With the world anxiously waiting to see if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will resume intercontinental ballistic missile testing, to include potentially testing a missile capable of reaching the eastern United States, it is well to remember the conflict that is the root of the current tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea. Following the North Korean invasion, the United States led a 21-nation allied force to help South Korea repel the communist troops. By the time the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, 36,574 American military personnel gave their lives in the service of freedom, 103,284 others had been wounded in action, 8,177 were listed as missing in action and 7,747 US military personnel are still unaccounted for.
The war was extraordinarily brutal and bloody. South Korea reported some 137,899 military deaths and 24,495 missing. Deaths from the other non-American UN militaries totaled 3,730, with another 379 missing. The percentage of civilian casualties in Korea was higher than in World War II or the Vietnam War, with estimated civilian deaths in the range of 2 million to 3 million. Virtually all of the major cities on the entire Korean Peninsula were destroyed as a result of the war and South Korea took decades to recover economically.
As a “second-generation” Korean born after the conflict ended, I did not have to face the horrors of the war that my parents and their family members endured. Yet I know that the freedom I enjoyed growing up in South Korea was due to the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the US armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War. Without their valiant efforts, I would not have the freedom and opportunities I enjoy today as a proud Korean American US citizen.
On Oct. 7, 2016, Congress enacted the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Act (Public Law 114-230) authorizing the establishment of a “Wall of Remembrance” to be incorporated into the Korean War Veterans Memorial that currently resides on the National Mall in Washington.
The wall will encircle the rear 180 degrees of the memorial’s Pool of Remembrance. On it will be etched the names of the over 36,000 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Korean War as well as the number of US servicemen wounded, missing in action or prisoners of war. Pending approval, it will also list the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army soldiers killed in action while serving with US forces. Finally, the wall will also honor the members of the South Korean military and the UN soldiers by listing the numbers of soldiers who were killed, wounded, missing or prisoners during the conflict.
The Wall of Remembrance will commemorate all of their sacrifices, honor those who fought and remind us all that “Freedom Is Not Free.” Funding for the Wall comes entirely from donations received from private individuals, veterans groups, local Korean American associations, civic organizations and local municipalities in the US and South Korea.
As the president of the Korean American Community Association of Greater Washington, representing over 200,000 Korean Americans in the greater Washington metropolitan area, it has been an honor and privilege for me and my association members to work together with the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, the Korean War Veterans Association and other like-minded groups on events and programs to help build awareness and raise funds for the Wall of Remembrance.
The Korean War has sometimes been called the “forgotten war,” but the Wall of Remembrance will ensure that the over 36,000 Americans who gave their lives in the service of freedom will never be forgotten. As we enter the new year, I encourage all my fellow citizens, especially my fellow Korean Americans, to help spread the word about this worthy project and consider making a donation to the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation for the Wall of Remembrance.
Paula Park is the President of the Korean American Community Association of Greater Washington, a nonprofit, nonpartisan community organization established to promote the cultural, educational, social and civic interests of the more than 200,000 Korean Americans in the Greater Washington geographical area of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Northern Virginia. For more information on the association, or to make a donation, Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Ed.