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(LEAD) U.S. 8th Army starts base relocation by commemorating Gen. Walker

All Headlines 14:53 April 25, 2017

(ATTN: UPDATES with commander's comments, background info in last 6 paras)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, April 25 (Yonhap) -- American troops in Seoul kicked off their full-fledged relocation Tuesday to a refurbished base south of the capital with a symbolic ceremony to commemorate Gen. Walton H. Walker, a Korean War hero.

Standing in front of the 8th Army's headquarters at Yongsan garrison, the 10-foot-tall bronze statue is a token of the U.S. fight against North Korea alongside South Korea in the 1950-53 conflict and their decades-old alliance.

Walker, born in 1889 and killed in a 1950 car accident in Korea, is credited with playing a pivotal role in defending the South from the North's aggression.

He is especially known for having commanded U.S. troops at the so-called Busan Perimeter, paving the way for Gen. Douglas MacArthur's historic amphibious landing in Incheon.

The U.S. Eighth Army hosts the Gen. Walker Monument Transition Ceremony in front of its headquarters at the Yongsan base on April 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

Taking initial steps to move to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, the Eighth Army held the "statue transition" event. The statue will actually be transfered to the Humphreys in May and a formal unveiling ceremony is slated for July 13.

Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, the commanding general of the 8th Army, said the statue transition "underscores" the base relocation.

"Despite the statue moving, make no mistake about it. Our alliance 'gachigapsida (Let's go together)' spirit remains ironclad and strong," he said in a speech at the event joined by more than 50 dignitaries.

Lt. Gen. Thomas S. Vandal, the commanding general of the 8th Army, delivers a speech at the Gen. Walker Monument Transition Ceremony held at the Yongsan base in Seoul on April 25, 2017. (Yonhap)

They included Paik Sun-yup, a 95-year-old retired South Korean Army general. Paik, who served in the South's military during the Korean War, is the honorary commander of the Eighth U.S. Army, the core element of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea.

Vandal noted Paik is the only figure "here" to have worked together with Walker.

He also pointed out that the base relocation work has been "in the making" for about 10 years.

After a long delay, the 8th Army plans to complete its transition to the Pyeongtaek base in late June.

The remainder of the American troops in the Yongsan facilities will be relocated there by the end of this year, with the headquarters of the Combined Forces Korea staying at the current base.

Vandal described it as one of the largest base transformations in the U.S. Army's history, with US$10.7 billion invested in the Garrison Humphreys where roughly 45,000 American service members and their family members will reside.

"We all are excited to be part of this historic relocation," he said.

On the late general Walker, he said he is one of the iconic figures of the U.S. alliance with South Korea. Even a luxury hotel in Seoul and a U.S. military base in Daegu are named after the general.

Once his statute is unveiled this summer, "Gen. Walker will once again point toward the north as an everlasting remainder of the threats we face," added Vandal.

The U.S. base in Yongsan has historical implications for Koreans, originally the home to Japanese soldiers during its brutal colonial rule of Korea from 1910-45.

It will be transformed into a family park after an environmental impact survey under the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).


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