Arts / Museums

The Forgotten Soldiers of the Korean War Memorial — Why the New Wall of Remembrance Brings Hard Questions

Getting the Names Right Should Matter More

BY // 07.25.22

The Korean War Veterans Memorial — with its 19 helmeted and poncho-clad statues spread out in formation, as the servicemen forever trudge silently through imaginary rice paddies on patrol — is getting a along-awaited addition. Located near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the Memorial has been a powerful symbol of America’s forgotten war. But ever since the memorial was first dedicated on July 27, 1995, it remained unfinished.

Where were the names of the fallen?

The memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served, including the 54,246 Americans who died, (according to the American Battle Monuments Commission) during the roughly three-year period of active combat in the Korean War. But who were they exactly? Does anyone know for sure?

Of those who were lost, some 8,200 were listed as missing in action, or were lost or buried at sea. A number of American families have yet to receive any closure, with black and white POW-MIA flags still flying.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial will unveil its newest addition ― a Wall of Remembrance this Wednesday, July 27 ― exactly 27 years after the memorial itself debuted. It will feature the “names of more than 36,000 Americans who died supporting the War and over 7,100 Koreans who died while augmenting the Army,” according to the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation website.

The number of Americans who died in the Korean War, has been scaled way back from upwards of 54,246 down to the 36,000 Americans who are now etched on the Wall of Remembrance. Why are the the names so difficult to ascertain?

SHOP

Swipe
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products
  • Bering's Essentials Products

In a new Texas Monthly story headlined “The Korean War Memorial’s New Wall of Remembrance Appears to Forget Hundreds of U.S. Casualties,” author Michael Hall takes a deep dive into the long history of Korean War researchers, those who have been tirelessly trying to get it right by combing through the records.

The research of many dedicated historians and family members of the fallen brings into question the veracity of the new Wall of Remembrance.

Hall tells the story of two Dallas brothers, Ted and Hal Barker, who work day after day to unravel the mystery of the missing with their ever-evolving Korean War Project ― an ongoing database, which is “a massive archive and digital community center for veterans of the war and their families, stocked with millions of pages of documents, photos, battle reports, maps, diaries, letters, and official government papers,” according to Hall.

“Maybe because the conflict had ended in such an undramatic way, it faded into the recesses of national memory,” Hall wrote. “The veterans who survived, like those who made it through other wars, rarely talked about their experiences.

“Meanwhile, around eight thousand missing Korean War troops — about a quarter of the total dead — remain unaccounted for.”

While textbooks teach that the Korean War lasted for three years, from 1950 to 1953, the truth is way muddier than that. The North Korean regime (The Kim Dynasty) has acted as if the war has raged on in perpetuity. For all we know, the North Korean people still believe it goes on. That’s how completely closed off from the outside world the country is. And the peace of South Korea has rested uneasily ever since the denuclearized zone was established between the two countries, effectively pushing the pause button.

“There were still Americans being killed along the DMZ into the 1990s and 2000s” Hall tells PaperCity.

You see, this war never had an official end date. It just fizzled out, no winners, no losers. Aside from the families and friends who lost their loved ones and still hurt today.

Most Americans are probably unaware that no formal treaty was ever signed bringing the forgotten war to a close, until the issue was brought up again, if only briefly, late last year. It was just last December (68 years later) that South Korea, the United States, China and North Korea finally agreed on the basic parameters of calling a formal end to the Korean War.

Korean War Memorial seen in the distance with the new Wall of Remembrance being dedicated on July 27
The Korean War Memorial seen in the distance with the new Wall of Remembrance set to be dedicated this week.

“There were a lot of unknown soldiers buried in Hawaii,” Hall says. “But also in North Korea and those who died as prisoners after they were taken to mainland China. There have been periods where there have been outreaches by both sides over the years, but they have never gone very far.”

Without that kind of cooperation, a true DNA analysis of the remains cannot be conducted.

Still, when it comes to the soldiers that can be identified, why couldn’t the spelling of their names be verified before they were added to the new Wall of Remembrance? Why couldn’t that bare minimum have been gotten right?

“I thought about how members of their families will feel when they see their botched names carved in stone,” Hall writes in his story.

“It was a mix of ego perhaps and bureaucracy,” Hall tells PaperCity. “The Korean War Memorial Foundation knew that the Barker brothers’ list was so much more accurate than any official records, the spellings having been verified by family members over the years. The due diligence to double check the proper spelling of each name just wasn’t paid.

“It wouldn’t have been that hard to verify the names.”

Showcase of Homes

Swipe
X
X