Local organizations and the Wilsonville government are planning an interpretive center next to the Oregon Korean War Memorial in Wilsonville dedicated to what has been called "The Forgotten War."
The groups, which include the Korean War Veterans Association Oregon Trail Chapter and the Korean War Memorial Foundation of Oregon (KWMFO), are currently deciding what will go into the center, which will be located at the city's Parks and Recreation Administrative building near the memorial in Town Center Park.
KWMFO Interim Chair Greg Caldwell said the center should be completed in about a year and will feature media and memorabilia about the history of the war and Oregonians who fought in it. The two organizations are raising money to finance the center and the city will maintain it once it's finished. The city is also tasked with maintaining the memorial itself.
"I think it's a way to honor our veterans. It is a way to educate particularly young people and the public about the service and sacrifice of the Korean War. Third, we want to emphasize that it was worth that sacrifice because of what Korea has become today," Caldwell said.
While the memorial includes the names of Oregonians who fought in the war, Caldwell hopes the interpretive center will serve to further humanize the conflict by telling the vivid stories of veterans, like a photographer who was a prisoner of war for many months after their plane was shot down, and a machine gunman whose compatriots were killed in combat and who fought in frigid temperatures.
"You can look on the wall and say there's so many names here but what do those names represent? What is their story?" Caldwell said. "It's not just looking at a name on the wall. There's stories behind it, courage behind it, sacrifice behind it, death behind it. They all have different stories."
Caldwell also hopes there will be explanations of memorable sayings associated with the conflict such as "Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met" and "Freedom is not free."
Chuck Lusardi, president of the Korean War Veterans Association Oregon Trail Chapter, said it was important for the organizations to develop the center sooner rather than later since Korean War veterans are dying in increasingly rapid numbers.
Caldwell also hoped that people who visit the center will come to realize the impact the war had on South Korea, which has been one of the world's success stories in terms of economic development and democratic governance in recent decades.
"Basically, we saved South Korea. If we had not intervened, they would have been a communist country just like the North," he said.
Lusardi also said they hope to highlight the Americans who have served in Korea over the many decades since the armistice between the North and South was agreed upon. He added that the memorial has become a popular destination for dignitaries visiting from South Korea and that he envisioned that the center could be used as a part of ceremonies and events that take place at the memorial.
"The area we're trying to add to that is the younger generation, our students and children who can get a better understanding of what the memorial is all about — why it's there, the costs of freedoms they enjoy day in and day out," Lusardi said.
Caldwell said the center will cost $150,000 to develop and that they've received a $45,000 donation from the South Korean government as well as $65,000 from other donors. The center will be located in a 350-square-foot room.
For more information, visit www.kwmfo.org.
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