In 2006 Freedom Bridge was returned to the Republic of Korea. The acceptance by the ROK came in July 2006 after some concern about the enviornmental situation at Freedom Bridge and other closing US facilities. The ROK eventually decided to accept the sites, effectively shelving pollution concerns.
On 16 February 1952, Freedom Bridge, a focal point of worldwide attention during the Korean War, was officially opened and became a major link between the truce site of Panmunjom and Seoul, Republic of Korea. Thousands of words have been written about the village of Panmunjom, but Freedom Bridge was not so widely publicized. To the United Nations Command soldiers returning from captivity in North Korea, it was truly a bridge of freedom.
The significance of the bridge dated back to the turn of the century. Initially, 2 railroad bridges spanned the Imjin River side-by-side as part of a railway that stretched from south of Kaesong to the switching point at Munsan-ni. For many years the bridges served peaceful purposes, but with the communist attack on 25 June 1950, the structures became arrows aimed at Seoul as the onrushing invaders stormed down the Kaesong-Munsan corridor. One bridge was destroyed in 1951. In late 1951, the other bridge fell into UNC hands as the communists pulled back. When the war front advanced beyond the 38th Parallel, control of this span became vital as it represented the primary means of supply across the Imjin River. During this period the name Panmunjom gained significance around the world as the opposing forces met in a series of talks aimed at bringing about a cease-fire.
As hopes for a cease-fire grew, attention was centered on the bridge for other reasons. Heretofore, principals in the truce talks had flown to the scene by helicopter. Obviously an exchange of sick and wounded prisoners would require ambulances, and a general cease-fire would attract world press representatives. To support the traffic, US Army engineers decided additional work would be necessary. Pilings were reinforced, rough planking timbers were replaced with heavier ones, and the approaches were strengthened.
Liberty Lane, the route from Panmunjom to the bridge, would long be remembered by those who made the journey. Within a l,000-yard neutral circle in the rice paddies of Panmunjom, the repatriates were checked, examined, and sped on their way toward Freedom Village, a 35-tent reception station set up at Munsan-ni. Some came out by helicopter, but most traveled by ambulance across Freedom Bridge.
On 15 June 1998, the four-lane Tongil "Grand Unification Bridge" opened, replacing the 'one-way' traffic span Freedom Bridge that represented the only link from Panmunjom to the south for so many years.
Freedom Bridge was one of the 42 camps north of Seoul authorized Hardship Duty Pay of $150 per month as of 1 January 2001. The Hardship Duty Pay is paid to troops who are permanently assigned to areas where it is authorized or who serve 30 consecutive days of temporary duty in those areas. Several factors are considered in determining whether a location qualified for the pay: climate, physical and social isolation, sanitation, disease, medical facilities, housing, food, recreational and community facilities, political violence, harassment and crime. The extra pay provides meaningful financial recognition to troops assigned in areas where living conditions are substantially below US standards.
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