WAHIAWA, Hawaii - They were never welcomed home with a parade; their war became known as the forgotten one.
Now, 51 years later, Korean War veterans at last have a place to gather their memories - albeit a humble one.
Little fanfare marked the official opening of the National Korean War Museum on the island of Oahu on Friday, but visitors didn't seem to mind.
The museum, housed in a 1940s-era Quonset hut, is still a work in progress with dangling wires, incomplete murals and yet-to-be-installed attractions.
"When we were in the war we never had any nice facilities to begin with," said Louis Baldovi, a 72-year-old Korean War veteran. "Maybe it does bring back that. It's something that we have versus not having anything."
Previous attempts to build a museum honoring the 1.8 million Korean War veterans have faltered, said Kyle Kopitke, president of the museum's board of trustees.
"As they come in here their shoulders straighten up," Kopitke said. "They feel that they won the war. They feel that their sacrifices are finally acknowledged."
The museum occupies a 10,000-square-foot open-air space in a military town that many of the country's first Korean immigrants called home while working in Oahu's pineapple fields.
Little about the place mirrors the grand museums that pay tribute to other groups. There are no interactive exhibits, no gift shops, no stunning displays.
Regardless, Kopitke, 47, said the museum does not lack emotional impact for those who served in the Korean War.
"I have veterans in here crying," he said.
When the fighting ended in the summer of 1953, more than 33,000 Americans had been killed in the three-year war between North and South Korea. The Koreas were divided in 1945, and their border remains tightly sealed.
There are 38 sections to the museum, symbolic because the war lasted 38 months and the 38th parallel divides the Koreas. The museum features such war memorabilia as a 58-foot-long mural of the Battle at Inchon; towering statues of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and his war-era predecessor, Rhee Syng-man; a wartime jeep and dozens of photographs.
In the rear of the museum, a meditation area contains a simple wooden cross and soldier's helmet that recall the losses suffered.
By month's end, Kopitke hopes to have machinery on hand to engrave plaques with the names of the war's fallen soldiers, to be put up as families of the men visit.
Meanwhile, another group has opened a small site - the Korean War Veterans National Museum & Library - at an outlet mall in Tuscola, Ill. Organizers plan to start construction on a larger facility next month.
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