This camp used to be home to the I Corps Artillery before the camp was handed over to the Korean Army back in the 1975. The camp is still operated by the ROK Army to this day. The camp’s artillery heritage is what originally gave the camp its name because St. Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen. St. Barbara was said to have been martyred by her idolatrous father for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods, whereupon a bolt of lightning struck him and he burned to death. This how she became the patron saint of artillerymen.
This naming of the camp actually was the subject of some controversy back in 1959
St. Barbara’s Own. Protests to the Defense Department from P.O.A.U. and various Protestant chaplains resulted in toning down the St. Maurice movement at both posts, plus last week’s directive from the Adjutant General. But P.O.A.U. is still casting an uneasy eye around the armed services. The organization is currently checking into the possibility of undue Catholic pressure in the naming of the I Corps Artillery’s post in Korea four years ago as Camp St. Barbara and the report that artillerymen there are calling themselves “St. Barbara’s Own.”* “This thing seems to be spreading almost like ‘Kilroy was here,’ ” said P.O.A.U.’s Lowell this week, and then dropped an artilleryman’s salvo into the camp of Senator John Kennedy. “If we had a Catholic President, would we have this kind of thing rubbed in our faces all the time?” [TIME Magazine - Jan. 1959]
The camp is located across the river from the small village of Baekui-ri and just south of a large airfield known as R228:
I was actually hoping to be able to stop and climb up one of the surrounding hillsides in order to take some pictures of the camp and the surrounding area from a higher vantage point, but a steady down pour began to fall and one thing I have learned in all my time in Korea is that you do not hike in a down pour due to the flash flooding threat. So I was just going to have to be content taking pictures from under the inside of my car.
With that in mind I kept driving towards Baekui-ri from the Chinese Tunnel area and the first thing that became apparent were the large American style barracks buildings that stand adjacent to the road running into town:
I do not know for sure if these barracks are left over from the days when this was an American military base but the building does look similar to barracks buildings that look just like it on current USFK installations. From there I then drove across the bridge that leads into town and looks back towards Camp St. Barbara:
Even though it was raining, the Hantan River actually wasn’t running very high and I even saw some people fishing. The view from across the river from Baekui-ri was actaully quite nice despite the rain:
Here is how a similar view from the village looked over 35 years ago:
Unlike many other areas in Korea, not much has really changed in this area other then the greatly improved road network to get here and the increased vegetation.
Looking back towards the town here is what the main street running through Baekui-ri looks like:
I went for a walk around town and probably due to the rain there was really no one else walking around:
The village to this day does maintain a strong military presence, but now it is no longer an American military presence but a ROK Army one:
Walking through the winding streets of the village it was easy to imagine the American GI’s that once walked through the streets like I currently was. I’m sure those streets were a lot more lively though then they are now:
Here is a look at what the village looked like when it was the haunt for so many USFK soldiers long ago:
After walking around the village I then drove back across the bridge and headed towards Camp St. Barbara. At the entrance to the camp there was a checkpoint with armed ROK Army soldiers checking anyone who wishes to enter the camp; American Army ID cards don’t cut it:
So from the checkpoint I then drove further north up the valley towards the airfield. The road to the airfield is bordered with a number of ranges that are overlooked by rocky butte:
This butte is the most striking natural feature of the area and if it wasn’t raining like it was, I would have looked for a way to climb it. I’m not sure what the name of this butte is, but I have heard it called Hanging Rock before:
At the entrance to the airfield there was once again another checkpoint denying access to anyone wanting to enter the airfield:
I actually spent some time on this airfield before during a training exercise that was taking place on the St. Barbara training area further up the valley. The brigade’s support battalion setup here during an exercise because of the large pavement it had to work on here instead of wallowing in the mud with the rest of us. The quartermaster guys had a showerpoint setup here so we would rotate guys from the field here to go get showers. I found the runway to be quite large, but is used primarily for helicopter landings now. Many of the buildings looked run down as well but some were still in use.
I do not know if R228 used to be an American airfield or not but I would imagine that possibly the airfield was used to house the artillerymen’s spotter planes back in the day. I’m sure some of you old Camp St. Barbara veterans can answer this question in the comments section. I do however like how the old soldiers at Camp St. Barbara labeled the airfield back then:
From the entrance to the airfield I then drove back to town and by then the rain had let up a little bit. So I decided to walk up a small hill behind the town, with my umbrella of course, to try and get a better picture of the area:
Despite the poor weather I actually got a pretty decent picture of the area from the top of this small hill. To give further perspective here is how a similar view looks like on Google Earth:
You can see Baekui-ri village off to the left and the buildings that compose Camp St. Barbara poking up out of the foliage to the right:
On closer inspection it can be seen that the camp today actually appears to be a mixture of both old and new buildings:
Compared to other ROK military bases I have seen in the area this one actually didn’t look like a bad place to be stationed for someone in the ROK Army considering how it does have some newer buildings and some really nice scenery as well. Hopefully the current occupants of the camp have as many positive memories of the place as past USFK servicemembers stationed there once had.
Note: You can read a whole lot more about Camp St. Barbara along with viewing many old pictures of the camp at Bruce Richards site.