Today is Memorial Day in the United States; the day we take time to remember those who have served and, in some cases, given their lives for our freedom and the freedom of others.
Throughout America we have many memorials to our veterans. But the most moving one for me was visiting the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. My visit took place in March 2003, when the memorial wasn’t yet a decade old and I was still three years away from knowing my son would be born in Korea. But my grandfather’s younger brother was killed in action during the early days of the Korean War so the memorial held a special interest for me.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is made up of several different parts. Overall it’s a triangle that intersects a circle.
Inside the triangle are 19 larger-than-life statues of service men, dressed for combat and representing each branch of the armed forces. Along the right side of the memorial is a granite wall containing 2,500 photographic and archival images of the war that were sandblasted into the rock. When the statues are reflected on the wall it appears there are 38 soldiers, which represents the 38th parallel (the line of demarcation separating the two Koreas).
The circles contains the Pool of Remembrance. Inscribed around the circle are the numbers of those killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war:
Dead — United States: 54,246, United Nations: 628,833
Wounded — United States: 103,284, United Nations: 1,064,453
Captured — United States: 7,140, United Nations: 92,970
Missing — United States: 8,177, United Nations: 470,267.
On the south side of the memorial are three mugunghwa (Rose of Sharon) bushes, using South Korea’s national flower to symbolize the country. And finally a granite wall bears t his message: “Freedom Is Not Free”.
A plaque near the circles states: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
So if you’re in the D.C. area, I’d recommend adding the Korean War Veterans Memorial to you sightseeing list so you can honor those who served.
Since becoming a parent to a Korean-born son, I’ve become even more grateful for the service these Americans who “defended a country they never knew and a people they never met.” And I’ve wondered what would have become of my son’s Korean family had the U.S. and the United Nations decided not to intervene.
Less than a month before the Korean War began on June 25, 1950, my great-uncle Billie had just turn 20 years old. He was married and had his whole life ahead of him. But when his country called for him to serve, he answered the call. That call was to South Korea.
Uncle Billie was part of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, First Cavalry Division of the Army, one of the first to enter the Korean War. Between mid-August and mid-September 1950, the 7th Cavalry Regiment was defending the Pusan perimeter against the invading North Korean army. Pusan (now romanized as Busan) is located on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula, meaning that in a little more than two months, the North Korean army had taken control of almost the entire Republic of Korea.
On September 10th, the 7th Cavalry Regiment was in the Kumho River Valley northeast of the Taegu Airfield. It was here that Uncle Billie, while driving a Jeep, was shot in the head by a sniper. Billie’s body arrived back in Oklahoma, but the family was told that the physical damage was so severe that the casket shouldn’t be open. Because my great-grandmother couldn’t see him for herself, she never fully accepted his death.
Uncle Billie’s military photo was a source of fascination to me as a child. Hanging in a prominent place in my grandparent’s home, Billie’s handsome, smiling face greeted me each morning when I stayed with them. Back then I didn’t really understand the significance of his service and his sacrifice. Now, I’m more grateful to him and those who served with him then I ever could have imagined.
Today Billie’s Army photo hangs in our home–a reminder of family, dedication, loss, and what might be if we don’t help our fellow man.