The Korean War Memory Tour Does The Whole Upper Midwest Today

I managed to drive through the Upper Midwestern States of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa in June 2015 stopping at numerous Korean War monuments and memorial infrastructure sites on the way. Of the three, Wisconsin both suffered the worst in the war, with a total of 726 deaths, and has the most memorials recalling Korea including three that were created within a decade of the conflict’s conclusion. The earliest example dates from May 30 of 1955 when the city of Kenosha dedicated a monument to locals who died in the World Wars and the Korean Conflict, decades before dedicating another memorial in 1994 specifically to Korea veterans. In 1957 Red Cloud Park in La Crosse was first dedicated, the same year that the Wisconsin legislature voted to name Volk Field at Camp Douglass. On May 30 of 1960 the small town of Nekoosa dedicated a memorial plaque to local dead from the World Wars and Korea, but it would be more than two decades before another dated memorial naming Korea was built in the state.

On April 29 of 1984 the Osh Kosh Korean War Memorial was dedicated in the corduroy capitol, while in 1989 the city of Arcadia started the Soldiers Memorial walk with funding from Ashley Furniture. In 1990, forty years after the start of the conflict, a marker was installed near the town of Westfield on the northbound Highway 51 rest stop that discusses the Korean War. Erected in 1993 and dedicated in 1994, the official state Korean War Veterans Memorial in Plover consists of statues on an artificial island. In 2003 in the town of Fifield a Korean War memorial Freedom’s Bridge was dedicated at a wayside on state route 13, while in the town of Black River Falls a new Field of Honor was dedicated in September of 2003 with monuments to Korean War veterans in general as well as to Mitchell Red Cloud in particular. On July 28 of 2007 a Korean War tribute was added to the Neilsville High Ground Monument, while in 2010 the legislature declared all US 51 within Wisconsin as the Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway.

Next door in Minnesota, where a total of 700 local citizen soldiers died during the Korean War, there are at least a dozen monuments that mention Korea by name, but none dating from before 1989. As in Wisconsin I did not get to see all the monuments naming the Korean War, since I drove through both states on the same day as I made my way from Indianola to Chicago. According to the American Memorials directory the first dated Minnesota memorial to name the Korean War was dedicated on May 29 of 1989 in the town of Lakefield. The Eagle Veterans Memorial in Aitkin, which also names the World Wars as well as the Vietnam and the Persian Gulf Wars was dedicated in October of 1991, while the Frozen Chosin Memorial in Mankato was dedicated in 1993. The Winona Korean War Memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day of 1996 at a Veterans Memorial Park, only two years before the official state of Minnesota Korean War Veterans Memorial on the capitol grounds in St. Paul was dedicated in 1998.

The next Minnesota monument mentioning Korea, as well as every conflict from the Revolution to the Gulf War, was the Soldiers’ Field Memorial in Rochester which was dedicated on June 25 of 2000, the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the conflict. The Korean War section of this memorial notes that “To those who fought in it, Korea will never be the forgotten war” (as can be seen in the image at the top of this page). The Korean War Memorial at Veterans Memorial Park in Long Prairie was dedicated in October 2002. Moreover, as described on the Minnesota local monuments page of the KWVA website, the town of Fairmount dedicated a memorial sometime before October of 2002 and the town of Babbitt finally dedicated their own memorial a year later after a concerted effort by the local VFW post. It was in August of 2003 that the city of Duluth dedicated its Korean War Memorial, not long after Minnesota Public Radio ran a story highlighting the history of Company B from Duluth. On August 31 of 2006 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights a plaque was dedicated in honor of Korean War veterans, while on May 28 of 2008 a plaque was unveiled at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Little Falls.

Directly south of Minnesota in the state of Iowa, which experienced 507 deaths during Korea, there are far fewer dated monuments mentioning the Korean War, although there are also several other undated memorials that denote Korea, such as in the town of Clinton on the Mississippi which recently failed to approve a highway named for Korean War veterans or the city of Red Oak in southwest Iowa. Though also undated, it is likely that the Junior Edwards marker in the Oddfellows Cemetery in Indianola was the earliest monument built in Iowa to mention Korea, though it must date from after the war itself since it notes he is the only Iowan to receive the Medal of Honor during the Korean War. Following five years of efforts the official state Korean War Memorial was dedicated in Des Moines on May 28 of 1989, the same year Fremont County’s War Memorial in Sidney was dedicated to WWI, WWII, and Korea Vets. In 2004 in Dyersville, home of the Field of Dreams, the first of several murals, on Korea, was completed. Finally, in 2012 the legislature designated a bridge on I-380 over the Iowa River in Johnson County as the Harold DeGear Memorial Bridge to honor the WWII and Korea vet who died while a Highway Patrolman.

When looking at the three states together several patterns begin to emerge, which may well be true for other Korean War memorials and require testing in the remaining two blog posts of this series. First, though only Iowa and Wisconsin saw the construction of Korean Conflict monuments during the decade after the armistice was signed, all three states saw a surge in Korean War memorialization from the mid-1980s through the early 2000s, which supports the ubiquity of a Korean War Memory Boom. Second, all three have official state memorials which were dedicated during the 1990s that are either centrally located (as in Plover and Des Moines) and/or on the state capitol grounds (as in Des Moines and St. Paul). Third, in all three states the Korean War is mentioned on monuments that also honor those who fought in other wars or specific individuals who in some cases had long military careers. Finally, in all three states memorialization moved beyond just locating monuments in government plazas to include dedicating bridges and highways as well as placing memorials in fairgrounds and cemeteries.

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