What is the Korean War Veterans Memorial? (with picture)

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
Today, the Korean penninsula remains divided between communist-controlled North Korea and free market-oriented South Korea.
Today, the Korean penninsula remains divided between communist-controlled North Korea and free market-oriented South Korea.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is an area in Washington, D.C. on the National Register of Historic Places. It is dedicated to the servicemen who died or were wounded during the Korean War (1950-1953). The very distinct memorial features slightly larger than life-size figures in the likeness of soldiers walking through rough terrain in full battle uniforms. There are also several walls and memorials with the names of the dead, wounded, and missing.

Authorized by United States Congress in 1986, the Korean War Veterans Memorial was built in the shape of a triangle culminating in an intersection with a circle. The 164 foot (50 meter) long walls are made of highly polished granite from California and depict sandblasted images from archival photos of the conflict. A reflecting pool, called the Pool of Remembrance, is present within the circle at the tip of the triangle. Several benches and inscriptions surround the pool, many with the numbers of soldiers killed, wounded, and missing. Further, a nearby plaque reads, "Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met." Another inscription reads, "Freedom is not Free."

Within the triangle of the Korean War Veterans Memorial stand 19 stainless steel statues. They are approximately 7 feet (2 meters) tall and represent soldiers from different branches of the military. Each statue weighs about 1000 pounds (453 kilograms). They were designed by Frank Gaylord, and they appear to be marching through the rough terrain of North and South Korea; the plants are actually juniper bushes and granite strips.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located in Washington D.C.'s West Potomac Park, not far from the Lincoln Memorial and very close to the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. The memorial is a stark reminder of the armed military conflict between Koreans from the north and Koreans from the south and the first major conflict of the Cold War. The conflict, which claimed the lives of over 54,000 American troops and wounded another 103,000, was fought between the United States-occupied south and the Soviet-occupied north. The conflict turned to all-out war after skirmishes and battles near the 38th Parallel, the dividing line established by the United States after Japan's surrender during World War II. After the North Koreans invaded the south, the United States stepped in to repel the attack. China became involved shortly thereafter, and the Korean War began.

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Discussion Comments


The Korean War Memorial is a joke. Nineteen figures all wearing rain ponchos. Why ponchos when the two uniforms made famous during the war were the combat uniforms of the Army and Marine Corps and the winter parka uniform worn by both services? The winter war was the most famous of the entire campaign and the fighting in the terrible summer months was also a hallmark of the war.

So, why do all the figures wear ponchos when rain was not the dominating weather in Korea? Well, putting a poncho on the 19 figures meant that the artist could gather together 19 different heads and 49 arms and legs and get away with doing nothing to clothe the figures, because of the concealing poncho.

It's a pretty cheesy way to get over on the memorial foundation and the public and especially the Korean Veterans, who the monument is supposed to represent.


@lonelygod - The memorial wall is actually reflective too and offers a better chance to see the mirror image of the statues than the pool does. The Korean War Memorial photos seem to make it look quite a bit larger than I recall it appeared when I saw it in person. I guess that is true of many monuments in the world. Nevertheless, as I recall it is one of the better monuments in Washington. The Marine Corps War Memorial is hard to beat, but the designer had that powerful Iwo Jima image to work with in the first place. if you look at Korean War Memorial pictures taken in the wintertime you can see that it looks just as effective in the snow.


I have also seen this memorial and when I saw it the tour guide told us the number of statues originally designed for it was thirty-eight, but it was cut down by various considerations to the final design of nineteen, using the mirror reflection of the pool to reach the figure of thirty-eight. It is quite a contrast to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial nearby, they are both very somber but go about it in completely different ways.

I have not been to Washington since the World War 2 Memorial was constructed but I have heard some criticisms about its location and design, I wonder if it has negatively changed the dynamics of the area. Can anyone who has been to Washington more recently address this criticism?


@robbie21 - I've seen it, too, along with the WWII Memorial, Lincoln, Jefferson, etc. I think everyone should really make the effort to get to DC once in their lives. Don't use a tour bus; don't rush. You don't have to see everything. It's better to really *see* what you do go look at.

The memorials are all so different, and they all convey different things. The WWII memorial is grander than the Korean or the Vietnam, and that seems fitting somehow. Lincoln looks aged, exhausted, the weight of the world on his shoulders, while Jefferson is depicted standing, looking energetic and hopeful about his young country.

Let yourself be moved. Take time to appreciate and think about what the monuments represent.


I've seen this memorial, and it's very moving. The just-larger-than-life soldiers look so darn tired. They really appear to be trudging, and one gets the idea they've been rained on. You really picture the war as a long, wet, dirty slog.

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    • Today, the Korean penninsula remains divided between communist-controlled North Korea and free market-oriented South Korea.
      Today, the Korean penninsula remains divided between communist-controlled North Korea and free market-oriented South Korea.