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Shortage of Funds Plagues Efforts by Korean War Vets for Memorial

November 09, 1989|SHERYL STOLBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Four months after it achieved a compromise with Los Angeles officials, a group of Korean War veterans says its plans to build a monument in a San Pedro city park are at least one year behind schedule, and its fund raising has suffered.

And to compound the veterans' problems, backers of a congressionally approved national memorial to be built on the Mall in Washington, D.C., have made a major fund-raising push in Los Angeles, where they raised $25,000 at a cocktail party in Koreatown a month ago.

The party--billed as a "commemoration of the victory in Seoul"--honored the chairman of the Washington memorial committee, retired U.S. Army Gen. Richard G. Stilwell, who in August came to Los Angeles to promote the D.C. memorial effort.

The Stilwell fete enjoyed broad support in Los Angeles' Korean community. Its invitation carried a list of backers that included more than 80 Korean community leaders--from pastors to businessmen to an Olympic gold medalist--and more than 30 Korean organizations.

By contrast, the backers of the San Pedro memorial have not conducted any fund-raisers in Koreatown and have tied themselves to just one group, the Korean Veterans Assn. They say they have been so caught up in trying to meet city requirements for approval that there is little time to raise money.

"It's difficult," said Jack Stites, executive director of the International Korean War Memorial Committee, the group that is backing the San Pedro monument. "(For) the national monument, they have their location; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing all their engineering. The only thing they have to spend any time on is fund raising. That's a pretty nice position to be in."

The $4-million San Pedro memorial is a private effort, proposed by the Chosin Few, a nationwide organization of mostly Marine Corps veterans whose members survived the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Their monument is intended to honor veterans from all 22 nations that joined the Allied forces in Korea.

The Washington memorial, which will honor U.S. veterans, will depict 38 combat-equipped soldiers walking in double file toward an American flag. It will be set in Ash Woods, a grove of trees across the reflecting pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. So far, $4 million of the necessary $7.5 million has been raised for the national memorial, said Ed Borcherdt,a California fund-raiser for the project.

The international memorial is to be built at San Pedro's Angels Gate Park on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Los Angeles Harbor. The park, which was once a military base, also houses the Korean Friendship Bell, a gift to Los Angeles from the South Korean government.

Initially, the veterans sought to erect their monument next to the bell--a site that Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley offered them in 1986. But that plan ran into trouble when San Pedro residents complained that the centerpiece of the monument--a larger-than-life-size sculpture that depicts a battle scene--would destroy the bell's peaceful setting.

After a protracted series of hearings, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission--the first of four city and state agencies that must approve the monument--sided with the residents but gave the veterans preliminary approval to build the monument elsewhere in the park.

The switch in sites has sent the veterans, who had spent more than $70,000 on engineering studies for the monument, back to the drawing boards. "We've started at ground zero," said Stites. "Everything we did on the other site, with the exception of our aerial survey," is unusable in the new location.

The veterans at first had hoped to begin construction this past July and complete the monument by November, 1990. They now say construction will begin in April and conclude by November, 1991.

But officials at two city departments--Cultural Affairs and Recreation and Parks--say those estimates may be optimistic, and that it may take another year just for the veterans to get all the necessary approvals, including OKs from the state Coastal Commission and the state Office of Historic Preservation.

According to Stites, the delays and lack of final approvals have made some potential contributors leery about giving money to the San Pedro project. "In many cases they're sitting back, waiting to ensure that we have all our approvals before making a contribution," he said.

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