HARRISON, N.Y. -- Harrison High School sophomore Mark Rigano had a unique front row view of history on a recent visit to South Korea.
Rigano, a member of the Young Marines of Westchester for the past four years and who holds the rank of sergeant, was selected by the unit commander, Lucian Caldara, to make this historic trip across the world. Caldara served in the Marine Corps and was stationed in South Korea.
“My visit to South Korea was the greatest experience of my young life,” Rigano said. “It was an incredible opportunity and invaluable experience to be able to immerse myself in the culture, meet the wonderful people and study the history of a country so far from home.”
The pair attended a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the Inchon Landing, a pivotal four-day battle involving the South Korean army and UN officials that led to a reversal of fortunes in the Korean War and led to the recapture of Seoul, the South Korean capital.
Rigano and Caldara also met with Korean officials, service members and U.S. troops stationed in South Korea and watched a re-enactment of the Inchon Landing.
Rigano said, “The experience was made even more incredible because throughout the trip, Mr. Caldara and I were in the company of a retired ROK Marine Sergeant Major Kyung-Seo Kang, who is also the chairman of the Korean American Friendship Association."
"This added an element of adventure and excitement for me because I didn’t know what experiences awaited me each day,'' Rigano said.
Rigano visited the National Museum, the National Cemetery, and the National War Museum – which tracks the country’s history from 1600s to the present.
He also had an opportunity to view Panmunjom -- where armistice talks between North and South Korea continue today, an ROK Marine Outpost on the demilitarized zone (DMZ) overlooking North Korea, a Historical Period Korean Village, Seoul Tower and the Presidential Palace and museum.
“At the DMZ, I was given a private escort by a ROK Marine into one of the many tunnels excavated by North Koreans in an attempt to infiltrate the city of Seoul,” Rigano said. “At the National Cemetery, I was treated as a special guest and participated in the ceremony honoring the fallen South Korean veterans."
After the ceremony, Rigano joined more than 30 Korean veterans for dinner at their annual meeting.
“I concluded my trip by reconnecting with a childhood friend who had attended Purchase School before returning to Korea several years ago,'' Rigano said. "My experience was not one of a tourist, but more of a guest who was treated as a VIP.”
“Throughout my visit, I found the Korean people to be very kind and generous,'' Rigano added. "I returned home with many incredible experiences and some unique gifts. I am certain I will reflect on this experience for many years to come.”