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Korean War Vets Plan Monument to Fallen

June 25, 1987|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

As international attention focuses on violent clashes in South Korea, a group of American soldiers who fought there more than three decades ago will gather in San Pedro today to announce plans for a Korean War monument overlooking the Pacific.

The memorial will honor the 54,246 Americans who died in the Korean War, which began 37 years ago today when North Korea invaded South Korea.

The veterans say the monument will be the first in the United States to pay tribute to those who fought in the Korean conflict, commonly referred to as the "Forgotten War" by survivors.

The memorial, to be designed by sculptor Felix de Weldon, who created the Iwo Jima monument in Arlington, Va., will sit on bluffs overlooking the ocean at Angels Gate Park.

"We looked at a lot of sites in Valley Forge, Washington, San Diego and San Antonio, but this place is so damn perfect," said Frank Kerr, president of the Chosin Few, a Boston-based veterans group that has organized the memorial drive. "The symbolism and the emotionalism are important to us. . . . It represents the last U. S. territory seen by the guys who never made it back (many shipped out of San Pedro)."

The 1,800-ton memorial will portray 15 bronze soldiers on a granite base, reaching 40 feet at its highest point. The soldiers will be fighting in the snow, a scene inspired by the 1950 battle of the Chosin Reservoir in the mountains of North Korea near Manchuria.

During that battle, about 120,000 Chinese troops ambushed American, British and South Korean troops, which numbered 12,000 to 15,000, according to the Chosin Few, a group of survivors of the battle. Temperatures fell to 25 degrees below zero during the 13-day conflict, which left 3,000 American, British and South Korean soldiers dead and 6,000 wounded. About 25,000 Chinese were killed and 12,500 wounded.

The bronze figures will be cast at De Weldon's studio in Rome, and the granite for the base will be shipped to San Pedro from Sweden and South Korea, according to Jack Stites, California chairman of the Chosin Few.

The monument will be encircled by low walls identifying South Korea and the 15 countries that fought on its behalf. The names of the nearly 300,000 people from those countries who died in the conflict will be listed in books at the base of the monument.

In naming the Angels Gate site today, the group will launch a $6-million international fund-raising drive to pay for the project. Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington it will be built with private funds.

The group's drive is separate from an effort approved by Congress in October to build a Korean War memorial in Washington with a $1-million federal contribution.

"This is not a monument to the Chosin Few, it is a monument to everyone that served in the Korean War," Stites said. "It just so happens that the Chosin Few initiated this, and some of us are still involved in it. Felix de Weldon chose the design."

The monument will be erected south of the Korean Friendship Bell, a gift to the United States from South Korea for the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. Land for the monument--about 1 1/2 acres--is expected to be donated by the city of Los Angeles, and the Chosin Few will maintain it, according to city officials.

The project, however, still needs final approval from the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, which runs Angels Gate Park, and the state Coastal Commission, which oversees oceanfront development. David Conetta, land management supervisor for the Department of Recreation and Parks, said department commissioners have granted conceptual approval but that public hearings will be held when the veterans group submits final plans.

"The board felt it complements the Korean Bell and also seems to have cultural significance in the city since we are the westerly point on the movement to Korea," Conetta said. "We want to encourage them to be successful in the project."

While numerous civic groups, such as the San Pedro Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, support the monument, some nearby residents may not.

Gregory L. Smith, president of the Point Fermin Residents Assn., which represents residents near Angels Gate Park, said the group "expressed concern" about the monument at its meeting in March. Smith said homeowners were concerned about the size.

"It would be quite long and quite huge, and the people to the east of the vicinity--on 38th, 39th and 40th streets--were concerned that it would loom high on the horizon," Smith said.

Conetta said the city will consider neighbors' concerns before it makes a decision.

Today's announcement will come during a 10:30 a.m. memorial service at the park for those who died in the war.

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