UPDATE – 03/08/2023:
Following the January 2023 revelation that hundreds of names were misspelled on the new Wall of Remembrance at Washington, DC’s Korean War Veterans Memorial, a group of bipartisan legislators have launched a Congressional Inquiry.
The lawmakers putting pressure on the Department of Defense are House Committee of Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL); Senate Committee on Armed Services Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS); Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY); and House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
In a letter sent to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on March 2, 2023, the six called out the glaring spelling mistakes and omitted names on the Wall of Remembrance, and requested not just a formal explanation from the DoD, but also a review of the legislation that resulted in the memorial’s creation, which called for the transmission of “a complete, accurate list based on such criteria to the Department of Interior.”
Demanding a Congressional Committee meeting no later than March 23, they wrote, “Errors of this magnitude should not have made it past the initial blueprints, much less carved into stone, and certainly not erected and unveiled to the public. We find these errors deeply concerning and write to seek accountability on how the Remembrance Wall’s glaring flaws went unnoticed until post-construction.”
When The New York Times first broke the story in January, the DoD conceded there were several inaccuracies on the Wall of Remembrance and pledged to correct the errors with the assistance of the DoI. It also stated that the lists of names had been reviewed by the US military, which has led many, including the six aforementioned lawmakers, to question the accuracy of the government’s records.
“Discrepancies related to the number of names listed on the Remembrance Wall for both American veterans and members of the Korean Augmentation to the U.S. Army remain today on the websites of DOD, DOI, and the [Korean War Veterans Memorial] Foundation,” the group wrote in their letter.
They added, “We find it unfortunate that what should have been a touching tribute for bereaved family members and a grateful nation has turned into an embarrassing gaffe.”
Additionally, South Korea’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, which funded 98 percent of the Wall of Remembrance’s construction budget, told The Korea Herald that it will “do its best to promptly correct the errors,” adding that no issues were found on the list of Korean augmentees provided by the South Korean military.
The Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC’s West Potomac Park was intended to honor the servicemen who lost their lives during the conflict. However, the $22 million project has recently caused public outcry, after a New York Times report revealed it features hundreds of misspellings and omits the names of at least 500 veterans.
The 380-foot granite Wall of Remembrance was erected as part of an overall rehabilitation of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Construction began in March 2021, with the groundbreaking ceremony occurring two months later. It was officially unveiled in summer 2022, encircling the Pool of Remembrance, which details the number of servicemen who were killed, wounded, went missing or held as prisoners of war (POWs) during the conflict.
The decision to erect the addition to the memorial was codified under the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Act in October 2016.
According to the National Parks Service (NPS), the Wall of Remembrance was meant to 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.” However, a report from the New York Times has revealed that a number of names are missing, with some of those inscribed being misspelled.
According to Hal Barker, the historian behind the Korean War Project database, there are an estimated 1,015 misspelled words and names of deceased servicemen on the Wall of Remembrance. Additionally, the names of 245 veterans whose deaths were not related to the war were accidentally inscribed on the granite, while 500 of those intended to be added were completely omitted.
Among those whose names were misspelled is Lt. Junior Grade John “Jack” Koelsch, the first helicopter pilot to receive the Medal of Honor. He was held prisoner following his chopper being downed by enemy fire while trying to rescue another pilot. Despite repeated torture by his captors, he refused to reveal any information that would potentially aid the enemy. He died of dysentery and malnutrition while held captive.
Another whose name was butchered is Cpl. Frederick Bald Eagle Bear, misspelled on the Wall of Remembrance as “Eagle B F Bald.” The recipient of the Silver Star, he served with the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division and was killed in action (KIA) on March 11, 1953.
Among those mistakenly included on the Wall of Remembrance include a US Marine who lived for another 60 years after the war, a soldier who accidentally drank antifreeze thinking it was alcohol and one who was killed while riding a motorcycle in Hawaii.
When the decision to add a list of individual servicemen to the Korean War Veterans Memorial was made, the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation approached Barker and his brother, Edward, for a complete list of names. They agreed, but noted it would take time to check and proofread each name before they were etched into the Wall of Remembrance.
However, it appears an error-riddled list was provided, instead, by the Department of Defense, which the Barkers say didn’t appear to have “much rhyme or reason,” according to the New York Times article.
This was a concern for the NPS, which encountered issues with servicemen accidentally being omitted from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. This led to over 300 names being added in the decades since it was unveiled.
The brothers point the blame at various federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation. In response to the new report, the former released a statement, which read, “We encourage all family members or concerned citizens to notify the Department of any names that were omitted, misspelled, or included in error.”
In a separate article by WUSA9, a Department spokesperson said, “The errors are a very unfortunate mistake and the DOD is working in tandem with the Dept. of Interior to correct those mistakes.”
The Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation declined to comment when approached by the New York Times.
For their part, the Barkers have said that the entire project should be scrapped and a new Wall of Remembrance constructed, this time without any of the names being misspelled.