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A Special Focus on Veterans of Forgotten War

Television * Memorial Day concert salutes soldiers who served in Korea, as well as others who fought, died.

May 27, 2000|PATRICIA BRENNAN | WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — Veterans of the forgotten war--Korea--will be remembered Sunday when the National Memorial Day Concert focuses on the "conflict," as some still call it, 50 years after it started.

Today, North and South continue to face each other at the peninsula's 38th parallel a half-century after Soviet-backed North Korea invaded the South, which called on the United Nations for help.

In only three years, from June 1950 to July 1953, more than 5.7 million Americans served in Korea. Nearly 37,000 died and more than 103,000 were wounded or disabled. Many U.S. and other soldiers who defended South Korea thought their efforts had been forgotten when their sacrifices went unheralded at home.

They are saluted in the privately funded $18-million Korean War Veterans Memorial at the west end of the Mall. Footage of the memorial and its granite wall, inscribed "Freedom Is Not Free," will be part of the 90-minute concert airing on PBS from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The concert also will be carried by Armed Forces Radio and Television.

The production also salutes the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War and the 55th anniversary of the end of World War II. In Vietnam, more than 8.7 million Americans served from August 1964 to January 1973, the longest war in U.S. history. More than 58,000 U.S. troops died; 153,000 were wounded. More than 16.3 million Americans served in World War II, more than 407,000 died; about 672,000 were wounded.

*

One of the wounded in Korea was 19-year-old Pfc. Ed Reeves, whose poignant letter will be read at the concert by actor Sam Elliott. Reeves was the only survivor of an attack by the Chinese on 600 U.S. Marines and soldiers at Chosin Reservoir, where December temperatures dropped to 35 degrees below zero.

His legs crippled by shrapnel, Reeves was shot in the head and left for dead. He survived, only to be beaten later by Chinese soldiers with their rifle butts. When he was finally rescued and taken to Japan, he heard a military doctor tell a medic not to bother with him "since there was no way I was going to make it."

The encounter at Chosin Reservoir was one of the worst retreats in the history of the U.S. Marines. Of 15,000 there, 12,000 were listed as casualties. Because they were wearing summer uniforms under their parkas, 90% of them had frostbite.

Reeves' feet and all of his fingers were amputated. But he returned to Illinois, married his sweetheart, and raised seven children, two of them Korean orphans. He, his wife and some of their children are scheduled to attend the concert.

Actor John Schneider will host the concert; Erich Kunzel will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra. Others aboard include actors Elliott, Robert Culp, Charles Durning and James Naughton; singers Trisha Yearwood, B.B. King and Harolyn Blackwell; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Gen. Colin Powell.

* The National Memorial Day Concert will air Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on KCET and at 8 p.m. on KVCR.

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