An arc of gleaming black granite slabs etched with 36,634 names was unveiled on the National Mall over the summer, built to honor American service members who died fighting in the Korean War.
People like Frederick Bald Eagle Bear, an Army corporal who was killed as he rallied his infantry squad to fend off an enemy attack. And Walder McCord, a bomber pilot who crashed during a night mission. And John Koelsch, a helicopter pilot who was shot down trying to rescue another pilot, died in captivity and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
But Lieutenant Koelsch’s name is spelled wrong, Lieutenant McCord’s name is not on the wall at all, and the name of Frederick Bald Eagle Bear, a member of the Lakota tribe, is so mangled that the polished granite lists him as Eagle B F Bald.
There are hundreds more mistakes like those.
“It’s just a damn mess — full of old bookkeeping errors and typos,” said Hal Barker, a historian who, together with his brother, Edward Barker Jr., maintains a vast online repository of information about the conflict, a trove known as the Korean War Project.
The brothers estimate that the $22 million wall of remembrance — an addition to the 27-year-old Korean War Veterans Memorial — contains 1,015 spelling errors. It also incorrectly includes 245 names of service members who died in circumstances totally unrelated to the war, they say, including a man killed in a motorcycle accident in Hawaii and another who drank antifreeze thinking it was alcohol. And it includes one Marine who lived for 60 years after the war and had eight grandchildren.
Beyond that, there are about 500 names that should be listed but are not, according to the Barkers. They say that the official roster used for the wall was so slapdash that they cannot find much rhyme or reason to who was included and who was left out.
For example, records show that when Lieutenant McCord’s bomber crashed, nine crew members aboard were killed, but the names of only three are included on the wall. In another case, a Navy plane collided with an Air Force plane off Japan, killing both pilots; the Navy pilot is on the wall, but the Air Force pilot is not.
Hal Barker, left and Ted Barker, his brother, started the Korean War Project, a repository of information about the conflict and the Americans who fought in it.Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times
How did it all go so wrong? Through the shared missteps of several federal agencies and a veterans’ group that failed to devote the time, money and scrutiny needed to prepare an accurate list, probably ensuring that even more time, money and scrutiny will be required to fix it.
The granite slabs were erected by the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation to recognize a largely forgotten conflict that left more than a million people dead and a country divided. The money for the project was largely provided by the government of South Korea. Like other monuments on the mall, the slabs are maintained by the National Park Service. The error-riddled list of names was supplied by the Defense Department. And no one seems to have checked it.
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The foundation declined to comment. The park service deflected blame to the Defense Department. The Defense Department declined to make decision makers available for comment. In response to questions from The New York Times, it acknowledged that there were errors on the wall, saying in a statement that compiling an accurate list was “challenging.”
“We encourage all family members or concerned citizens to notify the Department of any names that were omitted, misspelled, or included in error,” the statement said, adding that the department would work with the park service to make any necessary corrections or additions, though they did not offer any details of how the granite could be fixed.
The brothers said they could think of no options but tearing out the slabs and starting over.
It is not the first time the department has botched casualty figures from the conflict in Korea, where three years of bitter fighting ended in stalemate and an armistice in 1953. For nearly 50 years afterward, the official number of American dead from the conflict was 54,246, a number published in history books, quoted in speeches and etched in stone when the Korean War memorial was unveiled. But in 2000, the Pentagon acknowledged that the figure included all troops who had died anywhere, for any reason, during the war years, and that the true number of war deaths was 36,516.
Before the carving started on the new wall of names, the Barker brothers repeatedly warned planning commissioners, military officials and eventually even the White House about problems with the list, records show. But the process lumbered forward.
“No one bothered to check it before they set it in stone,” said Edward Barker Jr., who goes by Ted.
War memorials that recognize thousands of people were once rare. Arches and obelisks built to honor generals and faceless victories predominated for hundreds of years. And while plaques bearing local names of the fallen have been a familiar small-town sight since the Civil War, national war memorials did not center on exhaustive lists of the dead.
In recent generations, however, engraved lists have come to be almost expected, as society grew more focused on individuals. Major memorials like those for the Vietnam War and the Sept. 11 terror attacks now prioritize listing masses of people name by name.
But as the Korean War wall of remembrance shows, efforts to be inclusive can instead call attention to who was left out. Should the wall include a nurse killed in a plane crash on her way to the war zone? What about a Marine who died by suicide a month after coming home? Even with the best proofreading, any attempt to recognize all who died in as complex an event as a war will inevitably involve hard decisions.
For that reason, the National Park Service repeatedly opposed adding the Korean War memorial wall when it was proposed. The service had already waded through controversy over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, just across the Mall’s reflecting pool, where factions faced off over who deserved to be listed. Years of arguments and lobbying led to the addition of more than 380 names to that granite wall, including one man who died 28 years after he was wounded in Vietnam.
Dignitaries at the ceremony dedicating the wall of remembrance in July 2022 included, from left, Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris; Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser; Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs Min-Shik Park of South Korea; and John Tilelli, chairman of the Korean Veterans Memorial Committee.Credit…Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
“There is not always agreement on those names to be included,” the parks service’s deputy director for operations at the time, Peggy O’Dell, warned at a congressional hearing in 2016. “Choosing some names and omitting others causes a place of solace to become a source of hurt.”
Erika Doss, a professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame who has written extensively about monuments, said that Americans increasingly see recognizing individuals as critical. “We see ourselves as a nation of individuals, so listing the names becomes unifying,” she said. But she wondered how so solemn a gesture could have gotten so flawed this time. She asked, “Didn’t they have an editor?”
The mistakes might have attracted little notice if not for the Barker brothers.
Ted, 77, and Hal, 75, both 5-foot-6 and partial to loose jeans and white running shoes, share a two-bedroom apartment outside Dallas where, over the years, more and more living space has been ceded to their research. Walls are covered with bulletin boards. Out-of-print books and binders stuffed with obscure infantry rosters weigh down sagging shelves. Hal’s bed is little more than a cot, pushed into a corner to make room for a sprawling homemade desk with six computer monitors where he maintains their project’s website.
The brothers began what they readily admit has become an obsession more than 40 years ago, hoping to better understand their father, Lt. Col. Edward L. Barker, a Marine pilot whose portrait hangs in their hall. He was often brooding and quick to anger, Hal said: “A good Marine, but a bad father.”
The colonel, who died in 2009, had a uniform that gleamed with ribbons, including a Silver Star, but Hal said that whenever the brothers asked what he did in the Korean War, their father responded, “None of your damn business.”
Hal Barker holds a picture of his father, Lt. Col. Edward L. Barker, a Marine pilot who fought in the Korean War.Credit…Nitashia Johnson for The New York Times
Hal majored in history in college, and after graduating, he sought out veterans who could tell him about his father. That led to collecting oral histories of nearly forgotten battles. Ted got involved as the project grew, and the brothers created the website in 1995 to share their findings. The site has grown to thousands of pages of maps, photos and profiles, crowdsourced by veterans and their families and meticulously curated by the brothers.
In the 1990s, as part of their research, the Barkers started cobbling together a list of all Americans who died in the war. It was based largely on military personnel records entered on IBM punch cards in the 1950s. The cards had room for only a limited number of characters, and could not accommodate hyphenated or multi-word surnames like Bald Eagle Bear, so hundreds of names got scrambled.
Much of the data has since been converted to modern digital files, but the errors introduced in the punch-card era endured. So the brothers started checking their list against personnel files, census rolls and gravestones — work that has taken years.
“People ask us how we could spend so much effort doing this,” Ted Barker said. “I say, how could we not? We feel we owe it to these guys.”
Around 2010, a group of veterans running the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation began lobbying to add a memorial wall to the existing monument. When the foundation asked the Barkers for names, the brothers said they could supply a list but warned that a lot of correction work would still be needed.
The foundation pushed ahead, and in 2016, despite National Park Service opposition, Congress authorized the wall. Tucked in the legislation, though, was something the park service insisted on. Because the park service feared that a protracted public process like the one for the Vietnam memorial would yield another divisive mess, the law required that the office of the Secretary of Defense decide on and issue the list of names, all at once with no outside input.
In a statement, the park service said the accuracy of the list was the responsibility of the foundation and the Defense Department. That statement concluded, “We will continue to work with those organizations to ensure that the names engraved on the memorials are as accurate as possible.”
The National Park Service’s legislative provision created a problem: All the Pentagon had were its old, error-ridden records, without the Barkers’ corrections.The brothers say they emailed the Defense Department repeatedly to offer their services, but the department was largely unresponsive.
Visitors to the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington are reflected on the monument’s mural wall. Credit…Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters
Then the brothers noticed something odd happening: The Korean War Project website started to be visited thousands of times a day by computers associated with civilian researchers hired by the Defense Department. The brothers grew suspicious that the Defense Department might be paying people to vacuum up their decades of research, rather than engaging directly with them,so in 2020 they sharply limited access to the data and the corrections they had made.
The Defense Department did not respond to questions about the brothers’ suspicions.
The foundation, whose leaders by now were in their 80s and 90s, pushed the government to deliver a list, as required by law, so the memorial wall could be completed.
The foundation did not make leaders available for comment for this article.
The Pentagon delivered its list in 2021. When the Barkers saw proofs of what would be carved into the granite, they again raised the alarm but said they received little response.
Truth be told, the brothers agreed, they never liked the idea of a wall of names. It not only draws dividing lines among the dead, they said, it ignores those who lived — men like their father who came home but were forever scarred by their experiences.
“A wall should have never been done,” Ted Barker said. “But now that it has been done, we need to get it right.”
That War Was Who With
It's estimated there are more than 1,000 mistakes on the 27-year-old memorial wall. Errors include typos, missing names of American service members and names of service members who died in circumstances unrelated to the Korean War.What is the new Korean War wall of Remembrance? ›
The Wall of Remembrance is a new, permanent addition to the memorial which will include the names of 36,574 American servicemen and more than 7,200 members of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army who gave their lives defending the people of South Korea.What is on the wall at the Korean War memorial? ›
A new addition completed in 2022 – the Wall of Remembrance – includes the names of 36,574 American service members and more than 7,200 members of the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army who gave their lives defending the people of South Korea.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance -- a $22 million project unveiled last summer -- contains more than one thousand spelling mistakes, incorrectly includes nearly 250 troops who died outside of the conflict, and omits about 500 others who should be on it, according to the independent Korean War ...Is it justified that the Korean War is often called the Forgotten War? ›
The Korean War was “forgotten” because it started as a police action and slowly progressed to a conflict. country (e.g., consumerism and the economy). returning from World War II, leaving many to remain relatively silent about their wartime experiences. War, the larger Cold War, and other domestic concerns.What were some of the mistakes made by General MacArthur in the Korean War? ›
MacArthur was initially successful in driving back the North Korean forces over the 38th parallel. He made a controversial move, however, when he continued to push the North Koreans further north and suggested bombing cities in China that were thought to be aiding the North Korean troops.How do I find my name on the Korean War memorial? ›
Through our searchable Korean War Veterans Memorial Honor Roll database, you can find names, photographs, and a printable certificate for American servicemen and women that died during the conflict. Fill out any known information in the fields below and click the red "search" button at the bottom of the page.What is the inscription on the Korean War memorial? ›
In the south side of the memorial, there are three bushes of the Rose of Sharon hibiscus plant, South Korea's national flower. A further granite wall bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: "Freedom Is Not Free."Who built the wall of Remembrance? ›
The Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance
The Foundation worked with the National Park Service (NPS) for the design and placement of the Wall of Remembrance, because the NPS is responsible for all national monuments and memorials.
Period of Service Definitions
For the veteran population, Korean War veterans include all who have served in the Korean War no matter in what other periods they served.
Approximately 1.2 million Korean War veterans are still living, and this law gives them the recognition they deserve — and that is long overdue.What benefits do Korean War veterans get? ›
Korean War Veterans may be eligible for a wide-variety of benefits available to all U.S. military Veterans. VA benefits include disability compensation, pension, education and training, health care, home loans, insurance, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and burial.How many Korean War veterans are still missing? ›
Over 7,600 Americans are still unaccounted-for from the Korean War, hundreds of whom are believed to be in a “non-recoverable” category, meaning that after rigorous investigation DPAA has determined that the individual perished but does not believe it is possible to recover the remains.How many Americans died in Korean War? ›
In 1950, a North Korean invasion began the Korean War, which saw extensive U.S.-led U.N. intervention in support of the South, while the North received support from China and from the Soviet Union. Some 1,780,000 Americans served in the war, with 36,574 killed, 103,284 wounded, and over 7,100 prisoners of war.How much does it cost to visit the Korean War memorial? ›
The Korean War Veterans Memorial has no fees or reservations associated with a visit. Please visit the National Mall and Memorial Parks Fees and Passes page for information on Fees and Passes parkwide. Some activities may require a special permit such as weddings, commercial photography and demonstrations.Why did America forget the Korean War? ›
The Korean War is often called the “Forgotten War” because it was largely overshadowed by WWII and Vietnam. The importance of this war in the history of the United States and the world is vastly understated; this conflict marked the first clear battle of the Cold War.What did Truman say about Korean War? ›
He argued that "communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war." Truman's statement suggests that he believed the attack by North Korea had been part of a larger plan by communist China and, by extension, the Soviet Union.Why was the Korean War unpopular? ›
The Korean War was difficult to fight and unpopular domestically. In late 1951, the two sides bogged down on the 38th parallel, and the conflict seemed reminiscent of trench warfare in World War I. The American public tired of a war without victory, especially when negotiation stalled as well.Why couldn't the US win the Korean War? ›
Well, “win” is a subjective term in this case. Technically the war isn't over, and has no “winner”. As far was why that is though, is mainly due to China. US, UN & South Korean forces pushed the North Korean Army all the way to the border with China, and that's when China intervened.Which president ended the Korean War? ›
Bringing an end to the fighting in Korea was one of Eisenhower's primary campaign goals in 1952, and one he embarked upon even before he took his oath of office as the 34th President of the United States. Explore stories related to President Eisenhower and the Korean War here.
General Douglas MacArthur was a most unusual man. He was extremely intelligent and very demanding. He expected his orders to be followed exactly.Who is the oldest living Korean War veteran? ›
Gerald “Gerry” Sheperd.Are there any Korean War veterans still alive? ›
According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affair data from 2020, there were 1.1 million living veterans of the Korean War, down from 4 million in 2000. The number is expected to fall to 100,000 in 2030 and fade to zero by 2040. The median age of Korean War veterans as of 2020 was 88.Are Korean War records public? ›
Records of individuals who left service more than 62 years ago are considered Archival Records and become records of the National Archives open to the general public.Why is the number 38 significance at the Korean War memorial? ›
The number 38 is important to the design of the memorial because of the 38th parallel and the 38 months of fighting between 1950 and 1953. However, there are only 19 statues, plus a reflective wall that reflects those statues.Why is there only 19 statues in the Korean memorial? ›
The concept was to show 38 soldiers in full combat gear, representing the 38th parallel, but because of lack of space, only 19 statues were made. However, with their reflections on the mural wall, the total is 38 soldiers.How do you honor a Korean War veteran? ›
The Korean War Veterans Honor Roll pays tribute to every Veteran who served in the Korean War, including those who made it home. While their names are not on the Memorial's Wall of Remembrance, they are never forgotten. Listing on the Honor Roll is a free service of the Foundation.What does the W mean on the Vietnam wall? ›
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands as a symbol of America's honor and recognition of the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. Inscribed on the black granite walls are the names of more than 58,000 men and women who gave their lives or remain missing.What is the difference between a diamond and a cross carved next to a name on the wall? ›
The diamond symbol denotes that the service member's death was confirmed. + Those whose names are designated by the cross were in missing or prisoner status at the end of the war and remain missing and unaccounted for.Which monument was built in the memory of the soldiers who lost their lives in World War? ›
History of National War Memorial. The iconic India Gate in Lutyen's Delhi was constructed in 1931 by erstwhile British empire to commemorate the Battle Casualty (Fatal) of India during World War I as well as Third Anglo-Afghan War. It stands tall as a must visit monument for visitors in New Delhi.
Korean War veterans or their surviving spouses who qualify can take advantage of a benefit called the Aid and Attendance Pension.What medals are awarded to Korean War veterans? ›
the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.Can Korean vets join the VFW? ›
In the meantime, any sort of travel orders or military documentation showing your service in Korea for at least 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days will suffice as proof of eligibility for VFW membership.What soldier had the most kills in the Korean War? ›
Setting the record for hand-to-hand combat, Ronald Rosser shares how he killed twelve people through this method. He remembers getting wounded in his foot by shrapnel during Heartbreak Ridge. He recounts some of his dangerous incidents during the war.Which US state has the most Korean War veterans? ›
Across all states, Florida—which has a large retiree population—claims the largest population of Korean War Era Vets, with more than 105,000 prior service members. California and Texas also have large numbers of Korean War Vets, at 102,000 and almost 70,000, respectively.What was the average age of soldiers in the Korean War? ›
Ages of Servicemen.
|TYPICAL YEARS OF BIRTH||1890-1935|
|Veteran With:||VA National Income Threshold||VA Pension Threshold|
|For each additional dependent add:||$2,743||$2,743|
|Child Earned Income Exclusion: $13,850|
Millions of World War II and Korean War veterans furthered their education, thanks to the GI Bill. U.S. Capitol - Visitor Center.How many veterans returned at the end of the Korean War? ›
At war's end, a million and a half American veterans returned to a peacetime world of families, homes and jobs - and to a country reluctant to view the Korean War as something to memorialize.How many Vietnam POWs are still missing? ›
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lists 684 POWs returned home alive from the Vietnam War — the majority after the U.S. pulled out of the war in 1973. (The war officially ended April 30, 1975). There are 1,582 Americans still unaccounted for, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
Scope & Content Note: This series has records for 4,714 U.S. military officers and soldiers who were prisoners of war (POWs) during the Korean War and therefore considered casualties.How many Korean soldiers were killed in Vietnam? ›
Over 5,000 South Korean troops died in the Vietnam War, and many more were injured or traumatized.Why were Korean soldiers feared in Vietnam? ›
South Korean units were as tough and professional as any in the United States Army or Marines, and came to be justly feared by the communists. More than 300,000 Korean troops passed through Vietnam at some point, and more than 5,000 were killed.What was the worst battle in the Korean War? ›
The Chosin Reservoir is a man-made lake located in the northeast of the Korean peninsula. From the end of November to mid-December 1950, it was the site of one of the most brutal battles between UN and Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) during the Korean War.Who died most of in the Korean War? ›
The majority of U.S. military fatalities during the Korean War were battle deaths (63 percent), with a smaller number of deaths while missing (12 percent), deaths while captured (eight percent), or deaths from battle wounds (seven percent).Who is considered a Korean veteran? ›
Period of Service Definitions
For the veteran population, Korean War veterans include all who have served in the Korean War no matter in what other periods they served.
According to a study conducted by Korean Consumer Agency, the average cost of hospital funeral room and services is 9.38 million won ($8,220). An additional 2 million to 5 million won is incurred for burial and cremation services – bringing the total amount to the tune of 10 million to 15 million won.How many names are on the Korean War memorial wall? ›
An arc of gleaming black granite slabs etched with 36,634 names was unveiled on the National Mall over the summer, built to honor American service members who died fighting in the Korean War.Is there a list of names on the Vietnam wall? ›
The National Park Service offers these steps for locating a name: Look up the name in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Directory of Names. These directories are located at both ends of the Wall and contain an alphabetical listing of all the names on the Memorial.What were some of the negative consequences of the Korean War? ›
The war created numerous war orphans and divided families in both Koreas. In South Korea, it also created US military bases, which have been present for decades, and the mandatory conscription for male citizens. The growing number of North Korean defectors also has been an increasingly frequent and telling phenomenon.
The number 38 is important to the design of the memorial because of the 38th parallel and the 38 months of fighting between 1950 and 1953. However, there are only 19 statues, plus a reflective wall that reflects those statues.Are all Vietnam veterans names on the wall? ›
The names of over 58,000 servicemembers who gave their lives between 1957 and 1975 are listed on the wall in chronological order starting and ending at the center of the wall.How many Vietnam vets are still alive? ›
The era ended May 7, 1975, by order of President Gerald Ford. During the 11-year campaign, approximately 2.7 million American men and woman served; of those, 58,220 died and 153,000 were wounded. Today, there are fewer than 850,000 living Vietnam War veterans, many of whom who are eligible for VA benefits.Who was the last American killed in Vietnam? ›
After a year of negotiations, the remains of Cpl. Charles McMahon and Lance Cpl. Darwin Judge, the last two U.S. service members killed in the Vietnam War, were returned to the U.S. via a military terminal at Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport.Who suffered the most in the Korean War? ›
The country that suffered the most deaths during the Korean War was North Korea. The country that suffered the least amount of deaths was Australia.How many Americans died in the Korean War? ›
In 1950, a North Korean invasion began the Korean War, which saw extensive U.S.-led U.N. intervention in support of the South, while the North received support from China and from the Soviet Union. Some 1,780,000 Americans served in the war, with 36,574 killed, 103,284 wounded, and over 7,100 prisoners of war.Which president started Korean War? ›
Concerned that the Soviet Union and Communist China might have encouraged this invasion, President Harry S. Truman committed United States air, ground, and naval forces to the combined United Nations forces assisting the Republic of Korea in its defense.Did the US follow the Truman Doctrine in the Korean War? ›
The United States promised to defend Korea against communist aggression according to the terms of the Truman Doctrine. The United States supported a process of free elections to set up a government in South Korea. The U.S. military had a continuing responsibility to protect Korea against threatened Japanese aggression.How did the US lose the Korean War? ›
After three years of a bloody and frustrating war, the United States, the People's Republic of China, North Korea, and South Korea agree to an armistice, bringing the fighting of the Korean War to an end. The armistice ended America's first experiment with the Cold War concept of “limited war.”