Each time I visit Washington, D.C. I run on the National Mall and stop to reflect at each memorial. I try, with limited success, to grasp the depth of what each represents.
It is a humbling tradition that allows me to step back from the mundane narrowness of day-to-day existence and let the big picture to come into focus.
While my generation identifies more with the Vietnam Memorial Wall, it is the Korean War Veterans Memorial that pulls me in more than any other.
When I try to describe it to those who haven’t seen it, “hauntingly beautiful” is the best I can come up with.
The 19 statues representing American forces are about 7 feet high, and it’s their faces that stay with me more than anything else.
A granite mural wall alongside the statues is filled with etchings of photographs from the war, and is a work of art in itself.
Korea is sometimes called “the Forgotten War,” coming on the heels of World War II, but the three-year conflict cost 54,246 American lives and more than a million others.
Growing up, I heard mainly of World War II, since my father and an uncle served in non-combat roles during that war. I don’t recall hearing anything about Korea.
Years later, I lived next door to a Korean War vet who was very active in local veterans’ groups. He took part in parades, advocated on behalf of other vets, played taps at funerals. From what I remember, he had a difficult time talking about the war even a half-century later.
I can’t pretend to understand what Korea, or any other war, was like. But I am glad the memorials grace our nation’s capital, to help us try.