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Burstone Article

WFO fellow’s movie and photographs capture interest of

Korean museum officials and public

Watch the documentary Korea 1952, created by the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea. This documentary features film footage and color photographs that were taken by Dr. Charles Burstone, a WFO fellow and professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, while he was serving in the United States Air Force and stationed at the K-9 Air Base in the Suyeong district of Busan, South Korea, toward the end of the Korean War.

An orthodontist’s passion for photography and film has resulted in the preservation of rare color photographs and movie footage of Korean villagers pursuing daily life during a time of war.

In 1952, Dr. Charles Burstone, a WFO fellow and professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, was serving as a captain in the United States Air Force. For eight months, he was stationed at the K-9 Air Base in the Suyeong district of Busan in South Korea toward the end of the Korean War. While there, he provided dental care to the troops and the local villagers.

Although he was on call seven days a week, Dr. Burstone would take daily walks around the base and surrounding area, usually during his lunch break or at the end of the day. Armed only with his Konica camera and Kodak 8-mm movie camera, he captured villagers going about their daily tasks. He photographed peaceful images of children playing, men fishing and villagers at the local market, among many other pastoral scenes.

“Many times we’d also visit the British, Australian and Italian troops,” Dr. Burstone said. “We would take an ambulance, but we were never armed” so as not to attract the attention of guerillas.

When he returned to the United States, he developed the film and created a movie of the images, carefully labeling many of the scenes. With his service in the Air Force complete, Dr. Burstone embarked on his career in orthodontics, completing his master’s degree in 1955. That same year, he became an assistant professor in the Department of Orthodontics at Indiana University.

As the years passed and his academic career progressed, Dr. Burstone continued to photograph and film his travels. His collection grew, and he frequently showed his colleagues his movies. In 1984, Dr. Burstone, then professor and head of the Department of Orthodontics at the University of Connecticut, showed the movie from South Korea to his orthodontic colleague Dr. Young Chel Park of Seoul, South Korea. Dr. Park, at the time, was a visiting professor at the university. Currently, he is a professor in the Department of Orthodontics at Yonsei University College of Dentistry in Seoul and president of the World Implant Orthodontic Association.

“It was a pleasant and unexpected surprise to find a bit of home while abroad,” said Dr. Park, who is a WFO fellow and a past president of the Korean Association of Orthodontists. “1952 was an important year in modern Korean history as it is the year that the Korean War came to an end. At the time, any record of the war in the form of photography or film footage was quite rare. This is why Dr. Burstone’s films are so special; they are color movies that accurately portray the living conditions of Koreans following the war. The viewer is able to see what everyday life was like for Koreans, as well as what the cities and countryside looked like at the time.”

In 2008, Dr. Park shared the film with the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul. By this point, Dr. Burstone had transferred the movie to DVD. The museum officials were interested in the material ― so much so that the museum sent a delegation to interview and film Dr. Burstone at his Connecticut home in 2010. Dr. Burstone donated his original film footage, as well as 79 color photographs to the museum. From all of this material, the museum curators developed an exhibit, documentary film and book, entitled Korea 1952.

The museum’s special exhibit ran from June 22 to Sept. 5, 2011. News of Dr. Burstone’s contribution became widely spread when most of the South Korean television stations included a segment on the documentary film during the primetime news.

“I think all of us take pictures, and they get thrown out or put away,” said Dr. Burstone, who recently returned to the United States after teaching at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia. “It was nice that this has been done. The collection is part of the museum’s permanent collection, and research scholars will use the materials.”

In 2011, the South Korean government invited Dr. Burstone to visit South Korea as part of the initiative Korea Revisit, which is offered to American Korean War veterans as a thank you for their service. Dr. Burstone accepted the invitation and traveled to South Korea in September. While there, Dr. Burstone met with his colleagues at the National Folk Museum of Korea and saw the exhibit in person. He also visited orthodontic colleagues and gave a lecture at Yonsei University. In addition, he and other veterans from the Korean War participated in a special remembrance ceremony.

“My respect for Dr. Burstone reached new heights as I saw this project come to fruition,” said Dr. Park, who had the honor of attending the exhibit with Dr. Burstone as his lifelong student. “He was able to capture his affection and curiosity for Koreans and their lifestyles at the end of the war into his movies. He has been able to make a priceless contribution to modern Korean history by providing a window to the Korean War.”

This is the bridge to the K-9 Air Base. The base housing and runways are visible in the distance. The man in the foreground uses a bamboo pole to balance the weight of his heavy load.

This is the market in Tongnae, South Korea, in 1952. At that time, Tongnae was a small town of 500 people and was well-known for its hot springs. Today, it has a population of more than 1 million people.

Dr. Charles Burstone attends the special exhibit Korea 1952 at the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea, in September 2011.

Dr. Charles Burstone donated his original movie footage and photographs of his time in South Korea in 1952 to the National Folk Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea.

South Korea Today

Since the Korean War, South Korea has flourished. Over the past 60 years, Busan has transformed from an agrarian landscape into a thriving metropolitan city that boasts more than 3 million residents. The photographs below display the stunning beauty of Busan and Seoul at night.

This is a view of the vibrant cityscape of Busan as it stands today. Busan is the second largest city in South Korea and is the largest and most important port in South Korea. Sixty years ago, this port was the site of the K-9 Air Base runways.
This is an evening shot of Haeundae Beach in Busan. The beach was once the location of the K-9 Air Base.
Seoul is full of life and lights. This is a photograph of the Namdaemun Gate, one of the eight gates in the Fortress Wall of Seoul that surrounded the city in the Joseon Dynasty. The gate, which was begun in the 14th century, is a historic pagoda-style gateway, and is now listed among the National Treasures of South Korea.