IN a year of World War II and Vietnam war observances, Americans who served in the Korean war of 1950-53 may finally get some long-deserved recognition. Legislation providing for a Korean war memorial in Washington is expected to be approved this year. Recognition of the 350,000 Americans who served and the 54,259 who died in that inconclusive conflict has been too long in coming. Although there is no justification for such neglect, there are reasons, starting with the fact that the war ended in a stalemate that still exists.
Also, there were humiliating circumstances for both armies and individuals -- the retreat from the Yalu River in the winter of 1950-51 after Chinese Communist troops swarmed over the Manchurian border; the dismissal from command by President Truman of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, one of America's most brilliant military heroes; the defection to the Communist side by a score of American prisoners of war.
Korea signaled a period of deep-freeze in the cold war. And, of course, a US Army division still looks across the 38th parallel at North Korean troops, maintaining an uncomfortable but seemingly permanent truce.
But, as has been done for those who served in Vietnam, it is time not only to honor those who gave their lives in Korea, and also to give credit to all who, 35 years ago, joined in collective action against blatant aggression. Sixteen nations contributed troops to the UN force, although the 350,000 Americans and 400,000 South Koreans carried the major burden.
Much of the war was fought by foot soldiers in grinding, hill-by-hill actions and in extremes of cold and heat. Most of the 10,218 US servicemen who were captured were force-marched to prison camps along the Yalu River in North Korea.
Many who remained in the military reserves after World War II were called back to serve in the Korean conflict; some who had been in German or Japanese prison camps wound up as prisoners of war in Korea.
Under the proposed legislation the Korean war veterans' memorial in Washington would be funded at $5 million. Private donations will be accepted by the American Battle Monuments Commission and used to offset the government's outlay.
Thus, one more long-overdue debt to American servicemen will be paid.