Olympia’s Capitol Campus is dotted with many landmarks and memorials. These include the Winged Victory Monument (World War I), World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, POW/MIA Memorial, Law Enforcement Memorial and an obelisk honoring Medal of Honor recipients from Washington State. However, many visitors miss the Korean War Memorial. Located on the East Campus Plaza next to the Capitol Way sky bridge, the memorial honors Washington State residents who died in the war.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces invaded South Korea. Japan had controlled Korea since 1910, and after the end of World War II the Korean peninsula split between a communist north and democratic south. The conflict lasted three bloody years. It was a truly devastating war, over 2.5 million civilians were killed, close to a million South Korean soldiers died and 1.5 million North Korean and Chinese soldiers were killed or wounded. Twenty-one countries formed a United Nations-backed alliance to aid South Korea, though the United States formed the bulk of the force. Over 2.5 million Americans served in Korea, and over 53,000 of them lost their lives. Despite the war lasting three years, the presence afterwards of millions of veterans and Korean-Americans in the United States and a continued military presence in South Korea, the Korean War has largely slipped from the American popular conscience. This has earned it the nickname of “The Forgotten War.”
Washington veterans and their families, however, wanted to remember the Korean War, along with those who had served and died. They lobbied the Washington State Legislature for the creation of a memorial on the state capitol’s campus. In 1989 the legislature authorized the creation of such a monument. They approved the memorial, arguing that the state needed “to express the gratitude of the citizens of this state for all who served in Korea and project the spirit of service, willingness to sacrifice and dedication to freedom in remembering those Washingtonians who lost their lives in the war.”
The Korean War Memorial was largely funded by donations. Four years of fundraising by dedicated volunteers (including veterans organizations, business leaders and ordinary citizens) raised over $320,000. The state contributed $70,000 in matching funds. These fundraising efforts were spearheaded by the Chosin Few, a veteran group made up of survivors of one of the war’s bloodiest battles, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, which was fought in sub-zero temperatures.
After a three-month design competition, the memorial organizers chose Montana-based artist, Deborah Copenhaver Fellows, to create the monument. Fellows is a nationally renowned bronze and silver sculpture artist. Her public works include many memorials, such as the Bing Crosby Memorial at Gonzaga University, the Inland Pacific Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Spokane’s Riverfront Park and the Montana Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Missoula. She now runs Fellows Studio with her husband, Fred Fellows, in Sonoita, Arizona. At the center of the memorial, she designed statues of a group of three, larger-than-life soldiers. Dressed in rain gear, they huddle together as one of them attempts to start a fire. The daughter of a Korean War veteran, Fellows intended her memorial to depict the cost of war and its effects on participants.
The statue took nine months to sculpt. Trucked from her studio, the piece was displayed in several eastern and western Washington cities on its way to Olympia. In early July of 1993, workers put the two-ton statue into place by helicopter.
Workers completed the Korean War Memorial that summer. The memorial includes stone plaques engraved with the names of those killed in the war from Washington. 523 names were originally inscribed on the monument. The state added more names in 1994, 1998, 1999 and 2013. Names can still be added to the stone, by recommendation of the Department of Veterans Affairs. To the back of the memorial, national flags represent the allied United Nations’ forces. The entrance to the monument is inscribed with “Korean War Veterans Memorials 1950-1953” and “The Forgotten War” in English and Korean. In addition, on both sides of the monument are historical plaques explaining the history of the war.
The memorial was officially dedicated on July 24, 1993, just days before the 40th anniversary of the end of the war. Over three thousand veterans and their families came from around the state and nation to attend. Officials from former allied nations were also present at the moving service.
The Korean War Memorial, despite its more isolated location, is an important campus landmark. It is a clear indication that many in Washington are determined that not only will the Korean War no longer be America’s “Forgotten War” but also a conflict that is remembered. The many legacies of the conflict and the sacrifices of its participants are certainly worth remembering.