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James E Mrazek – Pictorial Map of Seoul – c.1953

  • Author: James E Mrazek (artist)
  • Publisher: The World News & Publishing Co. Ltd, Tokyo, Japan
  • Date: c.1953
  • Dimensions: Sheet: 73.5 x 52.5 cms


Rare pictorial Map of the City of Seoul, Capital of South Korea, designed by US Colonel James E Mrazek, c.1953

About this piece:

James E Mrazek (artist) – The World News & Publishing Co. Ltd, Tokyo, Japan (publishers)


Pictorial Map of Seoul (South Korea)

Sheet: 73.5 x 52.5 cms. Lithographic map printed in blue and red, originally a folded map, in ten sectional panels with decorative pictorial cover now forming the top left panel and featuring the title embellished with attractive pictorial vignettes, a portrayal of two American GIs and, below, a stylised bird’s eye view of the city. Top left corner restored in blank margin with new old paper. Unobtrusively faint trace of old ink stamp (“Accounting”) just visible across part of pictorial cover in upper left. Several filled pinholes around sheet edges in blank border with some faint residual rust marks. Old splits along original vertical and horizontal folds without any visible image loss, now expertly closed, restored and flattened. Some very slight misalignment of adjacent panels where flattened & rejoined in centralmost area of map, the slight misalignment probably due to ageing and irregular contraction of paper. The whole sheet now backed with archival tissue for better preservation.  With all an attractive example.

Rare Pictorial Map of the South Korean capital of Seoul, designed by the US Army Colonel and Civil Assistance programme adminstrator, James E Mrazek. It was published in Tokyo, Japan, most probably very shortly after the termination of hostilities and conclusion of the Korean War in July 1953.

The map features an attractive pictorial cover, the upper left panel of the current flattened sheet, incorporating vignette scenes of the city’s peoples and surviving buildings, including temples and palace facades, as well as the Gwanghwamun Gate and  the former Japanese Government-General Building. In a central panel an American GI squats to snap a tourist photograph of his sergeant comrade, who, puffing smoke, enjoys the novelty of a long Korean Gombangdae tobacco pipe. A small stylised view of the City appears across the bottom of the cover panel.

On a scale of 1/25000, the map itself delineates the emergent post-war capital, its underlying Korean topography and printed script in light grey print overlaid with a heavier printed & numbered English language key (lower right), denoting its principal historic sites, landmarks, administrative buildings, and military installations, each highlighted by means of 78 numbered blue circles. Included are two United Nations offices (UNKRA & UNCURK) & the US Army Headquarters and Postal Exchange building located in the southern Yongsan district of the City. The Yongsan base has remained on lease to the US Army ever since the Korean War, though significant parcels of the area are gradually being returned by the US to South Korean control. Two of the original US Air bases are also highlighted, one a short distance from the East Gate (Heunginjimun), labelled A-2, and the second, the original K-16 air base, sited on the southern bank of the Han River on the former sandbar & island that is the present-day Yeouido-dong district, now the City’s main financial centre. Three of the City’s ancient gateways are depicted in vignette, whilst the original 14th Century walls encircling the old City are marked out in red. Surrounding arrows at the sheet edges announce distances to other important cities and settlements, including Munsan (25 miles), Uijongbu (14.5 miles), Chungchon (50 miles), Namhan Sansong South Fortress (15 miles), Kimpo (8 Miles), Inchon (22 miles) and Suwon (24 miles).

Colonel James E Mrazek [1915-2013] was a native of Chicago, serving in the National Guard before graduating in 1938 from West Point Military Academy, NY. During World War II he oversaw airborne operations at Fort Bragg, NC, later commanding the 326th Glider Infantry Battalion, part of the US 13th Airborne Division, both in Europe and subsequently in preparation for the unit’s deployment in the Pacific. After the War he served as US military attaché in Prague and on Army staffs in Europe, South Korea and the Pentagon. He eventually retired from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1958. In retirement he continued to undertake research work for the University of Pittsburgh and consulting work for RCA and NASA’S Goddard Space Center at Greenbelt. He also wrote several books on military history, many focusing on his experiences in wartime airborne operations. Twice married, he passed away in March 2013 at the age of 98 at the Knollwood Military retirement residence in Washington DC. His ashes are inured at Arlington National Cemetery’s Columbarium.

First deployed with the US Army in South Korea in 1950, Mrazek was subsequently appointed Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of the Korea Civil Assistance Command (KCAC). He returned to the US as a Staff College instructor at Fort Leavenworth in December 1954. In the October 1955 issue of the Military Review (Vol XXXV, Number 7), a publication of the Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Mrazek recounts the vital importance of the Civil Assistance Programme throughout the Korean conflict, beginning shortly after the successful defence of the Pusan perimeter in September 1950. The programme was initially formed under the direction of the United Nations (UNCACK). It then passed into the hands of US Army administrators and regional field teams (KCAC), initially based in Pusan and later in the Seoul. The Capital had been captured by North Korean troops during their initial highly successful southern offensive across the 38th Parallel. But following the fierce Battle of the Pusan perimeter and the subsequent Inchon landings, North Korean forces were driven back and Seoul recaptured at the end of September 1950. As Mrazek notes:

“Shortly after the start of the conflict Korea was in chaos; the social economic and political structures of the country were torn asunder. In the provinces, loyal officials disappeared to be supplanted by Communists and their supporters. When President Rhee regained control, his provincial governments were depleted of personnel, means, experience, and sorely handicapped to resolve the distressing problems thrust upon them. Hordes of humanity, uprooted, wandering and homeless, cluttered the country; industries were obliterated; and railroads and public works had been destroyed…The standards of health and public sanitation, normally poor, sank to dangerously lowe levels. Malnutrition, inadequate housing, and congestion fostered pestilence and disease. The incidence of smallpox rose precipitously in the civilian population. A widespread epidemic, which could endanger the Armed forces was imminent”     

UNCACK and later KCAC quickly addressed these issues, coordinating local civil assistance field teams made up of specialist advisors and technicians through Korea’s nine provinces and the City of Seoul. With their close links with government agencies and ministries, they focused on implementing comprehensive plans for the relief and rehabilitation of the country especially in relation to public health, welfare, housing, sanitation, agriculture and transport infrastructure. A mass immunisation programme was initiated to combat the imminent threat of a smallpox epidemic, vaccinating the entire population of 20 million people within a matter of a few months, to the extent that by 1951 the incidence of the disease had dropped by 96 per cent. Addressing the issue of the decline of rice cultivation and the fall-off in the importation of fertilisers, this situation was rapidly reversed between 1951 and 1954, with new land brought under cultivation and vast quantities of fertilisers imported from every available source. By the end of 1954 grain cultivation was 105% of 1949 levels and the country almost self-sufficient. Infrastructure projects were also successfully implemented, including laying new rail lines, rebuilding important ports & harbours, and expanding the Korean merchant marine. There were innumerable other accomplishments initiated through the support of KCAC in terms of house building and the expansion of accommodation for orphans, refugees and the homeless, as well as the wider provision of clean water, petroleum distribution and  energy infrastructure, and power generation. These improvements always supported by the underlying competence, efficiency and dynamic energy of innumerable local Korean officials.

As Mrazek concluded:

Competent administration of the Army’s aid program has been a major contribution to the establishment of Korea as a healthy nation with improved prospects for a sound economy. At the same time it has added a strong link to the free world’s chain of defences against Communist expansion in the Far East….We have enabled the fighting forces to operate without undue concern for the hidden enemies of disease and unrest lurking dangerously close in the civilian population…stabilising the country socially, economically and politically….and, finally,  we have developed a strong and willing ally…

Mrazek’s Pictorial Map of Seoul is one of the few to have been published during this period and to provide a contemporary US view of the emergent post-war Capital. It is also a visible testament to the successful post-war rehabilitation and reconstruction of this dynamic City and of the nation that is modern South Korea. And this in large part thanks to the effective & efficient implementation of the US Civil Assistance programme (KCAC) during and immediately after the Korean conflict and in which Mrazek himself played such an important & influential part.

Refs: J E Mrazek: Civil Assistance in Action (Military Review, Vol XXXV, No.7, October 1955, pp.30-36)