Forgotten No More
The Korean War is something not to be forgotten. Many great men fought and died during that war. Yet it was never classified as a war, but only as a conflict. My grandfather served in the war as a paramedic. He has shrapnel in his leg from a mortar round that went off in his trench as he was caring for other soldiers. The war is also called the Forgotten War, since no one remembers or has herd very much about it. Heroes of the Forgotten War have had to endure a lack of respect for their many achievements that were made during the war.
“the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953, saw 54,246 American casualties. It was the first war in which the United Nations played a military role and one of the bloodiest in history. Killed were about a million South Korean civilians, 580,000 U.N. and South Korean troops and 1.4 million communist troops from North Korea and China. The United Nations and North Korea signed an armistice agreement to end the war, but there still is not a permanent peace treaty between South Korea and North Korea.”(Allen). By the end of the three-year war, 54,000 Americans died and more that 103,00 were wounded. Yet, the Korean War has often be referred to as the “Forgotten War,”(Tyrell). Falling between WWII and Vietnam, nearly 1 million Koreans, along with 54,256 Americans service personnel, died in Korea between 1950 and 1953. It has come to be called “America’s Forgotten War,” but technically it never was declared a war. It was 40 years ago on June 25, 1950 “when North Korean troops, backed by China and the Soviet Union, poured across the border near the 38th parallel in a all-out invasion of South Korea.”(Henion).
President Truman immediately committed the U.S. forces to South Korea to fight the communist invaders. On July 7 the United Nations recommended that member nations also come to South Korea’s aid. Other Nations entering the conflict under the U.N. banner were Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, India, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, and South Korea that carried the brunt of the defense. The war produced many great dramas like the destruction of Task Force Smith, the defense of the Puson Perimeter, Inchon landing, the drive to the Yalu River, and the shattering winter advance of the Chinese army and the epic fight by allied troops out of a trap at Chosin Reservoir. By early August 1950, the Koreans occupied the entire Korean peninsula except for a small pocket at Puston.
“General Douglas MacArthur’s surprise landing on Inchon has been called one of the century’s most remarkable military feats.”(Henion) The invaders retreated back across the 38th parallel. Despite the threat of Chinese intervention, U.N. forces pursed the attack. On Nov. 25, 1950 China turned loose its military manpower in an all-out attack. The Chinese sent 120,000 soldiers encircling about 10,000 marines and soldiers near Chosin Reservoir. The marines defeated all but 10 Chinese divisions. “Korea remains the only conflict since 1945 in which the armies of two great powers, the United States and China had met in the battle field.”(Henion) The communist counter offensive was halted January 1951. Once again the U.N. command halted its advance and sought a cease-fire. MacArthur wanted to drive once again into North Korea and was publicly vocal in his disagreement with the decision to not continue the offence. On April 10, weary of MacArthur’s outspoken resistance to government policy, Truman relieved the WWII hero of his command. The allied troops dug in and resisted human wave attacks by the Chinese for more than two years.
By the spring of 1952, both sides had entered negotiations to end the conflict. Eisenhower forced the hand of the communists by implying that the U.S. might use nuclear weapons at the negotiations. On July 27, 1953, negotiators at Panmunjon, a village on the border between North and South Korea signed the armistice papers that ended the fighting. “The Korean conflict is the Forgotten War, fought by America’s Silent Generation.”(Omicinski) It was the most brutal war of our time, fought I a hostile, disease-ridden, hard-to-supply environment. The United States lost 54,426 men in three years in Korea, a per-year death rate far exceeding that of the Vietnam Way. “More over, it was hand-to-hand combat with hordes of Red Chinese and fanatical North Koreans.”(Omicinski) The swarmed into America oppositions in horrible, freezing cold on steep mountainsides and on frozen reservoirs. Many of the U.N. troops died frozen in their sleeping bags. Before the war in Korea was over, more that two million were killed, wounded, captured, and missing. “Fighting see-sawed, Americans trapped in Puson at Korea’s southern tip by the North Koreans onslaught, surprised the invaders with a brilliant amphibious landing at Inchon on Korea’s waistline.”(Omicinski)
The attack eventually drove the North Koreans all the way back to the Chinese border at the Yalu River. Historians regard Inchon one of the most brilliant and audacious military maneuvers, that includes Hannibal’s elephants and Napoleon’s cavalry sweeps. Fearing Pyonyang’s collapse, Mao Tse-tung dispatched hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops. Red waves hurled back Americans in headlong retreat, but the GI’s held at the 38th parallel. Mao’s own son was killed in that attack. The war ended in an armistice 42 years ago after two years of brutal, bloody and inconclusive trench warfare on rocky terrain with names like Pork Chop Hill or Heartbreak Ridge. “It was a draw that signaled the beginning of the Cold War and a long struggle that ended in defeat of dictatorial communism.”(Omicinski) U.S. prisoners were held for years and subjected to new torture techniques called “brain washing.” Many signed condemnations of America in hope of getting their captors to cease the torture.
“Korean War vets came home and melted seamlessly into the population.”(Omicinski) Cynical critics dismiss the Korean conflict as a waste of time, but Beijing and Pyongyang haven’t tried anything since. Pork Chop Hill was where one of the bloodiest battles in modern warfare was fought. In 1951m the U.S. began a special operations campaign in Korea, expanding what were formerly intelligence activities into guerilla operations conducted by psychological, aviation and tactical units under the command of the Eight Army. The units supported psychological operations, engaged in escape-and-evasion activities and conducted raids against the enemy. In January 1953, 75 officers and enlisted soldiers from the 10th Special Forces Group were assigned to the units as advisers and staff personnel. By that spring 22,000 Koreans had joined forces with the U.S. special-operations forces. “It’s fashionable today to describe Korea as the forgotten war. That wrongly suggests that the war didn’t command great attention as it was being fought. People paid attention, especially during the dramatic seesaw results during the early part of the war. As the Korean War dragged on, and the fighting took on a bloody World War I trench-type struggle in the middle of the peninsula in Korea.”(The)
More and more Americans grumbled about our involvement. Finally, more than three years after it started, a truce was signed. The fighting was over. “While there was no defeat, as in Vietnam, there was also no dramatic victory as in WWII.”(The) The North Korean invasions had been thwarted, but the border between North and South was right where it had been before the fighting started. “The war, in fact, wasn’t even officially over as it still isn’t. Perhaps it’s this inconclusiveness that explains why the Korean veterans have been so overlooked, and their fierce and courageous fighting so quickly forgotten.”(The) In 37 months of fighting, 54,428 Americans died in Korea, 22,629 of the in combat. Almost as many Americans were killed fighting during the three years in Korea as were killed during 10 years in Vietnam. After three months of humiliating losses at the start of the war, the Americans conducted one of the most dramatic and ambitious amphibious operations in history, defying 30-foot tides to come ashore at North Korean part of Inchon. By the end of November, they reached the Chinese border, only to be driven south where thousands of Americans died trying to gain a few hundred feet in places like Pork Chop Hill and Old Baldy.
Since the war the two Koreas have grown steadily farther apart as South Korea’s economy continues to expand at a phenomenal pace while the north stagnates. The armed border between the two Koreas is one of the most dangerous in the work. About 40,000 U.S. troops remained in South Korea. It was along the 38th parallel in Korea, the buffer zone, also called the de-militarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, where much of the war was fought. Seoul, capital of a vibrant Democracy, has hosted a Summer Olympics: “North Korea is a sad prison of a country.”(Omicinski) Starving, it begs for rice while clutching the forlorn hope its nuclear threat will bring respect and honor that has eluded it since its June 25, 1950 invasion.
The memory of the Korean War today is often limited to the television series M*A*S*H. M*A*S*H dismays most veterans because it projects an image of the struggle infinitely less savage than which they recall. “Korea wasn’t M*A*S*H with cutesy nurses scurrying around sewing up cut fingers between pitchers of dry martini’s with dippy doctors.”(Omicinski) The fighting was on television, although the coverage was primitive compared to the dramatic television pictures from Vietnam. During the disastrous winter battles that American soldiers fought near North Korea’s border with China, it was hard to distinguish the real snow from the snowy black and white television transmission. TV coverage of Korea didn’t produce the intensity of feeling that the much-improved coverage of Vietnam produced.
The memorial shows men and women of all races and national ties who took part in the war. The newest war memorial, situated on the Washington Mall, features 19 steel statues of soldiers wearing ponchos positioned on a slight slope. “The seem to be moving in an infantry formation up toward a V-shaped granite wall engraved with figures of support troops.”(Hudson) The engravings on the wall double the number of figures to 38, representing the 38th parallel along the armistice line that still divides South and North Korea. It was an $18 million memorial. America has made a substantial donation that will allow the building of a Korean Wary Memorial just off of Interstate 5. The Korean owned electronic giant has contributed $100,000 toward building a granite wall that will bear the names of the 187 Oregon veterans who died in the conflict. They hope to dedicate the Oregon Korean War Memorial on July 29, a date marking the 47th anniversary of the conflict’s cease-fire. The memorial will be built in a tree-lined corner of Wilsonville’s Town Center Park.
At Jefferson College in Hillsboro, where Highway 21 was given a new state designation as Veterans Memorial Highway. The part of Highway 21 covering 20 miles around the 38th parallel, just south of Jefferson County near Old Mines in Washington County, was re-designated as the Korean War Memorial Highway. State Rep. Steve Stoll, D-Festus, sponsored legalization in the last session to designate Highway 21 to honor all veterans and Korean Veterans specifically. The idea of making Highway 21 a memorial was 1st brought up by Korean Veterans when they approached Steve Stoll. The Korean War Veterans Memorial, being dedicated at the Washington Mall, is a stunning tribute to U.S. heroes who fought and died in a thankless war. It is situated in leafy woods not far from Abraham Lincoln’s marble chair; the memorial is so good it ma make the 45-year wait worthwhile.
Nineteen larger-than-life statues depict an infantry combat team moving up a gentle slope in bad weather. Molded in stainless steel, the silvery figures make up the point guard of a ghostly platoon, carrying M-1’s, carbines, and Browning automatic rifles. Rain ponchos flapping in an unfelt wind, frozen fighters seem to be moving to some unseen objective just ahead. They are reflected in a spectacular marble wall etched with 2,400 photographs of smiling support troops. All the statues appear wary-looking to all sides as infantrymen long have been taught, but none seem to be afraid. A simple motto is carved in dark gray marble at the top of the gentle knoll: “Freedom is Not Free.”(Omicinski) The Korean War tableau delivers a clear message: “There were things worth fighting and dying for, there were heroes, and they still walk among us.”(Omicinski) Sixteen nations sent combat troops; their names are etched into a low wall that borders a walk. The new monument memorializes the American Soldier who walked through a hell in a fearful time of global confusion, still exhausted from World War II; many strapped on boots and did it all over again.
Befitting their generational label, the silent Korean War veterans never complained and never explained. Its most striking feature is a tableau of 19 soldiers on patrol, larger-than-life sculptures of men in helmets and ponchos, trudging across a triangle shaped field. The tip of the soldiers field ends at a “memorial grove”(Puente) It is a circular plaza with a black stone water fountain set in the ground and edged by a paved walkway and 40 linden trees. American Battle Monument Commission was the federal agency that commissioned the monument commemorating the 1950-1953 Korean War. Korean War veterans have long complained that monument builders have not sufficiently recognized their efforts. In recent years, moves have been made to change that, notably at the plaza fronting Veterans Memorial Highway by the F. Lee Dennison Building, where a Korean War monument was unveiled in 1991. The two-part monument depicts a soldier with a bayonet and, separately, a map of Korea.
The $600,000 Minnesota Korean War Veterans Memorial on the state Capitol grounds in St. Paul. The memorial honors the 94,600 Minnesotans who served in Korea. The names of the 738 who died and the 154 listed as missing are engraved on the memorial. The highway’s official name would not be changed. Under the plan, the county would simply erect one or more of the new signs to honor the veterans who fought nearly 50 years ago in Korea. Mike Adragna, a Ford Motor Co. retiree from Sterling Heights, said he took on the project to honor the 49 Macomb County men who died in Korea. He said the war seems to be remembered less and less as time passes. “I got fired up about this in 1995 when I went to Washington D.C. for the dedication of the Korean monument there.”(Wowk) On July 9, 1999 the U.S. Army Special Operations Command dedicated the Korean War Special Operation Memorial Stone in Fort Bragg’s Special Operations Memorial Plaza. The Stone is intended to commemorate the service of special-operations soldiers who fought in the Korean War. “In a very, very bloody war, in a very critical time in our nation’s history, arose great men-small numbers of men. Men who rose to the call of duty. Men who heard the sound of the distant trumpet and unhesitatingly volunteered Many of whom remained on active duty after the Korean War to serve within Special Forces and a variety of other units soldiers who have written an indelible page in American history.”(USASOL) President Clinton dedicated the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington. It is located on 2.2 acres on the National Mall in the heart of the Capital. The monument features 19 steel statues representing all the Americans who fought in Korea. Symbolically, these Korean veterans are now where they deserve to be.
The foundation was shut down months ago. The pavement is falling apart; Ugly holes have replaced once-verdant trees. “We do not want to see America’s tribute to a victory remembered diminished by a forgotten memorial.”(Puente) How the monument ended up in this condition is a matter of dispute, one debated for the past eight months. The cause of the problems could be bad design, bad construction, bad luck or all three. Representatives of three federal agencies, and architects and construction contractors who built the monument, have been meeting monthly to debate what to do about the dying trees, leaky plumbing, shifting soil and shorted-our lighting. The big question is who will pay to make repairs, which could cost $500,000. Now the plaza is blocked off, the fountain is dry and the trees are gone. The trees died over the long, hot summer of 1995 and were removed that fall. It could be they got too much water, or their roots were smothered by paving stones. New trees were planted in the fall of 1997, but it was not clear who would pay the $30,000 cost. The paving stones sank and shifted because the soil under them settled more than anticipated. Workers began carting away the stone walkway and replacing it temporarily with crushed-stone gravel. The water fountain was shut down because under ground pipes leaked. The ground-based fiber-optic lighting, that was ment to dramatically illuminate the faces of the sculptures, keeps shorting out because of too much water underground. More above ground lights need to be installed so people can see at night.
Thousands more veterans from other countries remain alive. About 4.7 million veterans, most of the men in their 60’s, are still alive in the U.S. Most Korean War vets are in their 60’s and 70’s. My grandfather is one of the many vets that are still alive. When my mom and I went to Virginia to visit my other grandparents, we went to the Korean War Memorial and brought back a video of the memorial, it brought tears to my grandfathers eyes. It had been so long since the War, and they were finally being recognized. I can only imagine the feeling that the other Korean War vets felt when they saw the monument for the first time.
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Puente, Maria. “Korea Memorial Gets Early Face Lift.” USA Today 22 May 1997:9A.Electric Library http://www.elibrary.com (10 May 2001).
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“USASOC Dedicates Korean War Memorial Stone.” Special Warfare Fall 1999:62. UMI-ProQuest Direct (10 May 2001).
Wowk, Mike. “Vet Wants Road as War Memorial: Ex-marine Wants Metro Parkway Signs to Honor Korean War.” Detroit News 11 October 1999:D5.UMI-ProQuest Direct (10 May 2001)