For Whom the Bell Tolls

S M Chen
7 min readMar 20, 2023

“… therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

  • John Donne (1572–1631), “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions,” ‘Meditation XVII’

I visited the Korean Friendship Bell in Angels Gate Park in San Pedro, California recently. It is considered one of the major tourist landmarks.

What is it?

Photo: author

The bell was donated to South Korea to the USA in 1976 in a gesture of friendship between the two nations at the bicentennial of the USA.

Patterned after the Bronze Bell of King Song Deok which was cast in 771 A.D., the 12-foot tall 7.5-foot diameter ball weighs 17 tons. Its main components are copper and tin. A variety of other substances, including gold, nickel, lead and phosphorus were added to improve the tone of the bell.

I did not have the privilege of hearing the bell rung (see striker log in photo). It is struck five times a year. When I visited was not one of such occasions.

It is housed in a stone pavilion built specifically for the purpose of housing it. It took 30 Korean craftsmen working 10 months to complete.

Beyond it in the distance stretches the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, a potent reminder the majority of our planet is watery. The Pacific, largest of our named oceans, far predated both the USA and South Korea and, should time last, will likely outlive them.

The bell invokes other symbols of friendship between countries. The State of Liberty in the harbor of NYC was a gift from France to the USA in 1885.

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It is such a landmark it is hard to imagine the harbor without it.

I support Native American causes. Some Native Americans may have been my ancestors who migrated across the Bering Straits to become the first settlers of North America.

One tidbit of history I had not known was that, during the Great Irish Potato Famine (1845–1852), in which close to 1M Irish perished and another 1M fled their country as refugees, some Native Americans sent money to Ireland.