On Tuesday, two women stood in front of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, with their hands full of red roses. Each of them has come a long way – Megan Marks from Parker, Colorado and Terry Mumley from Powell, Tennessee. They came to the wall to pay their respects and protest. On the wall are the names of 36,634 Americans who died in the war. But for two women it was flawed and incomplete; the wall erected to honor veterans who died in the Korean War did just the opposite, humiliating many of them as well as their families.
Seventy years ago, on January 18, 1953, Lloyd Smith Jr., Mumley’s grandfather, and Dwight Angell, Marx’s mother’s husband, died in a plane crash during the Korean War. Both men were on board a US Navy patrol aircraft that crash-landed in the frigid waters between China and Taiwan after being hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire. They survived, and they and nine other crew members waited for four hours in and around the life raft until a Coast Guard rescue aircraft showed up and rescued them. But then the plane crashed. By the time the destroyer appeared a few hours later, eleven men were dead or missing. Among them were Smith and Angell.
But the newly erected wall of the Korean War does not hold their names, nor the names of the other nine people who died on that terrible day in 1953. In fact, as I wrote in Texas Monthly in August, there are many errors on the wall – omissions of hundreds of sailors, soldiers, pilots and marines who died in the war, but were not recognized as official losses, as well as more than a thousand spelling errors. This entire episode is a disgrace to a country that usually strives to properly commemorate its fallen soldiers.
In front of NewsNation reporters and local CBS and NBC affiliates, Mumli and Marks stood in front of a wall and read the statement in turn. “We are gathered here to recognize the greatest sacrifice of eleven brave Americans made seventy years ago today,” read Marx. “These men were Navy and Coast Guard crews dedicated to the service of their country. They were sons, brothers, husbands and fathers. All heroes. Unfortunately, although they served during the Korean War, their names do not appear here among the names of their brothers and sisters in arms. An arbitrary line drawn by government officials who understand nothing about this war hides their names from this wall of memory.
The two then read aloud the names of the eleven, placing a red rose on the wall for each. Mumley ended with “And my beloved grandfather Lloyd Smith, United States Navy” while Marks read, “And my mother’s beloved husband Dwight Angell, United States Navy.” The ceremony ended in less than three minutes.
My Texas Monthly the story was not only about the wall. It was a profile of Hal and Ted Barker, two brothers from Dallas who, through their Korean War Project group, have dedicated their lives to compiling an accurate list of war dead. They did this with the help of publicly available data sources and information obtained from the survivors of the dead, essentially by crowdsourcing an accurate list. For years, when the Barkers made corrections to the official database, they tried to alert the Department of Defense and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Fund (the group that funds the wall) of the errors, but they were ignored. Finally, in August 2021, in desperation, the two self-published their own book of over 528 pages containing the names of 37,053 dead. Hal told me in July, “This wall is going to be a colossal disgrace.”
He was right. Earlier this month The newspaper “New York Times did a wall error story (with a focus also on the Barker brothers) and then Washington Post (also singling out Marx). Business Insider intervened, as did Washington Examiner. The British are angry, the Koreans too. “There should not be a single mistake on the Wall,” South Korea’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans’ Affairs said in a statement. “After conducting an exhaustive review in cooperation with the US Department of Defense and the South Korean Department of Defense, [we] quickly confirm any errors and correct them, if any.”
Although many people talk about wall bugs, no one really does anything to fix them. The fund declined to comment. once or After, but its chief executive told me last summer that all the mistakes were the fault of the Department of Defense. This was reported by the National Park Service. once. The Department of Defense blamed the army, navy, air force and marines for this: “The relevant military departments have checked every name on the Korean War casualty list against available official military records,” the spokesman said. After. “Although not common, the official records themselves may have contained errors.”
Hal Barker did 25 interviews last week, but he doesn’t expect anything to get done. “I have no illusions that the Department of Defense will take notice,” he told me via email Tuesday. “I don’t think this will ever be fixed. The Department of Defense and the Foundation will hope that all this will pass.” Repairs would be too expensive, he said; plus, the whole situation is connected with a massive bureaucracy. “I hope we are at a tipping point, but this is the government. Senate military/GAO only [Government Accountability Office] an audit can tip the balance, which means one to two years.”
On Thursday, Marks and Mumli will deliver a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee asking them to investigate and correct any errors on the wall. They have no idea if it will matter. But after the presentation, they were just glad they came to the wall.
“It’s important for us to be here for the seventieth anniversary,” Marks said. “Despite the fact that these eleven are not on the list, it was important to say their names out loud. It feels like they’re here, even if they’re not there.”
“Seventy years ago,” Mumli said, “they were right now in the water, fighting for their lives.”