Work begins on Korean War memorial

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Work begins on the new Korean War memorial Saturday in Wailoa Park in Hilo.

An obelisk dedicated to the Big Island’s Korean War dead will stand in Wailoa Park after a decade of waiting.

The East Hawaii chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association has struggled for nearly 10 years to install a Korean War memorial on the island. Now, the Association hopes to finally have the memorial completed by June 25, the 69th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

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Rep. Richard Onishi, who worked with the Veterans Association to get a site for the memorial approved, said part of the delay was because of disagreement surrounding the originally planned site.

“I think part of the original plan was to put it up in Lili‘uokalani Park,” Onishi said, explaining that the Park’s status as a popular tourist attraction would clash with the somber purpose of the war memorial.

After working with county and state agencies, a new location for the memorial was agreed upon: next to the existing Vietnam War memorial in Wailoa Park.

“I really felt for the veterans,” Onishi said, who himself served in the armed forces during the Vietnam War, although not in Vietnam itself.

“I felt compelled to help them out.”

Emile Wery, president of the association, said the memorial has a special significance to the island because there is only one other site in memory of the Korean War dead on the island, located at Hilo Veterans Cemetery No. 1, and that one is incomplete.

Wery said a list of Korean War dead by the National Archives includes several names not featured at the Veterans Cemetery memorial, while some names featured on that memorial died years after the Korean Armistice Agreement that halted the conflict was signed in 1953.

Since discovering the discrepancies, the Veterans Association has been working on finalizing a list of names to be included on the memorial, Wery said.

“Hawaii had the highest casualties per capita of the Korean War,” Wery said. “But there’s nothing on the island in their memory.”

On Saturday, members of the Veterans Association and the Akaka Falls Lions Club began work forming the concrete base of the memorial. After that is completed, and after the Veterans Association completes its list of the dead, the memorial itself will be erected.

Wery said an exact timeframe for when the obelisk itself will be completed is unknown, but he hopes to be able to hold a dedication to the memorial concurrently with the association’s yearly commemoration of the first day of the Korean War.

If that is not possible, Onishi said it would likely be completed before the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice on July 27.

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“You hear the term ‘heroes’ a lot,” Wery said. “But all the heroes are dead. The rest of us are just survivors; our lives went on. Theirs stopped.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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