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Proposal for wall at Korean War memorial runs into opposition

October 4, 2011 |  1:11 pm

 The idea seems simple enough: Erect a wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. -- similar to the famous wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial -- to call greater attention to what is often called the forgotten war.

But it's touched off a battle on Capitol Hill.

"The Korean War Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1995, and many veterans feel that while it is extraordinarily moving, the magnitude of their sacrifice is not yet adequately conveyed by the memorial," Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) said in a letter to colleagues seeking support for his bill to authorize a Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War memorial.

But the Interior Department came out against the legislation Tuesday, expressing concern that a wall listing the names of Americans killed in the Korean War could generate public controversy.

"As the Vietnam Veterans Memorial experience showed, there is not always agreement on those names to be included and those names that are not, and this has led to public contention and controversy," Stephen E. Whitesell, director of the National Park Service's capital region, told the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands.

The Korean War memorial near the Lincoln Memorial features 19 seven-foot-tall stainless steel soldiers in windblown ponchos on patrol by a mural etched with images of faces from the war and a reflecting "Pool of Remembrance."

The legislation would authorize a 7- to 8-foot-high glass wall, funded by private contributions, that would list the names of Americans killed in action; the number of Americans wounded, missing in action and prisoners of war; and the number of South Koreans and military forces from other U.N. nations killed, wounded, missing in action or prisoners or war.

"It is in the tradition of our people to honor our dead from our conflicts where such is feasible," retired Army Col. William E. Weber, chairman of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, told the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands. "By naming them on the memorials we erect in our hamlets, towns and cities, we ensure they will not be forgotten."

Whitesell said that a wall was considered when the Korean War memorial was being designed but was rejected because of problems that have been encountered with the wall at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"Choosing some names and omitting others causes a place of solace to become a source of hurt. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors all who served in that conflict, but only the names of the 58,272 killed within the combat zone are engraved on the wall,'' he said in written testimony. "This meant that those killed by a fire on a Navy ship just outside the zone were not eligible to have their names engraved on the wall -- a difficult message for their survivors to accept."

Whitesell also said that a new wall would be a "second Korean War Veterans Memorial" and "would significantly alter the character of the existing memorial.'"

But William P. Lecky, a board member of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation and an architect with the firm that worked on the design of the Korean and Vietnam war memorials, said in written testimony: "Our hope is that the wall will draw people into the plaza so they can realize the intensity of the impact and the degree of sacrifice of one of the bloodiest conflicts in our nation’s history. Our belief is that this will add major enrichment and a depth of understanding to the message of this memorial without impacting the strength and beauty of that which exists on the site today.''

Hall's legislation enjoys bipartisan support, boosting its prospects for House approval.


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-- Richard Simon in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Statues at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington. Credit: Associated Press