S. 1982

Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Act of 2015



March 17, 2016


Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1982, a bill to authorize a Wall of Remembrance as part of the Korean War Veterans Memorial and to allow certain private contributions to fund that Wall of Remembrance.

The Department appreciates the effort to recognize the service men and women who gave their lives during the Korean War, but we oppose S. 1982 because it would significantly alter the character of the existing Korean War Veterans Memorial, and it is inconsistent with the Commemorative Works Act. 

S. 1982 would amend Public Law 99-572 to expand upon the original purpose and design of the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  The bill adds new subjects for commemoration and would require the display of certain information at the memorial about members of the United States Armed Forces who served in the Korean Conflict.  Also, the bill would require the display of information at the memorial about members of the Korean armed forces and other Korean military personnel as well as the 20 other non-U.S. forces that were part of the United Nations Command who served in the Korean Conflict.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial commemorates the sacrifices of over 5.7 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.  The Memorial also recognizes the participation of the 22 nations who served as United Nations contributors.  During the Korean War’s relatively short duration from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953, 54,246 Americans died.  Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action, lost, or buried at sea.  In addition, 103,284 were wounded during the conflict.

The Memorial was designed, constructed and completed by its legislatively designated sponsor, the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board, with public involvement throughout.  It was dedicated on July 27, 1995.

The Memorial’s design, and each of its features down to its plantings, is symbolic.  The Memorial is the culmination of years of work by the ABMC, and careful reviews, followed by revisions, and ultimately approvals reached by the National Park Service and other federal entities including the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.  This painstaking and public process began with the competition design, and resulted in the completed Memorial we know today.  The Memorial should not now be changed to include the engraving of names of Americans who died in that conflict.  The opportunity to mimic the design characteristics present at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was purposefully avoided when the design was requested during an open, international design competition. 

The concept of engraving names at this Memorial was considered extensively when the Memorial was being designed.  The ABMC and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board with the Department’s concurrence, advised against the incorporation of engraved names at the Memorial.  Both agencies arrived at this decision upon reflection of years of experience with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Inscribing names is a lengthy and painstaking process even when it goes smoothly.  But more important, as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial experience showed, there is not always agreement on those names to be included and those names that are not, and this has led to public contention and controversy.   Choosing some names and omitting others causes a place of solace to become a source of hurt.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors all who served in that conflict, but only the names of those killed within the combat zone, and confirmed by the Department of Defense, meet the criteria to be engraved on the Wall.  This means that those killed by a fire on a Navy ship just outside the zone are not eligible to have their names engraved on the wall - a difficult message for their survivors to accept. 

The ABMC and the Department felt the lessons learned at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial must not be ignored, that a different type of commemoration must occur at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and that the Memorial should be representative in design and not include individual names.  As a compromise to the Korean War veterans who wanted the names engraved, ABMC created the Korean War Honor Roll, which is an electronic registry of names.  Visitors have access to this registry from the Internet or at the kiosks at the Memorial.  A kiosk containing the Korean War Honor Roll stands at the west entrance of the Memorial.  It is serviced by a National Park Service ranger, who provides assistance to visitors.  The Honor Roll computer contains the names of all military personnel who lost their lives during the Korean War, including the individual's name, service, rank, service number, date of birth, hometown or county of entry into the service, cause of death, and date of death.  If the information is furnished to ABMC, the Honor Roll includes the serviceman's unit, his awards, the circumstances surrounding his death or his going missing in action and a photograph.  The ABMC also has the names of those missing engraved at the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial.   

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in an area designated by Congress in the Commemorative Works Act as the Reserve – an area in which no new commemorative works shall be located.  As Congress noted in the law creating the Reserve, “…the great cross-axis of the Mall in the District of Columbia…is a substantially completed work of civic art; and …to preserve the integrity of the Mall, a reserve area should be designated…where the siting of new commemorative works is prohibited.”  The Korean War Veterans Memorial is a completed work of civic art in this special landscape of the Reserve.  Moreover, we cannot ignore the practical effect of this legislation.  Essentially, the Memorial wall would be a second Korean War Veterans Memorial, effectively thwarting the intent of the Commemorative Works Act to prohibit new memorials within the Reserve and would be an addition that would significantly alter the character of the existing Memorial.  And this second memorial would have the effect of violating the Commemorative Works Act prohibition on interfering or encroaching on an existing memorial.

We feel very strongly that the Korean War Veterans Memorial, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, exists to recall the exemplary service and sacrifice of outstanding Americans, and this memorial has already been completed as it stands today.  The Korean War Veterans Memorial is a place of honor and dignity and we should avoid any intrusions that will become a source of contention or controversy.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have regarding this bill.

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