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New York Korean War Veterans Memorial map_it

History

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This monument in Battery Park north of Castle Clinton, honors military personnel who served in the Korean Conflict (1950–1953). The memorial, dedicated in 1991, was designed by Welsh-born artist Mac Adams (b. 1943) and is notable as one of the first Korean War memorials erected in the United States.

The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea, and invaded South Korea. Within a month, the North Koreans had pushed the South Korean army and supporting U.S. forces to the southernmost tip of the Korean peninsula. In response, the United Nations authorized an army, under the command of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964), to repulse the North Koreans and re-establish the boundary between the North and South at the 38th parallel. In mid-September, MacArthur staged a daring amphibious landing at the Inchon Peninsula and attacked the North Koreans from behind. The U.N. troops had soon pushed the North Korean army back across the 38th parallel, and were advancing on the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China.

Fearing invasion, Chinese forces next became involved in the conflict. In November, the Chinese attacked the U.N. forces near the Yalu River, and quickly succeeded in driving them back into South Korea. The U.N. forces then counterattacked and managed to re-establish a battle line near the 38th parallel. In April 1951, President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972) relieved General MacArthur of his command, rejecting MacArthur’s aggressive policies which Truman believed would instigate a major war with China and the Soviet Union. Fighting would continue in Korea for the next two years, although little ground was ultimately exchanged. Finally, on July 27, 1953, both sides signed an armistice, which ended hostilities and restored the 38th parallel as the dividing line between North and South Korea.

In 1987, the Korean War Veterans Memorial Committee was formed to raise money to build a monument to commemorate the soldiers of the “forgotten war.”  Mac Adams’ winning design, selected from a group of over 100 entries, features a 15-foot-high black granite stele with the shape of a Korean War soldier cut out of the center. Also known as “The Universal Soldier,” the figure forms a silhouette that allows viewers to see through the monument to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This literal void reinforces the figurative theme of absence and loss, and serves as a metaphor for death. The artist was inspired in his concept by Jon Silkin’s poem, “A Space in the Air,” which has the lines: “He left behind him. A hole cut out of the air. And I missed him suddenly, missed him without scarcely knowing why it was so...”. Adams also designed the piece to function as a sundial on the anniversary of the war’s conclusion, July 27, in which light would shine through the aperture upon the paving (illuminating the panel to Greece with a torch-like silhouette), though over time the growing tree canopy has obscured this effect.

One of the three tiers in the base of the monument is decorated with mosaic flags of countries that participated in the U.N.-sponsored mission. The plaza’s paving blocks are inscribed with the number of dead, wounded, and missing in action from each of the 22 countries that participated in the war. Korean War veterans are also commemorated in New York with the Brooklyn Korean War Veterans Plaza in Cadman Plaza, the Korean War Veterans Parkway (which was known as the Richmond Parkway until it was renamed in April 1997 by the New York State Legislature), and Queens Korean War Veterans Memorial in Kissena Park.  

New York Korean War Veterans Memorial Details

  • Location: North of Castle Clinton
  • Sculptor: Mac Adams
  • Description: Obelisk with cutout in shape of soldier on base with mosaic flags, two plaques on two markers situated in circular plaza (axis aligned with Statue of Liberty)
  • Materials: Obelisk and base--Pennsylvania black granite (polished); outline of cutout--stainless steel; mosaic tiles; plaques--stainless steel; markers and plaza paving--Barre gray granite
  • Dimensions: Obelisk H: 15' W: 10'6" D: 4'5"; base H: 5' W": 10'6" x d 6'; each marker front h 2'6" x rear h 3' x w 3' x d 2'; plaza diameter 50'
  • Cast: 1991
  • Dedicated: June 25, 1991
  • Donor: New York Korean Veterans Memorial Commission
  • Inscription: Front: THE KOREAN WAR
    1950 - 1953

    Back: THE UNIVERSAL SOLDIER

    Pavers:
    REPUBLIC OF KOREA -- DEAD 58,127 WOUNDED 175,743 MISSING 174,244
    AUSTRALIA -- DEAD 339 WOUNDED 1,216 MISSING 29
    BELGIUM -- DEAD 107 WOUNDED 345 MISSING 5
    CANADA -- DEAD 291 WOUNDED 1,072 MISSING 21
    COLOMBIA -- DEAD 140 WOUNDED 452 MISSING 65
    DENMARK
    ETHIOPIA -- DEAD 120 WOUNDED 536
    FRANCE -- DEAD 288 WOUNDED 818 MISSING 18
    GREECE -- DEAD 194 WOUNDED 610 MISSING 2
    INDIA
    ITALY
    LUXEMBOURG -- DEAD 2 WOUNDED 5
    NETHERLANDS -- DEAD 120 WOUNDED 645 MISSING 3
    NEW ZEALAND -- DEAD 42 WOUNDED 81
    NORWAY -- DEAD 2
    PHILIPPINES -- DEAD 92 WOUNDED 299 MISSING 57
    SOUTH AFRICA -- DEAD 20 MISSING 16
    SWEDEN
    THAILAND -- DEAD 114 WOUNDED 794 MISSING 5
    TURKEY -- DEAD 721 WOUNDED 1,475 MISSING 175
    UNITED KINGDOM -- DEAD 909 WOUNDED 3,497 MISSING 141
    UNITED STATES OF AMERICA -- DEAD 54,246 WOUNDED 103,248 MISSING 8,177

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namings often in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, but not necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the year listed reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8143

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