By Troy Stangarone
On the morning of June 25, 1950 the sound of exploding shells awoke Koreans and U.S. troops alike in the city of Kaesong. With the sound of those early morning explosions, the lives of more than 300,000 soldiers from the United States and countless Koreans would be changed forever.
Many who would go to Korea had never heard of where they were going to fight or knew of the people they had been sent to protect. Nearly 34,000 of them would never make it home.
The Korean War is often called the Forgotten War. However, perhaps unique among the wars that the United States has fought many of those they fought to protect have not forgotten the sacrifices American soldiers made and the opportunity they provided for the nearly 50 million Koreans today to choose their own destiny.
I’ve often experienced this gratitude on my trips to Korea. On more than one occasion an older individual has stopped me in broken English to ask if I was American. After answering, they would proceed to shake my hand and talk happily to me in Korean even though they knew I didn’t understand. Even though language was a barrier to communication, I’ve always understood what they were saying.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some of those who fought in Korea as KEI produced a short documentary on their experiences for a tribute to their service during our gala on June 7. One thing that stands out is the pride they have for what they have done and the nation that Korea has become.
Many share the same experiences. Fighting in the bitter cold, a constant loss of life around them as Korea was left devastated by the ravages of war. They also share a willingness to do it all over again after having seen what Korea has achieved, and a concern that it is not a war that the America of today would fight.
At the same time, there is often a sense on their part they have been forgotten by the pages of history despite what one veteran of both the Second World War and Korea described to me as perhaps the noblest thing the United States had done.
He also shared that for many veterans, the memorial built on the National Mall in Washington, DC is incomplete. At the time of the memorial’s construction they wanted to erect a wall of remembrance to memorialize those who had sacrifice so much during the war.
That wall is still but a dream for many who are slowly fading away from the stage of American history. However, there is legislation (H.R. 2563) before the House of Representatives to correct this. The bill would authorize the construction of a wall of remembrance to include the names of members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died, as well as the number of those wounded in action, missing in action, and prisoners of war. It would also recognize those who fought in the war for the Republic of Korea, under United Nations Command, and as part of the Korean Augmentation of the United States Army by listing the number of those who were killed in action, wounded in action, are missing in action, or were prisoners of war.
To date, this effort has only received a hearing by the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands in the House’s Natural Resources Committee. There is currently no Senate companion legislation. However, despite the gridlock that grips Washington, especially in an election year, one would hope that Democrats and Republicans could come together to finalize America’s tribute to those who gave of themselves to protect the freedom of one of the 20th century’s greatest success stories.
Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are his own.
Photo taken by Troy Stangarone.