Duty, Honor, Memorial
The Korean War isn’t “forgotten” after all, the members of the Korean War Veterans Association-Kansas Chapter say. The construction of the KWV Memorial will begin in September or October 2005, not in 2006 or 2007 as they originally planned, association Commander John Gay said.
The KWVA started the memorial fund-raising effort in June with 2004 with only $20,000.
"We have a lot of work to do." Veteran Jack Krumme, then the commander, had said to nearly 150 veterans and their families and supporters at fund-raising luncheon hosted by a South Korean Women's organization.
In December, with U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore and Sen. Pat Roberts' support, the Bush administration gave the association $371,250 for the memorial.
“We were very surprised,” Memorial Committee member Clyde Koch said. “When we began the campaign two years ago, we didn’t know where to begin. We haven’t done anything like this before. This grant is like a wild dream coming true.”
Koch served with the “Charlie Battery” (1st Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division) during Inchon Landing in September 1950.
Two veterans--Krumme and late John Williams--had the idea to build the memorial, reflecting the desire of all members of the five-year-old chapter. After brainstorming and investigating, the group sought legal help.
"We were helped considerably by Mr. Byron Loudon, a lawyer and former Overland Park councilman," KWVA Vice President Tom Stevens said. "He donated all his services."
The overland Park City Council unanimously approved building the memorial and the site-dedication ceremony took place two months later, on August 23, at the corner of 119th and Lowell, with Senator Brownback’s keynote address. National KWVA Chairman Harley Coon discussed his prison experience in the North, near Yalu River.
Moore, County Commission Chairperson Annabeth Surbaugh, Ed Eilert, then the mayor of Overland Park, and other local dignitaries joined the guests.
After the ceremony, General Robert Shirkey, a veteran of both World War II and Korean War, gave a check for $500 to Stevens as “seed money.”
The fund raising campaign followed. Sixty-plus KWVA members contacted numerous organizations and individuals and distributed the campaign material. Sleeves rolled up, they made pancakes and fried eggs and served them, too. They held garage sales and hosted golf tournaments. Their dedication and enthusiasm moved strangers, golf buddies, and people of all areas of life.
Donations poured in.
The local South Koreans didn’t “forget” who liberated them, nor how helpless they were when the Russian tanks rolled into their country in June 1950. The Korean-American Ladies Foundation of Overland Park raised more than $10,000 for the veterans and the Korean-American Society of Greater Kansas City, $20,000.
“We can never thank you enough. We’re honored to do whatever we can...for your memorial,” said Nancy Accord, the leader of the Korean-American Ladies Foundation, at a luncheon honoring veterans.
More than a hundred organizations and countless individuals sent contributions. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation awarded the association a $50,000 “Leadership Gift.” The Overland Park Arts Commission chaired by Wendall Anschuts, the former anchorman of KCMO, now KCTV5, pledged $50,000 for the memorial.
"Somehow history overlooked the Korean War veterans' sacrifices," Anschute said. "The memorial will be a magnificent addition to many beautification projects we are working on, as well as a lasting reminder of those who gave everything while we went about our privileged daily lives. No one makes a greater contribution to our society than those who put their lives on the front line.”
Veteran George Moods said he is proud of what he did a half century ago in Korea. “We worked very hard,” he said. “Our 79th Army Engineering Battalion built water-purifying plants, army headquarters, and highways and bridges.... South Korea has changed so much since. I feel good knowing that we helped them.”
Most Koreans range from 71 to 78 years old today. Many were 17 or 18 when they arrived a country in the Far East whose name they had never heard of. They were there to control what was known as a “police action,” in which thousands died or were injured or captured.
North Korean Communists under Kim Il-sung's command had secretively prepared war against their “other half” since early 1949, transporting modern Russian tanks and training the troops along the 38th Parallel, while the South Koreans’ hands were tied under the stern American military advisers, who ignored reports about the North's suspicious activities. North Korea’s “surprise attack” the following summer resulted in sheer terror for everyone.
After three years of bloody battle, Asia's map remained the same. As world leaders tried to end the war, anti-American demonstration erupted throughout South Korea. School children, labor unions, church organizations, women’s group--all poured into the streets, shouting, “We’ll fight on! Move out Americans! We want reunification!”
Life Magazine on June 22, 1953, printed, "One Old Man Against the Truce." It reads, “South Korea's 78-year-old President Syngman Rhee cried that truce between the UN and the Communists 'means death' to his country and threatened to fight on alone to expel the Chinese Reds and take the entire Korea. ‘If you (Americans) have to leave us, we're sorry to see you go!’ he said.”
Americans came home without banners of glory and honor. With another war in Vietnam a few years later, the Korean War faded from some memories.
Now, in Johnson County, veterans’ sacrifices in South Korea will be engraved in granites and bricks. Their photos, diaries, letters will be displayed, too. Area residents, including children, can learn why the Korean War happened, who fought in it, and what the world learned.
Today, the US troops are fighting in Iraq. What message could be more comforting for those young Americans than the fact that their country will “remember” their sacrifices?
The KWVA-Kansas Chapter 1-181’s Mission Statement reads: "We pay tribute to those who gave their lives, were wounded, and were prisoners of war or missing in action. This (memorial) is for them....
The Kansas City Star Commentary
The Best Times