The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It was dedicated on July 27, 1995. The Memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million American who served in the U.S. Armed Services during the three-year period of the Korean War. Set on 2.2 acres directly across the reflecting pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the $20 million memorial was paid for largely with private donations and is a dramatic blend of granite, steel, water and landscaping. The dominant element of the memorial is a column of 19 larger-than-life stainless steel statues. These American service members trudging up a hill, towards their flag, which I believe represents their overwhelming need to go home.
Frank Gaylord sculpted the nineteen stainless steel statues, which are approximately seven feet tall and represent an ethnic cross section of America. The advance party has 14 Army, 3 Marine, 1 Navy and 1 Air Force members. The statues stand in patches of Juniper bushes and are separated by polished granite strips, which give a semblance of the rice paddies of Korea. The troops wear ponchos covering their weapons and equipment. The ponchos appear to be blowing due to the cold winds and when I visited on a warm summer’s day, it managed to send shiver down my spine. While they are supposed to be a lone military unit trudging through the marsh, nonetheless the distance between each statue provides feelings personal seclusion and maybe even abandonment. Abandonment by their government, compounded by the wanton need to go home.
Supposedly, the soldiers represent a number of different ethnic backgrounds. However, I was too caught up in the moment to notice. I was more awestruck by the haunted expressions on their faces. Each solider has a personality. Some appear to be focused and intense, others look to be nervous and scared, while some actually appear to have reached the point of indifference. It is not there ethnicity that matters, but their ability to be generic. They could be anyone’s son, brother or father. That is the beauty of this peace. It is detailed in some areas, yet simplistic enough that I could imagine my Great Uncle Burtick, who fought in the Korean War, as one of these men.
This scene is all highly accented by the rough finish of each statue. They are not shiny and smooth, their bodies and faces are course to match the moment in which they were captured. It is all contrasted by the polished granite and marble that surround the scene.
A granite curb on the north side of the statues lists the 22 countries of the United Nations that sent troops or gave medical support in defense of South Korea. While, on the south side stands a wall 164 foot mural wall of California Academy black granite, intermingling in its polished surface the reflections of the statues with the etched images of more than 2,400 unnamed service men and women. Nurses, chaplains, crew chiefs, mechanics and other support personnel, symbolize the vast effort that sustained the military operation. Louis Nelson Associates, used period photographs to comprise the mural and a computer-generated stencil then guided the sandblasting that carved in stone this tribute to all who served. These images reveal the determination of the U.S. forces and the countless ways in which Americans answered the call to duty. Another nearby highly polished granite wall bears the words, “Freedom Is Not Free”.
This Memorial constitutes a reminder of the dedication of the American fighting solider. Clad in ponchos, armed for combat, they symbolize both the hardship of war and the strength of our nation. The setting is dynamic as the individual statues reflect the trauma and emotions generated by front-line service in war.