-year Korean War, which ended in what was supposed to be a temporary armistice on July 27, 1953, was one of the most brutal ever fought.
Virtually all of the 22 major cities in North Korea were severely damaged and hundreds of thousands of civilians killed by US saturation bombing. The tonnage of bombs dropped on the North was about the same as the total dropped by the US against Japan during World War II. North Korea is probably second only to Cambodia as the most heavily bombed country in history.