HAGERSTOWN — Local Korean War veterans say they felt a sense of urgency a few years ago when they started planning to build a monument to honor the men and women who served in that “forgotten” conflict.
“The Korean War veterans are rapidly becoming an endangered species as we are losing more than 900 Korean War veterans each day,” Korean War veteran Lew Ewing said Tuesday during a groundbreaking ceremony for the monument at Mealey Parkway in Hagerstown.
“If we the veterans who are still living today do not get it done now, memorials like this will never get built.”
About 70 people, most of them members of Antietam Chapter 312 of the Korean War Veterans Association, gathered for the ceremony. Now in their 80s, some of the veterans walked with canes, while others wore oxygen masks and hearing aids.
Wayne Winebrenner, a past commander of the Antietam chapter and vice chairman of the organization’s monument committee, said after the ceremony that the project started as a dream in October 2010
He said the estimated cost of the monument was initially $70,000, but the veterans increased that amount to $100,000 to pay for maintenance after the memorial is finished about a year from now.
“We still need around in the neighborhood of $30,000,” Winebrenner said. “We want to put at least $30,000 in the bank to take care of it.”
The Korean War — or “The Forgotten War” as it is sometimes called — started June 25, 1950, when communist forces from North Korea invaded South Korea.
Early in the fighting, South Korean soldiers were routed and driven into a small pocket of resistance until United Nations forces led by U.S. troops mounted a successful counterattack.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, 33,739 Americans died as the result of hostilities during the war, and 103,284 were wounded. Roughly 1.8 million Americans served in the Korean theater of operations.
Among other things, the 60 members of Antietam Chapter 312 award an annual $500 college scholarship and visit local schools to educate students about the war.
Several local dignitaries spoke at the groundbreaking, including Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, Washington County Board of Commissioners President Terry Baker and state Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington.
Earlier, the veterans thanked city, county and state representatives for helping to scout sites for the monument and pledging tax dollars to supplement donations.
Donoghue told those in attendance that he remembered playing football as a child in the grassy island on Mealey Parkway, where the monument will be erected.
“I remember in high school there was a discussion in one of my classes about the different wars,” Donoghue said. “We always heard about World War 1 and the Civil War and World War II, but you never heard much about the Korean War. And I distinctly remember a kid in my class saying that war didn’t matter because it was only a conflict, and I remember saying to my dad: ‘What’s the difference between a war and a conflict?’”
Donoghue said his father told him the difference was that more than 30,000 Americans never came home from Korea.
“To this day, I always say to myself, ‘It was not a conflict, it was a war,’” he said.
Charles Mobley, chairman of the monument committee, said after the ceremony that the veterans are trying to gather information about Washington County residents who never came home from the war. To their knowledge, the official count is 31.
He said people with information may call him at 301-733-0433.