America Remembers Service, Sacrifices of Korean War Vets
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 25, 2000 Veterans of the Korean War are gearing up for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of that conflict. "They, better than most Americans, understand that 'freedom is not free,'" said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Nels Running, director of the commemoration committee.
The phrase 'freedom is not free' is part of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington that will be the focal point of ceremonies commemorating the start of the war. President Clinton will speak at the memorial June 25.
Running stressed the ceremonies are not a celebration. "Commemorate really means remember," he said. "We're going to recognize, honor and remember the service provided during the Korean War."
At the end of World War II, the Soviets occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel, while the United States occupied the south. The Soviets installed a communist government in the north; on June 25, 1950, North Korea's army stormed the border and easily overran the South Korean army.
President Harry S. Truman at first limited U.S. participation to sea and air units, but soon was forced to call on U.S. Army ground units. By the armistice three years later, about 5.7 million American service members had served during the war. More than 33,667 U.S. service members died in battle with another 3,249 dying "of other causes."
The opening ceremony will set the stage for the rest of the commemoration, Running said. He expects up to 10,000 Korean War veterans and their families to attend. Former Ohio Sen. John Glenn, a Marine Corps veteran of the conflict, will represent all the veterans of the war. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen will also speak.
South Korean Ambassador to the United States Hong-Koo Lee will represent his country at the commemoration, as will representatives from the 20 other U.N. countries that fought alongside U.S. forces.
Getting the word out to Korean War veterans is a huge job for Running's committee. There are 1.2 million Korean War veterans still alive and the committee wants to reach them all and let them know America appreciates their sacrifices.
"Many of these men and women served during World War II, so they were familiar with the service lapel pin given to veterans of that conflict," Running said. "Well, Korean War veterans never received that kind of recognition. We now have lapel pins for them to wear similar to 'the Ruptured Duck' that World War II vets received."
Korean War veterans are also authorized to receive the Republic of Korea's Korean War Service medal. On Aug. 20, 1999, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen authorized Korean War veterans to receive this foreign award.
"We would like to give those medals to all 1.2 million veterans and the families of veterans who have died," Running said. He said DoD is working out a certification process, and the Korean government is shipping an initial 150,000 of the medals to start the awards process. Distribution to all eligible veterans is expected to take about four years, he said.
Many Korean War veterans are familiar with the World War II commemoration. Following the World War II commemoration committee's lead, Running's committee is trying to reach veterans in their hometowns. His group is sponsoring Korean War Commemoration Communities, as the World War II committee did.
To date, almost 2,000 communities have signed up to honor their veterans. "This grass-roots support is what we need to reach the veterans," Running said. "You know, I walked into a local book store and asked the clerk for the books on the Korean War. There were books on the Civil War, books on World War II and Vietnam. There was one book on Korea.
"Many of the veterans of the war call it "the Forgotten War,'" he continued. "We want to ensure these Americans to understand we honor their commitment to freedom and the sacrifices they made. That's what this commemoration is all about."
For information on applying for the Republic of Korea's Korean War Service Medal, visit the Korean War commemoration committee Web site at korea50.army.mil.