Wallace Levin is a 3rd generation San Franciscan and a veteran of the Korean War. He's an advocate for veterans and has worked tirelessly over the years with the San Francisco Mayor's Veterans Day Parade Committee and many other organizations. Levin was also instrumental in inspiring the State of California to name the stretch of Highway 1 that runs through the Presidio "Veterans Boulevard." For 15 years, Levin chaired the Mayor's Memorial Day Citizens Committee, which hosts its annual commemoration at San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio.
Tell us a little bit about your ties to the Presidio.
My family has been in San Francisco for 110 years. As a kid during World War II, the soldiers at the Presidio were my heroes. At that time, the country was united behind the war. The soldiers were the people who faced our enemy eye-to-eye and sometimes gave up their lives.
In 1952, after graduating from college, I enlisted in the Army, and for three years I was in the Army Security Agency. I was deployed out of the Presidio and, after 19 months overseas, I returned to the Presidio for my last few months of service. I actually had a bunk in one of the barracks on the Main Post – it might've even been Building 103, now the Presidio Trust headquarters building.
For me, the greatest thing about being stationed at the Presidio was coming back home and catching that first glimpse of Fort Point. Going out felt traumatic, but coming back was wonderful. Right before I was released from service, I had the chance to meet the biggest hero of the Korean War here, General William F. Dean. He was a prisoner of war in Korea and received the Medal of Honor. In 1955 he was the Deputy Commanding General of the Sixth United States Army at the Presidio. I was at the tailor shop when he came by. I went up to him and shook his hand – it was an honor to meet him. He's now buried at San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio.
Wallace Levin in the Presidio, 1953
Why do you support veterans' organizations?
It's important to remember and honor our veterans. I've always been involved with veterans' organizations in San Francisco. In 1983 I was appointed to the Veterans Affairs Commission, where I served as Secretary, Vice President, and President. I've now served on the Mayor's Memorial Day Citizens Committee for more than 30 years, and I've had the honor of being the appointed San Francisco County Veterans Service Officer for San Francisco for 15 years.
In 2013, to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, we dedicated the Memorial Day ceremony to Major General William F. Dean and placed a wreath upon his grave. It was an important day for me – General Walter L. Sharp, U.S. Army (Ret), Chairman of the Korean War 60th Anniversary Commemoration, on behalf of the Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, presented me with a silk American flag that flew over the Pentagon. This is now one of my prized possessions.
You're in the process of finalizing the Presidio's 2016 Memorial Day events – what's in store this year?
The Presidio Memorial Day ceremony is one of the largest events in the nation. It draws more than 2,500 people who come to honor the one million Americans killed while serving in the United States Armed Services.
Every year we have a theme – this year it's "Honor and Remember." Our ceremony will start at the Presidio Officers' Club with the 191st Army Band leading a grand march to San Francisco National Cemetery, where the formal program will take place, and then a 21-gun salute by the U.S. Army's 75th Pacific Division.
This year, we'll have a special tribute to veterans of the Korean War by the honorable Quentin L. Kopp, President of the Korean War Memorial Foundation; John Keker, vice chair of the Presidio Trust Board of Directors, will present a salute to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War; and poet and composer Noah Griffin will honor the 150th anniversary of the Buffalo Soldiers and their history at the Presidio.
On August 1, 2016, a new Korean War Memorial will be unveiled in the Presidio. What does this mean to veterans?
When World War II veterans came home, they were treated as heroes. Five years later, we had the Korean War, and people didn't want that war. It was a terrible war. In just three years, 50,000 Americans and more than one million Koreans were killed. When we returned home, there wasn't the same fan-fair that we saw during World War II. We were ignored. Of course, Vietnam Vets were treated even worse.
The Korean War is often called the "forgotten war." This means there aren't a lot of memorials, so the creation of the Korean War Memorial in the Presidio is a significant event.
As a veteran, I find it's important and good to be remembered. But who will honor our veterans in the future? I see the Presidio Trust as helping to carry the torch. They supported the
Korean War Memorial (in partnership with the Korean War Memorial Foundation) being built in the Presidio and also coordinate the annual Memorial Day Ceremony in San Francisco National Cemetery. They've also done a magnificent job keeping up the Presidio itself. It makes me proud – I find the Presidio more beautiful now than in 1955 when I was stationed here.