Memories. Of numbing cold. Of sweltering heat that made men feel like they were marching through a sauna. Of 18-year-olds who knew little about ideology pitted against 18-year-olds who knew even less. Of rice paddies that extended beyond the horizon. Of a war politicians insisted wasn't a war. Of a nation that seemed intent, more than anything, to forget it ever sent its sons and daughters to fight in Korea.
Bill Robinette remembers Korea. He remembers the frostbite that gripped his toes, the shrapnel that cost him an eye and punctured his brain, the comrades killed in action who never lived to enjoy the freedom they were sent overseas to protect.
"I have a lot of bad memories," Mr. Robinette, 62, a former infantryman from Richlands, Va., says. "I remember a lot of buddies, a whole lot of buddies who didn't come back."
Now he and thousands of other Korean War veterans are gathering in Washington this week for the dedication of a memorial to the "police action" that they and soldiers from 21 other countries fought under the United Nations banner more than four decades ago.
The official dedication is scheduled for 3 p.m. today, on 2.2 acres just down from the Lincoln Memorial and across the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Security around the memorial, with its 19 metal soldiers, tons of black granite and gently cascading pools, is tight. No one is allowed in without an escort, and a wooden fence has been erected to keep the curious away until the ceremonies are over.
But Mr. Robinette has waited 40 years to be honored. Refusing to wait any longer, he and his wife, Lorraine, peer through a hole in the fence, maneuver their camera into position for a picture, and smile.
"It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Mrs. Robinette says.
Her husband keeps staring at the statues, of 19 men in rain geastruggling up a rise toward an American flag. He adds one word, a sentiment repeated over and over yesterday.