As we approach the historic summit between United States and North Korean leaders, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, the 1950-1953 Korean War — officially never ended — has resurfaced in the American consciousness.
The Korean War — often called the forgotten war — did not define its generation as did World War Two. To many Americans, the war seemed a faraway Cold War geopolitical maneuver which never existentially threatened the homeland. Most Americans were relieved when the conflict was resolved at a standstill and the troops came home. Ultimately, the Korean War would be overshadowed by our next Asian intervention — the Vietnam War — whose trauma and tragedy did define a generation.
Nonetheless, all wars claim their victims. About 20,000 Rochestarians served in the Korean War. 165 were killed. Memorials to the fallen can be seen around Monroe County.
The most prominent Korean War memorials are in Whitehaven Memorial Park on Marsh Road in Penfield. Visiting on a brilliant life affirming sunlit day, I encountered the stones with a sense of sadness, admiration for what the men sacrificed and hope that they did not die (and, yes, kill) in vain.
In Korean War Memorials, State of New York, Donald Cofsky provides background on the KWVA Chapter 58 Monroe County (NY) Korean War Veterans Memorial:
As preliminary plans were being made for a Memorial by the Chapter, an Artist who lived in the area and who had adopted two little Korean girls, approached the committee and offered to try to find a ‘theme’ that would be satisfying to the members, and very respectful of the 165 Monroe County vets who had not made it home from Korea.
He visited the Quarry in California where the stone for the National Memorial originated, and chose two huge boulders, to represent, as he said, “the barren, rocky hills of Korea,”he had seen when visiting Korea to pick up his two little adopted daughters.
The boulders finish is left rough, as the hills were, and there is no front or back, all sides are equal for viewing, with the Flag, flowing around one end and down the front on one corner; the famous Picture of the Medic and soldiers engraved on another corner. The irony is that scant feet from this engraving is the grave of the Medic pictured who, after returning to the Rochester area, became an officer in the Monroe County Chapter. On another large area is engraved the names of the 165 men who did not get to return home, and who are Honored at each service the Chapter holds at their Memorial.
On Saturday, July 27th, 1996, amidst a crowd of over 1,000 visitors, the Memorial was dedicated. The program called together many Veterans of the Korean War who had never met, and a large number of Veterans of other wars to share in the camaraderie of being a Veteran. The Colors of our Country were massed with those of 25 other Veterans groups and the Walk of Honor was resplendent in the Colors of the twenty-two Nations of the United Nations Command which served in Korea.
A service is held each June 25th and all Flags are lowered to half-staff as Remembrance until July 27th when they are returned to full staff at a closing ceremony.
Less well known is the Korean War Commemorative Park at the entrance to the Kirk-Astor Neighborhood. Like many I have passed the Park, but never looked that closely. That day, I met Holly Hindman enjoying the park on her jog. Holly said her neighbors appreciate the pleasant and respectful memorial. Holly also introduced me to Jim Weller, the unofficial historian of the Kirk-Astor Neighborhood. Jim shared his history of the Park, KOREAN WAR COMMEMORATIVE PARK, including pictures from its dedication.
Jim Weller’s history:
From 1999 to 2001, Route 441 in the area of Rte. 490 was expanded from a divided four lane highway to a divided six lane highway. This included closing the entrance point to Rte. 441 at Kirk Drive and creating a new entrance point for both Kirk and Astor Drives at the end of Astor Drive. The entrance point from Glen Road, which had been opposite Kirk Drive, was also relocated to a new point opposite the new Kirk-Astor entrance. This resulted in the creation of a new triangular piece of land between the new sound wall, the Kirk-Astor entrance and Rte. 441.
With the highway improvements nearing completion, a group of veterans who had served in the Korean War (1950-1953) adopted the roadside maintenance of Route 441 from Route 490 to the Village of Penfield as their community service project. Over the next ten years, each Spring, Summer and Fall the veterans walked the highway and picked up litter and debris from the roadside. In connection with this service project, a road sign was erected on Rte. 441 at the 490 W exit ramp dedicating Rte. 441 as the Korean War Memorial Highway.
In conjunction with this service project, the veterans also requested permission from the NYS DOT to build and maintain a Korean War Commemorative Park on the vacant triangle of land on Rte. 441 at the new entrance to the Kirk-Astor neighborhood.
Permission was given in May 2001 to the Korean War Veterans Association Monroe County Chapter No. 1, Inc., Donald Cofsky [of Penfield], President. Work was immediately started which involved the installation of flag pole surrounded by pavers and a decorative garden. The pavers were painted red and blue in the yin and yang emblem of South Korea. Around the emblem are the names and service dates of the Korean War Veteran’s who are members of this chapter. The Commemorative Park was dedicated on July 28, 2001 and included remarks by the Consul General of the Republic of Korea, Brighton Supervisor Sandra Frankel and elected representatives from New York State and Monroe County.
For many years the Veterans planted annual flowers and performed weeding, watering and trimming at the site with the assistance of John Leyland. For many years mowed the grass at least once a week, watered the lawns and flower beds as needed and provided the heavy maintenance work the park required. When asked one day why he was so devoted to this cause, he commented he had never been in the military so it was his way of thanking those men and women who had served. After 2010 this activity began to diminish as the years were taking their toll on the physical abilities and number of living members.
As had been discussed with the neighborhood, the Kirk-Astor Park District took over the grass mowing while members of the Kirk-Astor Neighborhood Association took over the weeding and trimming. In 2015, after three years of repeated requests to the Town of Brighton, the Kirk-Astor Park District took over full maintenance of the site including mowing, trimming, mulching and the maintenance of the pavers, the flags and the flag pole.
The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Highland Park also honors Korean War veterans with a stone bench named: Never Again Should One Generation of Veterans Forget Another.
The Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor includes multiple inscriptions on the Korean War chronicling the history of the “police action” that took so many lives. Let us at least hope the summit in Singapore can finally lead to an end of the war — on paper and in spirit.