Truly one of the most touching sights in Washington D.C., the Korean War Veterans Memorial serves as a reminder of those brave men and women of the United States military forces who crossed the vast ocean to defend the people of a country that was unfamiliar to nearly each and every one of them.
“Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met”, says the inscription on the Pool of Remembrance at this memorial which was a long-time coming, especially in the opinion of those who served so unselfishly in the Korean War.
Planning and Construction
Authorized in 1986 to “honor members of the United States Armed Forces who served in the Korean War, particularly those who were killed in action, are still missing in action, or were held as prisoners of war”, the Korean War Veterans Memorial took about nine years to conceive and build.
An advisory board of twelve veterans assumed responsibility for all aspects of construction and chose a site across the reflecting pool from the highly-visited Vietnam Veterans Memorial, adjacent to the majestic Lincoln Memorial.
A Lifelike Design
Designed by Frank Gaylord and dedicated on July 27, 1995 by American President Bill Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam, this memorial depicts nineteen American soldiers making their way through the rough terrain of Korea.
Almost surreal in appearance, especially in the shadows of dusk, the lifelike statues stand about 7 feet tall (2 m) and represent various branches of the armed forces including 14 Army personnel, 3 Marines, 1 member of the Navy, and 1 member of the Air Force. These detailed sculptures also represent an ethnic cross-section of the American melting pot. Visitors will count 14 Caucasians, 3 African-Americans, 2 Hispanics, 1 Oriental, and 1 Native American soldier.
From certain angles, it’s nearly impossible to see all 19 statues as 3 of them are in the trees, giving the appearance of troops emerging from Korea’s vast wooded areas. Strategically planted juniper bushes represent the country’s sometimes unforgiving terrain.
The statues, made of stainless steel, wear authentic Korean War-era gear and the sculptor has given them motion by designing them to appear as if they’re walking into the wind. They also seem to be talking with one another as they march into battle.
The Mural Wall
Consisting of forty-one panels and measuring nearly 164 feet long (50 meter), the memorial’s Mural Wall is just as amazing as the sculptures. Designed from 15,000 photographs of various aspects of the war, the final product boasts 2,400 etched images of personnel and equipment from all the armed forces, especially support personnel.
You’ll find surgeons, nurses, chaplains, and stretcher bearers looking forward into the eyes of the statues. Visitors will see crews building bridges, airfield construction, supply centers, radio communications officers, reporters and even canine corps.
The wall is designed in harmony with the statues, with the etchings arranged in a wavy pattern like the billowing ponchos of the soldiers walking into battle. Evening lights cast an eerie glow on this cleverly designed mural which, when viewed from afar, creates the appearance of Korea’s mountain ranges.
Visitors can also head to the Honor Roll, an area which includes a list of all verifiable personnel that were killed in action, still listed as missing in action, or who were prisoners of war during the Korean conflict.
Near the north entrance, the UN Curb lists the names of the twenty-two member nations of the United Nations that responded to the war by sending troops or other support to Korea.
The nearby Pool of Remembrance is situated on a peninsula-like area, indicative of the peninsula of Korea, and lists the statistics of the war. Lined with black granite and surrounded by beautiful shade trees, a plaque on the wall reads, “Freedom is not free”.