June 27, 2018
As I briefly mentioned in the Washington D.C. blog, I was able to get a Park Ranger to discuss with our family for an hour about the Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Memorials. I learned some interesting background facts about the monuments and the conflicts that surrounded them.
The atmosphere around the Vietnam Memorial was the most touching of all the memorials. This long wall was easily bypassed, then out of nowhere, we saw the ground recede showing the area. As we quietly walked through, the scent of dried roses filled the air. This was the most recent memorial that would have the most loved ones still around. People also placed little mementos at the base. As some of these veteran survivors are passing away now, family members placed the soldier’s Vietnam Veteran hat with a photo at the base. Others went through the effort to write out the whole story of what their deceased loved one did and the situation that surrounded it. Real people with real stories were there and died, not just a name.
The park ranger explained to us the intent of the memorial was to honor those who died in the war, oh excuse me,…police action. It was not to make a political statement concerning either side of this controversial conflict. The only way for that to happen was to basically only list the names. Of course some space had to be left as some additional names are still being added.
However, a prominent Vietnam Veteran group was sadly disappointed because nothing could really be seen. No American Flag, no statues, nothing. I thought about the recollections told from my own Vietnam veteran dad. Incidences where a bomb exploded above the vehicle he was underneath working on. Or how he had to go outside the base in pitch black darkness to work on a generator to restore power to a neighboring base, not knowing if the Vietnamese he saw were friendly, or were undercover and going to kill him on the spot. Other times, he was the first to hear the bombs coming in and was the first to dive underground to safety. Many drafted veterans were spat upon after they came back from a year of hell. What a welcome home! I learned about how they exposed the troops to Agent Orange. When they tried to get help years later, their files went “missing”. These were just the start of the stories from soldiers who made it back. That wall was for those who didn’t. So, a compromise was achieved by having a three soldier statue and an American Flag flying nearby.
But to clarify, that wall does not reflect all of those who died during the conflict. The park ranger told of how a veteran was concerned because he only found two of the three buddies’ names on the wall. He wondered why the third one was missing because the guy died right beside him.
The ranger asked, “Where did your friend die?”
“I cannot tell you that. It is classified.”
“That is why his name is not on there. Our military was only sanctioned to be in Vietnam and Laos. If your friend died in some covert operation, he can’t be listed or then the United States would have to admit they were in places they were never given permission to be. That would have too many political ramifications.”
Perhaps these valiant men who sacrificed their lives will one day be able to be added. In modern warfare, I am sure so many more undisclosed names from other conflicts exist as well.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was only a small tangent among many other related topics that the park ranger expounded upon. I could see with his enthusiasm he was delighted that one family of visitors was actually interested in the meanings and details of the memorials. He began our discussion with the Korean War.
I was surprised how much earlier the roots of the Korean War started. It all began in the mid 1800’s when Russia wanted a southern port because theirs all froze over in the winter months. They took over Korea and gained their desired ports. Shortly later, Japan wanted to expand their empire and decided to try and take it over from Russia. After they warred with each other for a while, Japan gained control. The ranger said that United States had their hand in declaring Japan the “winner” of Korea during the negations. Of course, that was favorable to us, because Japan was a trading partner with us. Fast forward to after World War II, when the Allies had divided control of Korea. Britain and United States established a capitalistic economy with the southern half. USSR set the original Kim leader in power and began his dynasty that continues to this day.
In the 1950’s North Korea invaded South Korea to make the country one again. However, two very different government systems exist. Ultimately, USSR, China, United States, and its allies all became involved. The border bounced back and forth until a cease fire was finally declared. To this day, no peace treaty has ever been signed and through the years small skirmishes have been occurring, though not large enough to ignite a full scale war once more. The Korean War Memorial was to remember those who served during that timeframe.
The park ranger explained some of the significance behind the memorial to us as well. The triangulation of the greenery with the pool of water at the end represented how Korea was a peninsula country. The greenery alluded to the rough terrain. Nineteen soldier statues along with their nineteen reflections in the wall added up to 38. The 38th parallel was the cease fire designation.
Only three soldier statues had their chin straps buckled. If soldiers were moving, a piece of shrapnel could easily hit the underside of the metal helmet, ricochet off the inside and then enter the skull. But, if the helmet was not buckled, the helmet would simply fly off sparing him. However a fresh officer saw the look of them, thought the soldiers were too lenient and sloppy looking and thus threatened men under his command to comply to the uniform code or else.
In addition to the statues in the triangular area, a wall with mountains formed in the background. Actual photos of the soldiers were sketched into the wall. For every one soldier on the battlefield, nine additional soldiers had support roles behind the scenes (i.e. cook, maintenance, nurses, office staff, etc.). Photos showed people representing each of those general areas who also lost their lives, not just the front line soldiers.
I was sure to thank the ranger for his time and all the explanations he gave. The symbolism of the memorials and greater background on the wars were brought to life. It is too bad all the memorials there do not give much explanation of the wars, the famous people, nor of the symbolism of the memorials on placards. So much is lost in just passing by.
Until we meet again,