Hundreds of Korean War veterans, family and dignitaries braved muggy heat Wednesday morning at the National Mall to dedicate a new wall honoring men killed in America’s Forgotten War.
“I think they’re all heroes, every damn one of them,” Wilt Howard, a 92-year-old Marine war veteran, told The Washington Times. “I’m proud we stopped communism for the first time.”
Mr. Howard and his wife Jean, 91, traveled from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, with a group of 39 veterans for the dedication. He served in combat as an artillery chief for 11 months and lost in the war two childhood friends.
The $22 million Wall of Remembrance was authorized by Congress in 2016.
The centerpiece of a broader renovation to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, it features 100 panels bearing the names of 36,634 American GIs and 7,174 Korean troops serving in American units who died during the 1950-1953 conflict.
Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who did not speak at the ceremony, joined representatives from the Republic of Korea and other officials for a wreath-laying at the wall while “Taps” was played. They later placed white roses on the wall and observed a moment of silence.
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“Their names are now forever engraved here on our incredible Washington mall,” Mr. Emhoff said, speaking for the Biden-Harris administration.
“We are hopeful that this memorial will remind the millions who visit here each year that freedom isn’t free, said retired Army Gen. John H. Tilelli Jr., chairman of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation.
South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Soo-hyuck said the soldiers from 22 United Nations member countries who resisted North Korea’s invasion during the 1950-1953 conflict “defended freedom and democracy on the Korean Peninsula.”
“We are eternally and profoundly grateful,” Amb. Lee told the assembled veterans.
In a solemn moment at the start of the ceremony, Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Solhjem, the Army’s chief of chaplains, asked God in prayer to “bless the commemoration of service and sacrifice” of the soldiers listed on the wall.
Visibly moved, several veterans said they remembered South Korea as a nation of dirt roads and thatched huts — a stark contrast to the booming modern economy it has since become.
“I don’t know how the calculation was made who lived and who died, but I’m thankful to be here at my age,” said Alabama native John Patrick Baker, 93, whose 235th Field Artillery Observation Battalion lost six men fighting in a sector known as the Iron Triangle. “I was young and felt it was my duty to be there.”
Some families of soldiers listed as missing in action said the wall brings them a sense of closure.
“To finally see my uncle’s name on this wall means a lot to our family because he never came home or had children of his own,” said Brendan Rae Sr., 52, adding that it had inspired him to join the Air Force.
Mr. Rae and his son, Army MP Brendan Rae Jr., attended the ceremony to remember Airman 1st Class Robert Kelleher. A Soviet MIG shot down Kelleher, a 22-year-old radio operator, during a bombing run in November 1952, they said. He was listed as missing in action and presumed dead.
“When I served in Korea in 2018, I saw the impact of his service in the difference between the tyranny of North Korea and the democracy of South Korea,” said the younger Mr. Rae, 23. “We still hope someday his body is recovered.”