During the Korean War (June 25, 1950 - July 27, 1953), more than 50,000 Americans and one million Koreans lost their lives. Despite this toll and the impact on families, there wasn't a lot of fan-fare when veterans returned home. "The Korean War is often called the "forgotten war,'" said veteran Wallace Levine in his recent Presidio Stories PlaceMaker interview. "This means there aren't a lot of memorials, so the creation of the Korean War Memorial at the Presidio is a significant event."
On August 1, 2016, a new Korean War Memorial opened at the Presidio. Built by the Korean War Memorial Foundation and the Presidio Trust, it honors those who served and describes the sacrifices made to fight a war in the name of freedom.
More than 800 guests attended the event and heard from distinguished speakers, including U.S. military leaders, representatives from the Republic of Korea, ambassadors, and Peace Medal recipients.
Located just outside San Francisco National Cemetery, the Korean War Memorial is now open to the public.
During the opening ceremony on August 1, 2016, we asked guests, "What brought you here today and what does the Korean War Memorial mean to you?"
Photo credit: Charity Vargas
Frank Broz (San Francisco): I'm a retired National Chief Radioman, United States Navy, so this memorial is very important to me. I was in Korea right out of high school in 1952 on an LST [long slow target] out of San Diego – it was actually so slow we never arrived. I'm a native San Franciscan, and after my military service, I worked for 32 years in Santa Clara County as a school teacher. The Korean War Memorial Foundation called me recently and asked if I'd receive the first medal for the group as they pass out the rest of the medals to the Ambassadors for Peace recipients. I said I'd be happy to.
Laura (11), John (10), and Christy Westbrook and Nicole Kepmes
Christy Westbrook (San Rafael): My son is singing in the San Francisco Boys Chorus today.
John Westbrook (San Rafael): I'm in the San Francisco Boys Chorus and it was exciting to sing today. I've actually sung the National Anthem at an Oakland A's game, too.
Joe Velasquez (San Francisco): I came because I'm a Korean War veteran, and I've been involved in the Korean War Association here in California for quite a few years. I was born and raised in San Francisco and this ceremony means a lot to me.
Clara and Theresa Villatore
Theresa Villatore (South San Francisco): I wanted to honor my dad, who fought in the war. He was awarded a Purple Heart because he was wounded, so it's been a long time coming and I'm glad to see this memorial built to honor the people who fought. Unfortunately, my dad died 27 years ago, so that's why I brought his photo with us today. We want to support the memorial and see the brick we bought in his honor.
Clara Villatore (South San Francisco): When I went to Washington D.C., I got to see the Korean War Memorial and it's very nice. It's just like a field that has the statues of the servicemen. When we saw it at nighttime, it looked like their eyes were open and shining because they had light in them. It was beautiful and I'm glad there's one here in San Francisco today. I think he would've been very happy that it was finally built. His name was Richard Villatore.
Patrick and Lester Cannon, and Reynard Camp
Lester Cannon (Stockton): The ceremony was really nice – it kind of brought back memories. It was 66 years ago when that war started. I'm a regular Army guy. I volunteered in 1948, so I was in the Army for two years before the war started. I remember it was a Sunday and someone said, "We're going to Korea." I was 18 years-old and from Arkansas – I didn't know where Korea was. I was in Korea a short time – I think it was 1950 or 1951 and the tour of duty lasted nine months.
I had great opportunities in the military and I got the chance to see the world. I'm one of the lucky ones – lots of people didn't make it out, but I did. That morning, when we were coming back from Korea on a ship, someone said, "Hey man, we can see San Francisco." I left from the Presidio and came back the same way.
Patrick Cannon (Stockton, Lester's son): I'm here to support my dad.
Reynard Camp (Stockton, Lester's grandson): My brother's actually in the Air Force, as is my Uncle Patrick, but to me, growing up, the Korean War wasn't something you paid much attention to. And then when I got older, it kind of hit me when I saw how war and the government's decisions can really affect people and our history – I finally saw that this war actually happened and it changed people's lives forever. And then when you have someone in your family that was a part of it, it makes it even more real.
Kyu and Chi Lee
Kye Lee (Oakland): I fought in the Korean War and I'm a veteran on the Korean side. I was Korean and now I'm an American. I'm very happy I came to the ceremony today.
Chi Lee (Oakland): We wanted to come to the Korean War Memorial Opening Ceremony today, and we're happy we did.Korean War Memorial, August 1, 2016