The Korean War is sometimes referred to as the "Forgotten War"
because it seems to have receded from the national
consciousness-eclipsed in large part by the continuing legacy
of the Vietnam War. On July 27, the nation paid overdue
tribute to the Americans who served in Korea when President
Clinton and South Korean president Kim Young Sam helped
dedicate the Korean War Veterans Memorial in the nation's
The dedication came on the forty-second
anniversary of the armistice that ended the hostilities on the
Korean Peninsula in 1953. The Korean War began June 25, 1950,
when seven North Korean infantry divisions invaded South
Korea. Two days later. President Harry S. Truman authorized
American air and naval operations. On July 1, the first
American combat troops waded into battle. The brutal, bloody,
bitter war came to a stalemate on July 27, 1953, when the
warring sides signed the armistice.
Some 5.7 million Americans served in the
military during the official Korean War "conflict period."
About 1.5 million American men and women served in-country,
fighting alongside troops from the Republic of Korea and 15
other nations under the umbrella of the United Nations. More
than 33,600 Americans were killed in action; some 20,600 died
in accidents and from other noncombat causes. More than
103,000 Americans were wounded in action. The Department of
Defense lists 8,177 Americans still missing in action and
unaccounted for in Korea; 389 American POWs remain unaccounted
for. Nearly 226,000 South Korean troops were killed on the
The armistice that was signed 42 years
ago did not completely end hostilities on the Korean
Peninsula. "It's the only war that isn't over," Greg Player, a
spokesman for the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board,
said in an interview. "It still goes on today. There are still
troops on the DMZ. There's no true peace. We lost a guy this
year, shot down. So the war continues. It's just kind of
On October 28,1986, Congress passed a law
creating a presidential commission to coordinate the building
of a memorial to "honor members of the armed forces of the
United States who served in the Korean War, particularly those
who were killed in action, are still listed as missing in
action, or were held as prisoners of war."
The commission, made up of a dozen
noncompensated members, fulfilled its duties. The group found
a site for the memorial in the nation's capital called Ash
Woods. It sits on the other side of the Reflecting Pool from
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and near the Lincoln Memorial.
On June 14,1989, the commission selected
a memorial design submitted by four Pennsylvania State
University architects. The design was chosen during a national
competition that drew more than 1,000 entries. The centerpiece
of the memorial is a collection of 19 statues of battle-clad
combat troops that seem to be moving across a triangular
landscape toward an American flag.
The commission raised more than $17
million in private donations to pay for the memorial's
construction. Most of the money came from American Korean War
veterans and from Korean-American businesses. A special Korean
War commemorative silver dollar produced by the U.S. Mint
raised $6 million.
Ground was broken for the memorial on
June 14,1992. The 19 soldiers, who represent all of the
services and ethnic backgrounds of Americans who fought in
Korea, are the work of sculptor Frank Gaylord. The memorial
also features a 150-foot-long, highly polished granite wall
etched with thousands of images engraved by graphic artist
Louis Nelson from National Archives photos of support troops.
Among those depicted are airmen, nurses, chaplains,
artillerymen, sailors, tank drivers, supply personnel,
mechanics, and cooks.
Inscribed on a large granite boulder at
the memorial's entrance are the words "Our Nation Honors Her
Sons and Daughters Who Answered the Call to Defend a Country
They Did Not Know and a People They Had Never Met- Korea,
1950-53." The memorial also includes a reflecting pool
encircling the flag pole and surrounded by a grove of trees
and benches for visitors. An interactive, computerized listing
of the war's KlAs, MIAs, and POWs is available to visitors.
The dedication came nearly 13 years after
the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial-a situation
that reflects the "forgotten" nature of the Korean War. Unlike
the Korean War, the war in Vietnam became the most
controversial overseas war ever fought by this country. It
spawned a large antiwar movement and led to a momentous
generational cultural cleavage. Vietnam, the first "rock 'n'
roll war," has spawned thousands of books, dozens of movies,
numerous plays, and one Broadway musical.
Vietnam forever will be associated with
the decade of the 1960s and the tumultuous political and
social changes that took place. Korea was fought during the
1950s, without rock and roll, without any type of broad
antiwar movement, in an era when the generations did not go to
war against each other over the merits of American
participation in an undeclared war.
There have been very few Korean War films
or plays. The volume of Korean War literature is minuscule
compared with the literature of Vietnam-or that of World War
II or the American Civil War, for that matter.
On the other hand, the Korean War never
has been a "forgotten" war to the nation's 4.5 million
Korean-era veterans-especially in the last decade. "At first,
everybody just wanted to forget," Greg Player said. "And now,
we're all in our 40s and 50s, and we want to remember."
"We, who were there, remember," said
Korean War veteran Franklin Kestner in the introduction to his
Korean War memoir. The Last Man.
The 1982 dedication and instant
popularity of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial turned out to be
an important factor in helping Americans remember the
forgotten war by creating a national memorial to those who
fought in Korea. The creation of the Wall, Player said, was
the impetus for getting the Korean memorial off the ground.
"Korea was very similar to the Vietnam War [in that] it was a
'conflict' and not a war," he added. "Once the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial went up, it was a catalyst and really
launched the Korean War Memorial."
The Wall also spurred another group of
American war veterans into action on the national memorial
front. The next memorial to be dedicated in Washington, DC,
will be the World War II Veterans Memorial. Scheduled
dedication date: sometime in 1998.