Mistake-Riddled Korean War Memorial Sparks Congressional Inquiry

Marine bugler participates in the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Dedication Ceremony
A Marine bugler participates in the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance Dedication Ceremony in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Josue Patricio)

A group of bipartisan legislators are "deeply concerned" about how thousands of errors ended up permanently etched into a Korean War memorial meant to honor the more than 36,000 service members who died during the conflict.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance -- a $22 million project unveiled last summer -- contains more than one thousand spelling mistakes, incorrectly includes nearly 250 troops who died outside of the conflict, and omits about 500 others who should be on it, according to the independent Korean War Project, numbers first published by The New York Times.

"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," six lawmakers from both chambers of Congress wrote in a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last week. "We find these errors deeply concerning and write to seek accountability on how the Remembrance Wall's glaring flaws went unnoticed until post-construction."

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The call for accountability included a request for a formal explanation from the Defense Department about how the errors came to be, due by the end of the month.

The letter pointed to previous legislation meant to establish the Remembrance Wall, which directed the DoD to "transmit a complete, accurate list based on such criteria to the Department of the Interior" for its construction. That apparently did not occur.

"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," the letter said.

Military Times was first to report in 2021 that the Korean War Project, a database of Korean War casualties run by two Dallas-based brothers, Hal and Ted Barker, had warned that the soon-to-be constructed memorial would have errors.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, the nonprofit charged with building the memorial, used data from the Defense Department, which was never scrubbed of errors, according to The New York Times.

"That stone needs to be fixed," Neil Thorne, an Army veteran and volunteer military historian, told Military.com on Tuesday. "Moreover, though, I would say you have a database problem."

Thorne, who processes paperwork for lost medals for veterans and was recently credited with recreating the documentation for Col. Paris Davis that finally led to his receiving the Medal of Honor on Friday, pointed to several possible reasons for the errors, including that the DoD may have misread the original records during transcription or that the records could have been put together by hand.

"In World War II, Korea, Vietnam -- you're also dealing with clerk typists who are drafted, many of them, and they're there for two to three years and done," he said. "So even if it's a modern problem with interpreting the records, it also may be further back in how it was recorded at the time."

The lawmakers -- who include House Committee on Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers; ranking member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services Roger Wicker; Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.; and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark. -- called for the Pentagon to furnish a plan to "provide a revised and accurate list of names" to the Department of the Interior and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation.

"We must take the necessary steps to correct the issue, find the communication and research flaws that caused the errors, and ensure such errors are never repeated," the letter said.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

Related: More Than 43,000 Names -- US and Korean -- on New Wall of Remembrance at Korea War Memorial

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