Korean War 60th Anniversary – Col. David J. Clark Interview
The generation that fought the Korean War 60 years ago is rapidly fading. KW60, the DoD’s 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Committee is working to honor those who served and to preserve their memory and the often-overlooked importance of what they did.
The years 2010–2013 mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, which began with North Korea’s invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950, and ended with a negotiated armistice July 27, 1953. Coming as it did not long after World War II and ending as it did in a negotiated settlement that re-established the pre-war boundaries, it is often called the "Forgotten War." During this 60th anniversary, the U.S. Department of Defense has formed a committee to better educate Americans and others about the significance of the war and its lasting impact on world history. Colonel David J. Clark of the U.S. Army was chosen to head that committee. Recently, he answered questions for Armchair General and Weider History Group in an exclusive interview.
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Armchair General: The Korean War is often called the "Forgotten War." Briefly, what are some of the reasons we should do a better job of remembering it?
Colonel David J. Clark: First and foremost, our nation has a sacred duty to honor the service and sacrifice of Korean War veterans, many of whom perished on distant shores or remain missing in action, their long-suffering families still waiting for their return home. Those fortunate enough to return home alive were oftentimes treated with indifference by an American public weary of war and ambivalent to the fate of a country unknown to most Americans. In this 60th anniversary of the Korean War, the Department of Defense and the nation as a whole, have the opportunity to alter the perception of the "Forgotten War" and to say thank you to the thousands of living Korean War veterans whose numbers sadly are dwindling with each passing day. By the time we reach the 75th anniversary, the next major commemorative milestone, many of these men and women will have passed on.
America must honor her veterans, particularly those who served in Korea with honor and returned with so little fanfare. This quote from the first Commander-in-Chief, George Washington, has aged well and remains relevant today:
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."
Finally, it is important to educate the American public about the historical importance of the Korean War; not just the stories of the campaigns and battles fought, inspiring though they may be, but also the strategic milestones: the first shots of the Cold War and the first call to arms under the fledgling banner of the United Nations, the bold response of 21 disparate troop-contributing nations to the plight of a fellow sovereign nation under siege, and perhaps the most extraordinary development of all—the implementation of racial integration within the US Armed Forces, an event many historians believe foreshadowed the civil rights movement.
ACG: What would you say some of the most important lasting effects were of the Korean War?
Col. Clark: While the technological and medical advancements of the Korean War were considerable, including the introduction of the helicopter and the widespread use of Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) units, the most significant legacy of the Korean War is the Republic of Korea itself. This nation, on the brink of being obliterated from history in 1950, rose from the ruins of war to become one of the most prosperous nations on Earth and a staunch ally of the US in northeast Asia. This transformation did not come easy, nor did it come overnight. But, in the space of six decades, the Republic of Korea went from an aid recipient to a donor nation, from abject poverty to the 11th largest economy in the world and today is the home of a vibrant, progressive democracy. The dramatic emergence of the Republic of Korea as an indispensable US ally and partner was unforeseen and even implausible at war’s end, but through the corrective lens of history has proven to be one of the most important strategic outcomes of the Korean War.
ACG: What are some activities the Korean War 60th Anniversary Committee has already carried out, and what do you have planned between now and next July when the 60th anniversary ends?
Col. Clark: Over the past two years the Committee has planned and executed countless activities to honor Korean War veterans and their family members across the nation. To date, tens of thousands of Korean War veterans have been honored by the KW60 Committee; over 20,000 have received their official Certificate of Appreciation signed by the Secretary of Defense and many thousand more family members have been personally thanked for their dedicated support on the home front. In the more than 100 ceremonies conducted around the country in 31 states, the Committee along with local, state and national political leaders has hosted and sponsored recognition events and wreath-laying ceremonies, participated in parades, and visited dozens of Veterans Homes to meet residents and to show our nation’s appreciation for their brave and honorable service. To this end, the Committee has forged strong bonds with the nation’s veterans service organizations to include the Korean War Veterans Association, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other private and independent groups committed to honoring Korean War veterans. In June, the Committee had the honor of participating in events marking the anniversary of the start of the war in Seoul, Korea, joined by Korean and American government officials and both Korean and American Korean War veterans in attendance. In July, the Committee commemorated the 59th Anniversary of the signing of the armistice at Arlington National Cemetery and were accompanied by senior officials from the Republic of Korea, including the Korean Ambassador to the US and the Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, representatives of the Allied Nations, Korean War veterans, and our keynote speaker, the US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. (Click here to see Armchair General’s coverage of ceremonies honoring the 59th anniversary of signing of the Korean War armistice.)
ACG: Would you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to chair the 60th Anniversary Committee?
Col. Clark: I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, raised in Lynn, Massachusetts and graduated from Boston College in 1981. In 1983, I was commissioned an Army 2nd Lieutenant of Field Artillery and shortly thereafter, graduated from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and subsequently, was assigned to the 88th Field Artillery Detachment in Greece. In September 1987, I was promoted to Captain and volunteered for service in the Military Intelligence Corps. Following four years in the 24th Infantry Division, I served in a number of intelligence assignments including the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the US Army JFK Special Warfare Center and School, and the US Special Operations Command.
In 2001, I assumed command of the 524th Military Intelligence Battalion in Seoul, Korea. I was promoted to Colonel in 2005 and returned to Korea to serve on the USFK J2 staff in 2007. One year later I was assigned as the Director, Analysis and Production, CJ2 Multi-National Force – Iraq. Currently, I serve on the Army Staff as the Director of Foreign Intelligence, Army G2 at the Pentagon and as the Executive Director of the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee.
I believe my three tours of duty in Korea and my love of history played a role in my selection to lead the KW60 effort.
ACG: The Korean War 60th Anniversary Website has an extensive history of the war, broken into manageable pieces. Would you like to say anything about that aspect of the Website?
Col. Clark: We view the KW60 Website as our principal communications platform; a comprehensive repository of historical data and veterans’ oral histories and a fantastic resource for tracking Korean War commemorative activities, to include multiple links to related Websites around the world. In the end, the website will be instrumental in the Committee’s achievement of its three principal goals: honoring Korean War veterans, highlighting the key events of the war and educating the broader public on the war’s continued relevance.
ACG: While we are often told that we’re losing World War II veterans at a rate of about 1,000 a day, much the same can be said for veterans of the Korean War. Some served in World War II, and the others weren’t much younger. Is the Committee doing anything to capture and preserve the stories of Korean War vets?
Col. Clark: The Committee is involved in a number of projects to capture and preserve the stories of Korean War veterans. The core initiative is an oral history project in which we interview and videotape Korean War veterans to capture first-hand their experiences during the Korean War. In the process, we have interviewed veterans from all branches of the US Armed Forces. We are making a concerted effort to interview women and minority veterans to highlight the diversity of those who served in Korea with varied backgrounds and from all races, creeds and color. In addition, we plan to interview Allied soldiers who fought side-by-side with U.S. troops and whose stories are as historically relevant and compelling as those of our own service members. We believe these oral histories are true treasures and will be used by families, teachers and researchers for generations to come. We hope this effort will add to the growing Korean War narrative and preserve a valuable first-hand account of the war for posterity.
ACG: The United States provided the largest number of foreign troops in support of the Republic of Korea, but 15 countries from the United Nations sent combat troops, five provided medical and ambulance units, and others gave aid without sending personnel. What are some of the committee’s plans for recognizing the other nations involved?
Col. Clark: It is imperative that we recognize the contributions and sacrifices of the Allied nations who served under the United Nations flag during the Korean War; and in fact, this is part of our official mandate from Congress. The Committee has already conducted Korean War commemoration ceremonies with Canada, Ethiopia, France, Norway, Greece and the Republic of Korea to demonstrate our nation’s respect and appreciation for their important contributions. We have further plans to conduct commemorative events with each of the remaining Allied partners with the goal of honoring all of them by the conclusion of the commemorative program. Finally, we expect that all of the 22 troop contributing nations will play a prominent role in the culminating event next July 27th
ACG: Thank you for talking with us. Is there anything you’d like to add in parting?
Col. Clark: Nothing further. Thank you.
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