Editor's note: Staff writer Diane Chodan was invited by the Dunkirk-Fredonia Lions Club to join them on their trip to Washington, D.C. earlier this month. This is part two of their journey.
In 1986, Congress authorized the American Battle Monuments Commission to establish a memorial to honor veterans who had served in the Korean War. Work was finished and on July 27, 1995, the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the conflict, President Clinton and Kim Young Sam, the President of South Korea dedicated the memorial.
There was no one guide for the tour of this memorial, but the comments of the veterans on the trip and the brochure are helpful in appreciating the site.
Changing of the Guard
There are 19 stainless steel statues representing a symbolic squad on patrol in Korea. Robert Gaylord, a World War II veteran, created them and the statues represent members of the US Air Force, Marines, Army and Navy.
"Look at the eyes of the statues. They are haunting," Carter Rowland said
"There were rice paddies and mountains there. No evergreens like here," Alex Uszacki, a Korean War veteran said. "It was hell over there."
Korean War veterans Roy Marvin and John Banach look at the etchings on the granite wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
This war was fought under the flag of the United Nations and a granite curb on the north side of the statues recognizes the 22 countries that fought or gave medical support to South Korea's defense. A black granite wall on the south side is etched with faces based on actual photographs of unknown service personnel who provided support to the ground troops.
John Banach and Roy Marvin, both of whom served in the U.S. Navy during the conflict, spent time at the granite wall. They looked at the etchings of navy men. Marvin pointed out that the sailor's hat can be worn many different ways and the depictions showed that.
In one of those odd quirks of fate, a group from the Cassadaga American Legion also took a bus trip that weekend. They were present at this monument at the same time as the Lions' group.
Susie Skillman, who was participating in a post graduate internship in Washington D.C., met her grandpa , Korean veteran Roger Childs at the memorial . They looked at the wall together, and Susie joined the group for lunch.
Encircled by trees, a pool of remembrance allows time for reflection on the war. Nearby numbers of those killed, missing in action, and held as prisoners-of-war are etched in stone. On another granite wall opposite the words "Freedom is Not Free" are inlaid in silver.
VIETNAM VETERANS' MEMORIAL
Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, a monument to those serving in the war that generated the most controversy of the twentieth century, was the first dedicated. Sometimes called "The Wall" this monument is not called a war memorial. Instead it is meant to be a tribute to those, both living and dead, who served during the conflict. The idea of a Vietnam veteran, Jan Scruggs, he and two other veterans, John Wheeler and Robert Doubak formed a non-profit organization in 1979 to work toward establishing a memorial.
In 1980 President Jimmy Carter signed a bill allowing the present site to be used for the memorial. Work was completed and the memorial accepted by the president in 1984. The monies for the project were all came from private donations.
The wall itself was designed by Maya Ying Lin, an undergraduate at Yale University at the time. She is a native born American whose parents fled from China in 1949 during the revolution that ended with Mao Tse-Tung coming to power.
The memorial also includes a statue by Frederic Hart called Three Servicemen. Slightly larger than life, the men look toward the wall. The same area contains a flagpole with the seals of the five branches of the service at the base. The inscription reads THIS FLAG REPRESENTS THE SERVICE RENDERED TO OUR COUNTRY BY THE VETERANS OF THE VIETNAM WAR. THE FLAG AFFIRMS THE PRINCIPLES OF FREEDOM FOR WHICH THEY FOUGHT AND THEIR PRIDE IN HAVING SERVED UNDER DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES.
The wall itself contains over 58,000 names etched on a blank granite wall, arranged by date of the wound or accident for casualties of the war, or date reported missing. Within each date, the names are alphabetized. Each panel is lettered (E or W for east or west) and numbered on the bottom. The dots on the side of the panels represent ten lines. This is useful for locating a name on the wall.
A person trying to locate a specific name can ask park attendants to look through a database of names, and then locate the name using the letter, number and row. The site provides paper and pencils for rubbings of names. If the name is high on a panel, park service volunteers will climb a ladder to do the rubbing.
John Barlette, the son of Dan Barlette and nephew of Jim Lemanski and Carmen Barlette of Dunkirk was able to join the group of Vietnam era veterans during the tour and share the experience with them. John works at the State Department, and was glad to share his knowledge of the Washington area, pointing out directions and even the building in which he works.
Steven Cobb, a retired history teacher from Fredonia and a Vietnam vet had participated in educational workshops about the wall. He pushed fellow veteran Robert Paddock's wheelchair. The two discussed the war and its meaning.
Peter Cash, a Korean War veteran, found William G. Fellinger Jr's name. on the wall. Since the name was high on the panel, volunteer Betty Henry did the rubbing for Cash while Cash steadied the ladder.
"Ah Billy," said Cash. "He was only 18 years-old when he was killed."
Clearly an emotional experience, especially for the Vietnam veterans, some stared at the wall thinking their own thoughts. Others talked to Henry, asking questions about the wall or her volunteer work. A good listener, Henry was sympathetic and understanding. Here and there along the wall, flowers or mementoes were left by visitors.
"They are picked up at the end of the day, catalogued and stored," explained Henry.
The group's last site before supper and the trip home was Arlington Cemetery. After the bus was parked, a break was taken to allow those who wanted to enter the visitors' center. Here again, brochures were available.
Later, back on board, the bus was permitted to go into the cemetery itself, courtesy of a letter from local Congressman Brian Higgins. The idea was to visit the Tomb of the Unknowns during the changing of the guard.
Established in 1921, the remains of a soldier from World War 1 were first placed here. In 1958 unknowns from World War II and Korea were interred. An unknown casualty from the Vietnam War was interred in 1984, but removed in 1998 and identified through a complicated DNA process.
A sentinel remains on duty at the tomb around the clock. He paces 21 steps along the tomb, pauses for 21 seconds, then returns. From March 15 through September the guard changes every half hour. Other times, the guard changes on the hour.
The ceremony was solemn and precise. At its end part of the group headed toward the bus. When they saw a flag being lowered, without saying anything, they stopped in their tracks and waited for the end of the lowering.
For Peter Clark, the most touching part was being able to provide this experience to Tressa (Teddy) and John Yusten of Ripley who have been married for 63 years, and "look out for each other." Teddy wanted John, a World War II veteran who served at the Battle of the Bulge, to experience the trip but was worried about the whether he would take his pills on time."
Clark decided that Teddy needed to come along. "Hearing the happiness and gratitude in her voice made the whole thing worthwhile for me," said Clark.
As demonstrated by the veterans who stopped for the flag, veterans certainly remember what they were taught. Especially on Memorial Day may the rest of us learn from them - and remember them.
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