On Tuesday, two women stood in front of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance in Washington, D.C., their arms full of red roses. They had each traveled a long way—Megan Marx from Parker, Colorado, and Terri Mumley from Powell, Tennessee. They had come to the wall to pay tribute—and to protest. The wall contains the names of 36,634 Americans who died in the war. But to the two women, it was flawed and incomplete; the wall erected to honor veterans lost in the Korean War did the exact opposite, debasing many of them—as well as their families.
Seventy years ago, on January 18, 1953, Lloyd Smith Jr., Mumley’s grandfather, and Dwight Angell, the husband of Marx’s mother, died in a plane crash during the Korean War. Both men were on board a U.S. Navy patrol plane that crash-landed in the cold waters between China and Taiwan after being hit by enemy antiaircraft fire. They survived, and they and nine other crew members waited for four hours in and around a life raft, until a Coast Guard rescue plane showed up and saved them. But then that plane crashed too. By the time a destroyer showed up hours later, eleven men were dead or missing. Smith and Angell were among them.
But the recently dedicated Korean War wall doesn’t hold their names, nor those of the other nine who died that terrible day in 1953. In fact, as I wrote in Texas Monthly in August, the wall contains numerous errors—omissions of hundreds of sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines who died in the war but were not considered official casualties, as well as more than a thousand misspellings. The whole episode is an embarrassment for a country that is usually intent on properly memorializing its fallen warriors.
As reporters from NewsNation and local CBS and NBC affiliates watched, Mumley and Marx stood in front of the wall and alternately read from a statement. “We are here to recognize the ultimate sacrifice eleven brave Americans made seventy years ago today,” read Marx. “These men were from Navy and Coast Guard crews, dedicated to serving their country. They were sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers. Heroes all. Sadly, though they served during the Korean War, their names are not found here amongst those of their brothers and sisters at arms. An arbitrary line drawn by government officials who have no understanding of this war keeps their names off this wall of remembrance.”
Then the two read aloud the names of the eleven, laying a red rose for each one on the wall. Mumley finished with, “And my beloved grandfather Lloyd Smith, United States Navy,” while Marx read, “And my mother’s beloved husband Dwight Angell, United States Navy.” The ceremony was over in less than three minutes.
My Texas Monthly story wasn’t just about the wall. It was a profile of Hal and Ted Barker, two brothers from Dallas who, through their group, the Korean War Project, have devoted their lives to compiling an accurate list of the war dead. They have done so through public data sources and information received from the survivors of the dead, essentially crowdsourcing an accurate list. For years, as the Barkers made corrections to the official database, they tried to warn the Department of Defense and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation (the group funding the wall) about the errors, but they were ignored. Finally, in August 2021, in frustration, the two self-published their own book, more than 528 pages, containing the names of 37,053 of the dead. Hal told me in July, “This wall is going to be a colossal embarrassment.”
He was right. Earlier this month, the New York Times did a story on the errors of the wall (also focusing on the Barker brothers), followed by the Washington Post (also highlighting Marx). Business Insider got involved, and so did the Washington Examiner. The Brits are angry, and so are the Koreans. “There must not be even a single error on the Wall,” said South Korea’s Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs in a statement. “By taking an exhaustive review in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense and South Korea’s defense ministry, [we] will swiftly confirm any errors and rectify them if there are any.”
Though a lot of people are talking about the errors on the wall, no one is actually doing much about them. The foundation wouldn’t comment to the Times or the Post, but its executive director told me last summer that any errors were the fault of the Department of Defense. The National Park Service said the same to the Times. The Department of Defense blamed the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines: “The respective Military Departments reviewed every name on the Korean War Casualty List for correctness against available official military records,” a spokesman told the Post. “Though not common, the official records themselves may have contained errors.”
Hal Barker has given 25 interviews in the past week, but he isn’t optimistic that anything will get done. “I have no illusions that the Department of Defense will pay attention,” he told me Tuesday over email. “I don’t think it will ever get fixed. Department of Defense and the foundation will hope it will all blow over.” It would be too expensive to fix, he says; plus, the whole situation involves massive bureaucracies. “I would hope we are at a tipping point, but this is government. Only a Senate Armed Services/GAO [Government Accountability Office] audit can tip the scale and that means about one to two years.”
On Thursday, Marx and Mumley will hand-deliver a letter to the Senate Committee on Armed Services asking it to investigate and fix all the errors on the wall. They have no idea if it will make any difference. But after their presentation, they were just glad they had come to the wall.
“It’s important for us to be here on the seventieth anniversary,” said Marx. “Even though the eleven aren’t listed, it was important to say their names out loud. It feels like they’re here, even if they’re not.”
“Seventy years ago,” said Mumley, “they were in the water right now, fighting for their lives.”