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Retired Serviceman Campaigns For Wall With Names At Korean War Memorial

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By MEGAN ECKSTEIN

The Frederick News-Post

NEW WINDSOR, Md. (AP) — Retired Army Col. Bill Weber feels immense pride when he sees the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, not just because he served in the Korean War, but because he was one of a dozen veterans who got the $12 million project approved, designed, constructed and paid for.

But Weber, 85, also feels disappointment when he sees the memorial. He and the other veterans wanted a wall with the names of all those who died in the war or are still listed as missing in action, to help convey the full cost of the war. Three federal commissions rejected the plan for a “Wall of Remembrance” in the 1980s, but Weber said his last big goal is to get the wall approved.

“Is it a crusade for me? Yes, of course,” he said, sitting at the kitchen table in his New Windsor home.

He said the memorial, which he spent eight years designing, “is an integral part of my life, and I full well recognize that we failed to do everything we wanted to do on the design. And is that a major disappointment to me? Yes. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of the memorial, because it is a magnificent memorial. What it does mean is I am disheartened that it didn’t convey the kind of message it needed to convey.”

The memorial was approved in 1986 and dedicated in 1995. It consists of 19 statues of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of all races and job descriptions, fenced in with a mural and stone walking path. Behind the statues is a Pool of Remembrance.

“The intent of that was that people would be made aware somehow of the cost in lives and would sit and look at the pool and reflect upon it,” Weber said. “Well, this subliminal design was too subtle. People don’t get it.”

The Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation printed a brochure to help explain the symbolism in the memorial and the significance of the war, but the National Park Service does not let them place the brochures at the entrance to the memorial, Weber said.

“It seems ridiculous to me that you have to give something to people in writing when they visit the memorial, so they understand what the hell it’s trying to tell them,” he said.

The veterans had argued for the wall with names, but the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, National Capital Planning Commission and Commission of Fine Arts — who can’t prevent a congressionally mandated monument from going up but can influence what it will look like — said they didn’t want another wall of names.

“We were unable to honor our dead,” he said. “There’s nothing there that says, `Hey, you should be thinking about the fact that it took 33,686 Americans to die.’ … People don’t know that, they have no appreciation of how much blood was spilled.”

Weber was wounded three times in Korea, and the third time left an arm and leg amputated. He said Korea was the bloodiest of all of America’s foreign wars. One in nine were killed or wounded, compared with one in 12 in World War II and one in 22 in Vietnam. The ratios are much lower for the more recent wars, he said.

But no one seems to know that, he said. So he’s hoping to rally the 17,000 members of the Korean War Veterans Association and the 360,000 living Korean War veterans to call their congressmen and ask for support for the Wall of Remembrance.

“Most of these guys are hitting 80,” Weber said. “They’re not a viable source for a very long period of time. If they’re going to call their congressmen or write their congressmen, they have to do
it ASAP.”

He is off to a good start. Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas sponsored House Resolution 2563, which would allow the Wall of Remembrance to be added if it were paid for by private contributions.

The bill is waiting for the House Committee on Natural Resources to take up the issue, probably in the current legislative session, Weber said. He said it would likely cost about $8 million for the
wall, which would be glass and have the names of the dead and missing etched in white. It would curve around the back half of the Pool of Remembrance, letting the names reflects onto the water.

Helping his argument is the fact that he could have most, if not all, of the money accounted for if the wall also includes the number of Koreans and international soldiers who died, were wounded, were held captive or are still missing. To help fund the design and construct the wall, the president of the KATUSA Veterans Association — a group of South Koreans who served in American Army units stationed in Korea — recently handed over the deeds to 100 paintings by a famous Korean artist, worth between $5 million and
$10 million.

With much of the fundraising under control, and the notion that no members of Congress would disapprove of recognizing the dead or missing troops from his or her district, Weber believes the bill could pass soon. Fundraising could wrap up next year, and the construction could be completed by July 25, 2013, the 60th anniversary of the armistice.

Weber’s only concern is the commissions that shot down the Wall of Remembrance the first time. He said they could point to a ban on new monuments on the National Mall — though he said this wasn’t really a new memorial, but rather an addition to comply with the original law to “honor members of the United States Armed Forces who served in the Korean war, particularly those who were killed in action, are still missing in action, or were held as prisoners of war.”

“Whether or not people will see it that way or not, I don’t really know,” Weber said. “I can only hope that they do, and that I live long enough to make this happen.”

Having fought so many battles in his lifetime — he served in the Pacific Theater during World War II, fought in Korea, revamped unpopular personnel policies during the Vietnam War, and now tries to educate the public on “the forgotten war” — he said he is ready to take on this one last fight.

“The thing we’ll be fighting is that caustic statement they made back in the `80s, `90s: `We don’t want another wall on the Mall. You’re just duplicating the Vietnam Memorial,”‘ Weber said.

“I know they’re going to have one hell of a fight.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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