Although the Vietnam Veterans Memorial got off to a rough start, once built it quickly became an American cultural icon. It proved to be incredibly popular and soon became a focal point for healing for all those that lived through those turbulent times.
Witnessing this, veterans of other wars displayed a renewed interest in memorials designed to capture the experience and commemorate all who fought in a specific conflict. Servicemembers who had participated in the Korean Conflict, often called with some justification "the Forgotten War", sought recognition of their sacrifices on the National Mall, and in 1992, the Korean War Veterans Memorial opened.
Now, while to me the Korean Memorial lacks the emotional impact of the Vietnam Wall, it is a very well put together Memorial full of symbolism and visual interest. Built on the opposite side of the Mall from the Vietnam Memorial, it balances the Wall nicely around the Lincoln Memorial. Designed purposely to evoke the Wall, it also contains a polished black granite wall, etched not with names, but with archival photos of servicemembers from the Korean Conflict.
These soldiers, sailors and airmen look out on 19 cast-steel statues, the real focal point of the Memorial. The statues represent 14 soldiers, 3 Marines, an Air Force Forward Air Controller, and a Navy Corpsman (medic for you land-lubbers). But beyond the diversity of the various Armed Forces, lies a more profound expression of diversity. The statues represent every ethnic group found in America, which was particularly fitting as this was the first war that America fought with an integrated military. No longer confined to separate units, the military was integrated well before our schools, by executive order of President Truman.
The number 19 is not random, either. It's half of 38, which has a dual significance as the 38th parallel of latitude that separated the two Koreas and the number of months the War (or technically "Police Action") lasted. Why half? Reportedly, they wanted to do the full number, but were restricted in size. If you look at the right spot, on the lower corner right next to the granite wall, you will see the statues reflected in the wall, right next to the actual ones, making a total of, you guessed it, 38.
Many will claim that this Memorial is best visited at night, and I won't argue with them, but if you get the opportunity, visit the Memorial after a decent snowfall. They're few and far between, at least catching them before the "wintery mix" turns it into ice, but the Memorial is stunning in the snow. The entire Memorial is designed to capture the rugged and hostile nature of the Korean Conflict, with weather at times as much an enemy as the North Koreans or Chinese. A fact which I can personally attest to, having been covered in a sheet of ice on my ship while conducting exercises in South Korea. Among the elements portraying this: the ponchos of the soldiers sculpted in a fluid manner, the gentle rise meant to evoke the rocky terrain, and the rise and fall of the etched faces on the reflecting wall, which when looked at from the distance as a pattern look as if they provide a mountain backdrop to the Memorial.
So perhaps its fitting that today, Veteran's Day, is a cold, wet, miserable day here in DC. Think of it as a good day to get the full Korean War Veterans Memorial experience.