Today marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.
According to the Department of Defense, the Korean War historically has been overshadowed by World War II and the Vietnam War, so it is often referred to as “the forgotten war” or as a “forgotten victory.” In recent years, however, more veterans are telling stories of their experiences during the war and bringing it more into public focus.
In 2007, the state dedicated a Korean War Veterans Memorial at MacArthur Park in Little Rock; it includes tablets engraved with the names of Arkansans killed during the war.
In 2008, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies started work on the Arkansas Korean War Project to document and preserve the state’s role in the war. The center asks Korean War veterans to fill out a survey about their experiences (available at www.butlercenter.org/koreanwarproject); researchers also are conducting oral interviews and collecting archival materials like letters, documents, diaries and photographs.
This week, state officials marked the anniversary with an exhibit at the Capitol in Little Rock; it included memorabilia, maps, oral histories and a documentary provided by the Butler Center. Korean War veterans were asked to sign maps indicating where they were stationed.
At a ceremony Wednesday at the Capitol, Korean War veteran Andy Aldridge of North Little Rock pointed out scars along his arm and noted that he still has 200 pieces of shrapnel in his body, reminders of the injuries he suffered when an enemy grenade took out the machine gun he and another Marine were manning.
“South Korea is still free,” said Mr. Aldridge. “It’s one of the few places that Americans ever fought that when we left they appreciated us and they’re still free.”
About 6,300 Arkansans served in the Korean War, including six who received the Congressional Medal of Honor, according to the Arkansas Korean War Project. Of more than 36,500 American casualties, 461 were Arkansans, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, and 601 were from Oklahoma, according to the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture.
The three-year Korean War ended with the signing of a cease-fire on July 27, 1953.
“In stony silence,” according to 1953 Associated Press reports, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison, chief Allied negotiator, and North Korean Gen. Nam Il met in the village of Panmunjom to sign an armistice to end the war.
It was the end of the longest negotiated armistice in history — 158 meetings spread over two years and 17 days.
We always encourage continued respect for our veterans and their service to our country. Said Gov. Mike Beebe at Wednesday’s ceremony: “It’s incumbent on us as we recognize all veterans from all periods in our history, whether it was in wartime or peacetime, whether it was standing on the wall when there were no shots being fired or whether it was in a foxhole when there were shots being fired, we have an obligation to say to the men and women who wear the uniform and to their families, ‘God bless you. We owe you more than we can ever pay.’”
If you know a Korean War veteran, please encourage him to participate in the Arkansas Korean War Project. The website (www.butlercenter.org/koreanwarproject) already includes many fascinating audio and video interviews with veterans who have shared stories of their service.
• • •
This editorial was originally published in the Southwest Times Record.