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Remembering America's most forgotten war

The 24th Olympics start today on battlefields of the Korean war - one day after the 38th anniversary of the American landing at Inchon, which reversed the communist invasion of South Korea. Last night, James Fulk Sr. of Lombard, Ill., was contemplating a less-well-known but more deeply felt ceremony - the dedication of a small monument in a city park here, commemorating those who served from 1950 to 1953 in what had become almost a forgotten war in the United States.

``It's about time,'' says Mr. Fulk, who was in the infantry pushing up from Pusan after the Inchon landing. ``My feelings have been hurt for a long time because I really felt there was no recognition for the Korean vet.''

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At an age when many kids back home were cruising down Main Street in a Chevy, the Indiana farm boy spent nearly three years in communist prison camps.

He was tortured and interrogated with a gun pointed at his head, stripped and made to stand outside at attention in sub-zero weather, starved, and forced to write a letter to his parents calling for peace.

Ready to die, too weak to move, he recalls, ``I made God a promise that I'd live according to his word if I came out of it. And I did, I don't know how. It was his will. I even had to learn to crawl again. It was real bad. Nobody knows how bad.''

He came home, a quiet veteran grateful for the freedoms of his country, to a 1950s America tired of a war with no final victory.

Today, there is recognition of how veterans like Fulk helped set the boundaries that protect the world economic workshop of the Pacific Rim.

Interior Secretary Donald Hodel is expected to approve today the location of a proposed $6 million Korean veterans memorial across from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

Across the country in the past five years, more than 60 Korean war monuments have been built or put on the drawing board, according to James D. (Mike) McKevitt of the D.C. monument's board. Many like the one in Chicago plan to send surplus funds to the national project.

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In California's Angels Gate Park, a $4 million memorial is being financed in part by the Los Angeles Korean-American community.

``It was called the forgotten war, now it might be called the most-remembered forgotten war,'' says Edwin H. Simmons, a retired brigadier general who landed at Inchon and is now director of history and museums for the Marine Corps.

In recent years, surviving veterans of the Korean war era, estimated at about 5 million by the government, watched as Vietnam veterans became a focus of national attention. The public had forgotten, some thought, that in three years in Korea, 54,246 Americans had died - almost as many as during the entire Vietnam ordeal.

It was a war with moments of heroism and humor among the hellishness that made Fulk never tell the full story to his children.

There was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, confidently contradicting the experts and calling for a landing at Inchon that broke every rule. But the then-Major Simmons was horrified at making an amphibious landing with no rehearsal or large-scale exercises, on a beach with 30-foot tides.

In a dilapidated amphibious tractor in the fifth wave of the landing, he was surrounded by smoke, darkness, and confusion, he says. He yelled out for directions to his beach and was told it was where the smoke was thickest.

``I turned to the driver and asked if there was a compass on board,'' Simmons recalls. ``He said, `It beats me, two weeks ago I was driving a bus in San Francisco.'''

The memorial in Washington is planned for a site about 200 yards southeast of the Lincoln Memorial, directly across the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, says John Kenney, executive director of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board. About $2.4 million has been raised so far. A design competition will be formally announced after the Olympics.

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