Never forgotten: Broken Arrow’s Korean War Memorial dedicated
By Brittany Harlow, Contributing Writer
The Korean War has often been referred to as “The Forgotten War” throughout history.
On Tuesday, hundreds of supporters of the nation’s military descended on Veterans Park to observe the unveiling of a Korean War Memorial, proclaiming Korean War soldiers would never be forgotten in Broken Arrow.
Approximately 37,000 Americans were killed and more than 100,000 wounded during the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. Historians describe it as “relatively short but exceptionally bloody”.
Sgt. James “Jim” Holman was one of nearly 1.8 million American heroes who served in the Korean War. He went over when he was just 17, having altered his birth certificate to join the Marines at 16.
“Two days later the Korean War started,” Holman said. “And I was sent to Korea. Spent a year over there.”
“You grow up quick. Real quick.”
Holman served as a rifleman with the 1st Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division, receiving the National Defense Service, the Korean Service and the United Nations Service medals, and the Combat Action ribbon just a few years ago for his service.
“It was very cold,” Holman said. “The temperature, like forty below zero. The chill factor, eighty below. A lot of the guys froze.”
Retired Broken Arrow Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Clarence Oliver also spoke of the brutal cold in North Korea at Monday’s event, remembering that he was called to the war one week after it began.
He said they were issued World War II gear and boots that did not protect well against the elements.
“You were issued what they call felt packs that were a thick felt pad about a half an inch thick, that you could wear in the bottom of the boot to take some of the cold weather off,” Oliver said.
They were issued two sets of packs that needed to be swapped out every 12 hours.
“And the only place you could thaw it was inside your underwear or your long johns against your Bible, against your body,” Oliver said.
Oliver said those boots were just one of the details captured by the sculptor of the Korean War Memorial unveiled on Monday, the late J. David Nunneley. Others included the sculpted rifle and even how wide the straps on the combat pack were.
Referenced during the ceremony as a “Broken Arrow treasure”, Nunneley died in February and was not able to see this last work of art installed, his second at the location.
Broken Arrow Mayor Debra Wimpee said the sculpture is the final piece to complete Veterans Park.
“One thing I know is that this city will never forget what our American heroes did long before us,” Wimpee said. “It is so important to me, our council and our city leadership to continue to honor our past, present, and future service members. Part of today’s dedication is to honor a wonderfully talented man, David Nunnelly. To his family, thank you, we’re so sorry for your loss and the loss for our city. We know he is greatly missed.”
City officials say the piece took nearly one year to sculpt. We’re told the memorial cost $162,200 and was paid for through the Broken Arrow Parks Capital Fund.
“We’re very fortunate in Broken Arrow to have six of his sculptures inside the city limits and there's another six that are five minutes away in drives outside the area,” Oliver said.
Oliver also spoke about remembering the MIA soldiers, of which 7,600 remain from the Korean War.
“Now obviously at our age most of those are probably deceased,” Oliver said. “But they’re officially listed as MIA.”
He said roughly 1,600 Americans are MIA from the 10-year period the United States was officially involved in the Vietnam War, a much smaller number than Korea.
“When you see that (MIA) flag again, think that it includes another war that we sometimes have overlooked,” Oliver said.
City Councilor Johnnie Parks and City Councilor Scott Eudey were credited with pushing the Korean War Memorial project forward.
“I want to make sure our youth are responsible and they know about our freedom and the sacrifices that were made,” Parks said. “I’m hoping that this memorial and I’ve often said that it will help them realize as a way my fellow classmates, seven of them over there, that it comes at a price. Freedom comes at a price.”
Parks served in the Army and Honor Guard Company as casket bearer at Arlington Cemetery during the Vietnam War, burying 330 people.
Eudey’s grandfather was a Korean War veteran.
“He said, ‘you know, they forget about us’,” Eudey said. “‘They forget about those of us who fought in the Korean War’ and I’d never seen him comment anything like that until that day. They forget about us. And I thought y’all ought not be forgotten.”
Eudey said telling his grandfather about the memorial was the only time he had ever seen his grandfather cry.
“I don’t want any of you to ever feel forgotten again,” Eudey said. “Because you’re not. We love you. We are grateful for your sacrifice. We are grateful that you took the bullets that we didn’t have to. And I honor you today and I honor the sacrifice you made. And I hope this will always be a remembrance that the Korean War will never be forgotten. It will always be remembered.”
Adam Jones, Deputy District Director for U.S. Congressman Kevin Hern, attended the dedication ceremony on the congressman’s behalf.
He said the cold, rainy weather made Monday’s turnout that more special.
“It warms my heart to see that this community is suffering for just a moment of time with these gentlemen and this hero that is emblematic of them and the work that they've done,” Jones said. “You are not forgotten. And we’ve been told once, we need to be told again. That those that forget our history are destined to repeat it. That’s why this is important.”
Holman said Tuesday’s recognition was overdue, but very much appreciated nonetheless.
“Honor the Forgotten War,” Holman said. “There’s lots of schools and such that list all the wars and they don’t list that.”
He now runs the Northeast Oklahoma Chosin Few, who meet up once a month in Tulsa.
“We still have our meetings,” Holman said. “Not many Korean guys left but the Vietnam guys have stepped up to help us. I was the president of the Northeast Oklahoma Korean War Veterans and now there's hardly any of us left. So I’m glad to be here to represent all of them.”