The Korean War ended in an armistice on July 27, 1953. The National Korean War Veterans Memorial was finished and dedicated 42 years later, on July 27, 1995. That same day, President Bill Clinton signed an amendment to U.S. Code Title 36 declaring July 27 as Korean War Armistice Day.
At the memorial's center are 19 statues of a unit on patrol, collectively known as "The Column," a masterpiece by sculptor Frank Gaylord. It also has a reflective mural wall by industrial designer Louis Nelson, reflecting representative images of those who fought the war.
There is also a United Nations wall, remembering allies who fought alongside the U.S. and South Korea, as well as the Pool of Remembrance.
In 2022, the memorial will receive a new addition, a 380-foot memorial wall listing the names of the 36,574 Americans and approximately 8,000 Korean Augmentation to the United States Army forces (KATUSAs) who were killed during the war.
"Memorials are important to a lot of people," Louis Nelson, Army veteran and designer of the Mural Wall, tells Military.com. "It's important to the people who served because it's recognition from the country they served. They can go to the memorial and feel a sense of presence and belonging.
"But it's also very important for families. People die, and we're losing our Korean War veterans at an extraordinary rate. Within the next 10 years, the last living veteran will have died, so it becomes important for them to recognize their service."
Nelson didn't take part in the creation of the newest addition, to be unveiled in a ceremony recognizing the 69th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. The Mural Wall he created was designed to represent the faces of those who fought and died to keep South Korea free from communist domination.
"I wanted to honor not just the men and women who served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, but also the jobs they did there," Nelson says. "Whether they were truck drivers or nurses, lawyers, landing ship operators or tank gunners in such a way so that people who visit could approach them as they would in life.
"Some of the faces would be life-size so that you would have eye-to-eye contact. Somehow or another, they would see that this is the face of America that we sent to war."
Nelson appreciates the concept of writing the names of those who were lost in the conflict, such as the design on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. He says it harks back to a time when the tradition of remembering those who were lost was more personal and local.
"In the early days of the United States, when ships left their ports but didn't return, the names of the people lost were etched into the walls of local churches and other buildings," he says. "There's a long tradition of honoring the service of those who have given their lives with their names."
The latest addition to the Korean War Veterans Memorial will feature the names of American personnel and KATUSA forces who were killed between 1950 and 1953. KATUSA troops were South Korean draftees who served and fought alongside the U.S. 8th Army, filling in wherever there were shortages of American troops.
"There was a desire to list all of the names of the more than 36,000 Americans and 7,000 Koreans who died in the war, but it would take up a lot of space," Nelson says. "They dedicated an area just to the east of the existing memorial and attached it in such a way that it looks like it's grown out of the original design."
The newest addition was designed by Mary Katherine Lanzillotta. She also directed the renovation and restoration of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, which houses the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Renwick Gallery and National Portrait Gallery.
"It's a bit different than it was when it originally opened," Nelson says of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. "But they did some maintenance on the original patina and it looks absolutely terrific. I think they did a great job all around."
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