Korean War Memorial
The Korean War Memorial was the fifth of six war memorials in Olympia, Washington. The most somber of the memorials was created by the daughter of a Korean War veteran, Artist Deborah Copenhaver Fellows. Three drab dark figures huddled around a small campfire represent the fatigue, bleak isolation, and harsh conditions soldiers endured during this bloody war that took millions of lives. The three soldiers are backdropped by 22 flags representing the 22 nations of the UN coalition who participated in the Korean War. The dedication took place on July 24, 1993, just three days prior to the 40th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. Representatives of all 22 allied nations, Washington State officials, and over three thousand veterans, including four Medal of Honor recipients, and their families were in attendance. The long overdue memorial stands in honor of the 532 Washington State men and women who served and lost their lives in this “Forgotten War.”
Backstory and Context
Japan occupied Korea until their surrender in World War II. Korea was then divided between the North and South at the 38th parallel. With communist Russia controlling the North and anti-communist U.S. controlling the South. The goal of achieving reunification and how to implement that looked different to all parties involved. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. Two days later, on June 27, 1950, President Harry Truman and the United Nations coalition sent U.S. troops to fight in Korea. All the major post-World War II nations were involved with many concerned the conflict could escalate into a third world war with the added possibility of a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States. Chinese troops entered the fight in October 1950. Over the course of the first-year massive advances pushed back and forth across both the territory of the North and South. Peace talks began on February 1, 1951. However, the fighting and talks continued back and forth ultimately dragging on in a stalemate for two years. After a total of three years of fighting, an armistice was signed between North Korea, the Chinese, and the UN on July 27, 1953. Millions of civilians and soldiers on both sides lost their lives. Although the fighting ended, South Korea refused to sign the armistice. A 2,200-yard demilitarized zone (DMZ) was created as a buffer at the border between North and South Korea. Since 1953, talks of reunification have failed and on multiple occasions the North and South have come close to restarting the fight. To date, North and South Korea remain divided.
The U.S. suffered 36,574 deaths in theatre, over 100,000 wounded, and over 8,000 service members still unaccounted for. Sadly, upon returning home, there was little celebration and honor for the men and women who served, compared to World War II just five years prior.
Washington State contributed greatly to the Korean War with over 122,000 men and women serving in theatre. On July 17, 1950, just three weeks after North Korea invaded South Korea, the Second Infantry Division from Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington landed in Korea. The Second Infantry Division was the first stateside force to arrive in Korea. In the summer of the second year of the war, the Second Division built an orphanage 33 miles South of Seoul, Korea named Friendship Home. The soldiers provided money and supplies to operate Friendship Home and created an $80,000 fund for the orphanage to continue to operate once the war ended. The Second Division was involved in many of the major battles of the war sustaining over 7,000 casualties. This famous unit having been awarded 18 individual Medal of Honors and the highest unit award achievable, the Presidential Unit Citation, is known to this day by their motto "Second to None."
The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington doubled its workforce to over 15,000 to reactivate the reserve fleet of mothballed ships for theatre deployment. Seattle was a busy Naval port shipping troops and supplies to Korea and receiving the wounded home for medical treatment at the Madigan Army Hospital on Fort Lewis in Pierce County. The States two Air Force bases, McChord (Western WA) and Spokane (Eastern WA), provided both troop and supply transport and B-29 bombers for combat operations over the Korean theatre.
The Washington State Legislature authorized a Korean War Veterans Memorial in 1989. The veteran’s organization, the “Chosin Few,” led much of the fundraising. They were veterans of "The Battle of Chosin Reservoir.” A brutal battle fought in the dead of winter with heavy casualties on both sides. Over the course of four years, private donations of $320,000 provided the majority of the funding for the $400,000 project.
Montana Artist Deborah Copenhaver Fellows was selected after a three-month competition for the commission of the Korean War Monument. As the daughter of a Korean War veteran, she hoped to provide
"a way for people to reflect on war and the price it extracts from those who participate."1
Made of bronze and stone, the sculpture took nine months to complete. The two-ton statue was set in place with a helicopter.
“Larger than life-size, stark, cold and gray - by placing the memorial at ground level, visitors are drawn in to examine and touch battle weary and grief-stricken faces…The soldiers' eyes seem to be looking neither here nor there and they are clearly exhausted - perhaps suffering from battle fatigue or what some might refer to as the 'thousand-yard stare.' Shoulders slumped and bent over, one man attempts to light a small fire while another cups a short, well-used cigarette from the weather - the center man stares off into the distance. Flying behind the monument are 22 flags, representing nations participating in the Korean War, and plaques containing information about the Korean War are located on two sides of the memorial. This monument is a direct reflection of historical accounts of the arduous conditions endured by soldiers and marines.”7
2. Washington State Legislature. Veteran's Memorials on Capitol Campus. http://leg.wa.gov/Memorials/Pages/Korean.aspx.
3. Denfeld, Ph.D., Duane Colt. Korean War Era in Washington. HistoryLink.org. August 16, 2016. http://www.historylink.org/File/11103.
4. State-Level List of Fatal Casualties of the Korean War. National Archives. https://www.archives.gov/research/military/korean-war/casualty-lists/state-level-alpha.html.
5. The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. Korean War. https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/korean-war.cfm.
6. Korean War: A Fresh Perspective. HistoryNet. June 12, 2016. http://www.historynet.com/korean-war-a-fresh-perspective.htm.
7 Coleman, Stephanie. Korean War Memorial, State Capital Grounds in Olympia. Sites of Memory. http://sites-of-memory.de/main/olympiakorea.html.