Recognition at last for Korea's veterans


For William "Bud" Wahlhaupter, the long forgotten war is forgotten no longer.

Mr. Wahlhaupter, commander of the Maryland Korean War Veterans Association, will have affirmation of that this afternoon when three tractor-trailers lumber up to the Korean War Memorial in Canton. They will be carrying 19 larger-than-life stainless-steel statues created to complete the Korean War Veterans Memorial in the nation's capital.

After a brief harborside ceremony and unveiling of three of the statues, the images of American foot soldiers in combat gear will be transported to a 7-acre site on the Mall in Washington, where another welcoming ceremony will be held.

For the former field radio repairman who served in Korea from the end of 1952 through 1953, the memorial was a long time coming. But he shows no bitterness that veterans returning from Korea were never received nor remembered as conquering heroes.

"We never had no parades," Mr. Wahlhaupter recalled. "I came back from Washington [state] with 400 other vets. The train just dropped people off. When I got off at Baltimore there was nobody there. I just took a bus to Fort Meade to get discharged."

The official dedication of the national memorial is set for July 27, the 42nd anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended three years of fighting on the Korean Peninsula, often considered this country's most inconclusive war.

Retired Col. William E. Weber, a member of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board, described Korea as "the bloodiest foreign war America ever fought, in terms of the percentage of casualties relative to the number of personnel deployed. In Korea, the killed-in-action average was 1,500 a month. In Vietnam, it was 480 a month."

There were 33,652 battle deaths during the 37 months of combat Korea, according to the Department of Defense; 103,284 were wounded. Maryland lost 527. By contrast, 58,196 died during the 16 years of the Vietnam War.

The five days of ceremonies opening the memorial to the public -- July 26-30 -- seem designed to dispel any memories of neglect or lack of interest in the historic importance of the Korean War. President Clinton will be there, and the four living ex-presidents have been invited.

President Kim Young Sam of South Korea will attend, as well as representatives from all 21 nations that supported the United Nations resolution opposing the North Korean invasion of South Korea.

Organizers expect at least half a million visitors over the five days of services, fireworks, entertainment, films and seminars.

To veterans, the war memorial was years overdue, a fact noted by President George Bush when he broke ground for it on June 14, 1992. "When tyranny threatened, you were quick to answer your country's call," he told veterans at the ceremony. "Sadly, your country wasn't quite as quick to answer your call for recognition of that sacrifice."

Mr. Wahlhaupter and other veterans are aware of the national amnesia toward the Korean War. They think they understand why it exists: There was a war weariness from World War II and an absence of the turmoil and resistance to the draft that characterized the Vietnam era.

And many of the veterans themselves wanted to forget the war.

Mr. Wahlhaupter, who lives in Northeast Baltimore, said he was not at all disappointed that nobody wanted to talk about the war years ago. "All I wanted to do was get home. All I wanted to do was see my wife, and go back to work," he said.

William Zollenhoffer's experience was similar, though his welcome was a little more festive. But then, he had been a prisoner of war. He was captured on Dec. 1, 1950, after four months of combat, and was repatriated a month after the cease-fire was signed. He's 64 now, retired as a dispatcher from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

"When I came home it was great," Mr. Zollenhoffer of Highlandtown recalled. "It was such a great time for about two months. Then everything came crashing down on me. That's when I realized that though I was home, any kind of noise would shake me up, remind me of Korea.

"One time I was walking up the street and a jackhammer started and I jumped into a ditch and got dirty as a result. An old lady was laughing at me. I'm not sure what I thought what it was. Maybe enemy fire."

Asked why the Korean conflict has been called "The Forgotten War," Mr. Zollenhoffer said: "It was because the men who came home didn't remind people of it. They went back to work. That was the difference; we didn't talk about it much."

"After the second war, they had ticker-tape parades," he added. "This was sort of a silent war, without any parades, or dissension or resistance by people here in the States."

To Colonel Weber, the subdued national reaction to the war and toward those who fought it had deeper causes. "At the time the war was fought this nation perceived no direct threat to the United States, and when the war ended this nation had no concept of a victory," he said.

"Korea seemed to sputter to a close and when it was over it looked like we were back where we started. All the goals were achieved, but it didn't look like that at the time."

Ray Donnelly, 67, of Arlington, Va., is the coordinator of the convoy transporting the statues from the Tallix Art Foundry in Beacon, N.Y., where they were cast from images fashioned by sculptor Frank C. Gaylord of Barre, Vt.

He emphasized the desire among GIs returning from Korea to get their lives back to normal as quickly as possible. "We were in the shadow of World War II," he said. "I went over June of 1951 and came back in June 1952. It was Friday, and I went back to work on Monday."

He also said he never felt "forgotten," though he does say "it took longer to build [the memorial] than it did to fight the war."

The idea for a national memorial for Korean War veterans first was advanced in the 1960s, but fell afoul of the opposition to the Vietnam conflict. The idea came up again during Ronald Reagan's presidency, and in 1986 Congress donated the site near the Lincoln Memorial and appropriated $1 million for the project.

The $1 million was a loan that has already been repaid. A total of $18 million was collected to complete the memorial and assure its maintenance. Much of it came from donations by individual veterans. About $6 million was derived from the sale of Korean War commemorative silver dollars, produced by the U.S. Mint. The Hyundai Motor Co. of Korea chipped in $1.2 million.

The 19 statues will be deployed on a field on the Mall. The statues reflect the racial and ethnic mix of Americans who participated in the war: Caucasian, black, Hispanic, and American Indians. Korea was the first war in which U.S. combat units were fully integrated.

Nearby, already erected, is a polished granite wall running 164 feet. It bears 2,400 engraved images, selected from photographs in the National Archives by muralist Louis Nelson. They show the people who supported the U.S. infantry during the conflict: nurses, cooks, mechanics, chaplains, artillery men.

Adjacent to the wall will be a "pool of remembrance," and an archive with the names of all those who participated in the war.

There also will be a commemorative area and honor roll for those who were killed or missing in action or were prisoners of war.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is in sight of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, across the reflecting pool near the Lincoln Memorial.

Nicholas Pappas, national president of the Korean War Veterans Association, said that the Vietnam memorial was a "catalyst."


Korean War veterans, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other dignitaries will attend a welcoming ceremony for the Korean War veterans national memorial this afternoon in Baltimore. Three of the 19 statues created for the memorial will be unveiled. The public is invited to the event at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Canton, 2900 Boston St.

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