Remembering the ‘forgotten war’

Remembering the 'forgotten war' by Susan Smith The Korean War Memorial, dedicated Sept. 18 in Pierre, came too late for Melford Froke. The Willow Lake native and Korean War veteran died more than a year ago.

But for the surviving veterans of that conflict, the memorial meant a lot.

"I think we're all fortunate that someone goes ahead and puts all the work into (something like this)," Froke's brother Marlo said.

"He would have loved to see this," he said of his brother.

Marlo Froke worked in U.S. Army communications in Germany while his brother was stationed in Korea with James D. Whittemore, one of two Clark County residents to die there.

Another Willow Lake native, Donald Brower, was stationed in Germany with the army infantry.

"I'm just glad they finally got around to recognizing it," Brower said of the service Korean War veterans gave their country. "I definitely think there should be one for the boys in Iraq when they get back."

Martin Bonnichsen of Highmore had yet to see the memorial Saturday due to the crush of people that swarmed it for photos after the unveiling. But given the fact that the same sculptors who created the World War II Memorial worked on it he was optimistic about his reaction.

"It's got to be awesome," he said. "It's got to be lifelike I'm sure."

Bonnichsen served with the Army tank corps and donned one of his old uniforms for the dedication.

"It means they finally recognized what we went through over in Korea," he said. "This means a lot to me. It's a great honor to be here."

Korea is often called the forgotten war, but those playing a part in the memorial dedication made it plain that was no longer true in South Dakota.

"This is truly a great day for all of South Dakota to celebrate," Maj. General Michael Gorman, South Dakota's adjutant general, said.

Gorman introduced Sang-Shik Park with the South Korean consulate in Chicago. He assured veterans their sacrifice was never in vain. By stopping communism, American soldiers left South Korea free to develop a thriving economy and way of life, he said.

"Korea now stands tall as a vibrant democracy," Park said. The need for recognition and thanks was Rounds' message as well.

"We appreciate the sacrifices you and your family have made," Rounds told veterans. Rounds reminded the crowd that it is not the politician, the speaker, the preacher or the reporter who protects the freedoms of speech, the press, religion, petition and assembly that are guaranteed by the First Amendment, but men and women who throughout history have worn the uniform of the United States of America.

"On behalf of our state and our country we thank you," he said.

The memorial, Rounds said, promises that gratitude will never fade away.

Of the 26,000 South Dakotans who served in Korea, 180 died and 23 were declared missing in action and later presumed dead, Gorman said. All but two of the state's National Guard units were called up.

Rounds told veterans they deserved all the recognition they were receiving.

"This is a belated welcome home," Rounds said. He is closely related to two of those soldiers. His father and an uncle both fought in Korea.

Before Gov. Bill Janklow left office, he set aside money for Korean and Vietnam War memorials. In 2001 Janklow dedicated the state's World War II Memorial, which stands near the Korean memorial, a short distance from Capitol Lake in Pierre. The soldier depicted in the Korean sculpture is walking towards a wall listing his fallen comrades with his hand over his heart in a salute sculptor Sherri Treeby said all soldiers recognize.

"He's looking at this wall and paying homage," Treeby said.

She and sculptor Lee Leuning designed both the World War II and Korean War memorials. It took the duo about 13 months to complete the Korean project. The sculpture involved much research, Treeby said. They looked at photos, searched the Internet for anything having to do with the Korean War and also talked to veterans. A 25-inch mockette of the sculpture was significantly altered to accommodate veterans' suggestions.

"The most important thing is to get everything correct," Treeby said. "You know veterans are going to come and see this and recognize things that bring back memories."

The personal touches added by Leuning and Treeby give the sculpture life; like the grizzled face and hand grenade in the figure's coat pocket. He is dressed for winter because in their conversations with veterans, Treeby said almost without exception they talked about how cold it was.

The sculpture cost $75,000, and the dedication took months of planning and work by numerous volunteers. Alice Wright and John Moisan co-chaired the 43-member committee that spearheaded organization of the event. It took 800 additional people to make the event happen.

They expected 20,000 people to attend the dedication Sept. 18, but said they thought more were actually there.

One of the biggest challenges for the committee was planning the morning parade that included 40 high school marching bands.

"Planning a parade is always hard and that went off without a hitch," Wright said.

One thing volunteers couldn't plan for was the heat, which climbed into the 90s in the afternoon and caused more than 60 people to become ill. An emergency clinic was set up in the Capitol to deal with those that Wright said "just got too warm." Moisan said two that he knew of were taken to the hospital. Volunteers distributed free water throughout the day at special booths and worked the crowd giving out bottled water during the dedication.

In two years Rounds said he'd like to have a Vietnam memorial completed and then the state can begin considering a memorial for veterans of the Persian Gulf and the current war in Iraq.

"There's certainly a real desire to continue these traditions forward," Rounds said.

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