Korean War Veterans

Two Jumbotrons, 10,000 brown folding chairs, big-band music and seven metal detectors greeted visitors as they ventured onto the mall, Sunday, June 25, 2000 in the shadow of the Washington Monument to honor the veterans who served in “The Forgotten War.”

After 50 years, Korean War veterans had a day dedicated to honoring them.  Americans took a hot and muggy afternoon away from the pool and other summertime activities to say thanks to the graying service members and their fallen comrades who answered the nation’s call to halt the spread of communism in the “land of the morning calm.”  Many of the veterans came in their worn out uniforms, some wore hats with various unit insignia and others proudly displayed the rainbow of ribbons that they earned over five decades ago.

The President told the crowd that Korean War veterans are heroes.  He elaborated by saying that the military conflict in Korea was much more than a police action but instead, constituted a war.  Although the day reached temperatures of over 96, the majority of the crowd remained throughout the 90-minute ceremony and applauded loudly with some standing when President Clinton promised to bring home the remains of all the fallen service members who served in Korea.

However, the 50th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration did not miraculously come together at 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.  It took a great deal of effort on the part of the Department of Defense’s 50th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee.  Two years ago, the committee of 30 staff members from each of the military branches was formed.  This group of service members worked diligently on the operational and public affairs challenges they faced in order to properly honor the veterans.

The operations portion of the commemoration event was contracted to a local company to handle the event management and logistics of the ceremony.  Although the committee oversaw the operations planning, Professional and Scientific Associates  coordinated everything from the stage setup to ensuring that 6,500 feet of wooden picket fence and bicycle barricade were in place.

“We are an events management company managing everything from people to site location to graphics support to information campaigns,” said Raj Richardson, co-owner of PSA and project director.  “This is the largest project that I have run and one of the largest for the company.”

PSA used two subcontractors to ensure that the support for the event was complete.  Promotion Group International Washington Inc. worked with National Events to contract two of the 70 Jumbotrons that are available in the United States.  The two groups procured star trailers for celebrity Connie Stevens, and the Secretary of Defense, coordinated for security with the park service and the Secret Service and rented 70 buses to shuttle visitors to and from Fort Myers, the Pentagon and Arlington cemetery said Richardson.

Various companies showed their support through donations said the retired Air Force officer and co-owner of PSA.  Coca-cola donated 10,000 bottles of water and Perrier added another 5,000.  Kinkos Inc. printed and donated 10,000 programs for the event.  PSA donated 5,000 promotional posters and Northwest Airlines flew Stevens and her entourage to Washington for free.

One of the key challenges was the weather and developing a contingency plan in the event of rain said Capt. Ernest Parker, committee public affairs staff officer.

“The event was going to go on with or without rain,” said Richardson.  “If we had lightning, we would have evacuated the site by pre-positioning buses to get at least 3,000 off the mall quickly.”

“If you want to put on an event on the mall, that was as well organized as this and includes the nation’s leadership and attendance of up to 10,000 people, it’s six to eight months of solid detailed coordination,” said Capt. John Cyrulik, committee operations officer.

Although Cyrulik suggests that the last eight months were intense, the committee’s public affairs section began promoting the event as soon as the committee was formed.

Seven promotional videos and radio messages ranging from 20 seconds to one minute were produced, said Parker.  Six hundred and sixty seven copies of public service announcements were mailed out to the major television and radio networks and individual reporters.  The announcements featured the president, Stevens and astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Wally Schirra, and actor/author James McEachin.

Besides the media, the public affairs office used the Internet, news releases, information sheets, military networks and veterans organizations to promote the commemoration ceremony throughout the United States.

“I had no idea of the breadth of their [veteran’s organizations] membership,” said Parker.  “Once they get a tidbit of information, they are hungry and their energy is contagious.”

On the day of the event, the public affairs mission was in full gear.  Military.com sponsored a media tent and the public affairs office provided press kits, backup video roll of the Korean War, and escorts for each of the 112 media outlets that covered the ceremony.  The 25 escorts were tasked with accompanying reporters as they interviewed veterans in the crowd.

The largest contingencies of media came from C-SPAN, which broadcasted the entire event, and CBS according to Parker.  However, all of the major networks and many small town publications were represented.

“We have small newspapers from as far away as Bismarck, N.D. and Arizona,” Parker said.

The Washington Post Washington Times reported that 7,000 people attended the ceremony on the mall.  The public affairs section coordinated with other organizations to help Americans that couldn’t attend the ceremony to honor their veterans.  Meanwhile, the Committee’s corporate outreach efforts to reach millions of Americans who did not attend were well underway.  The Grand Ole Opry displayed the Commemoration flag at its evening performances on June 24, Saturday.  Major League Baseball produced a four-minute Korean War video, which was played as part of commemorative ceremonies at all 15 big-league ballparks on June 25.  On Monday, June 26, the New York Stock Exchange held a closing bell ceremony featuring Korean War veterans which was viewed by an estimated world-wide audience of 100 million people said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Bender committee public affairs officer.

The 50th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee met the challenges associated with running and promoting the event.  Veterans were honored and extremely appreciative of the ceremony and the preparation time it took to pay respects to the “The Forgotten War” service members.

“It took 50 years but I really appreciate the fact that they finally decided to honor us,” said Timothy Morris, a Korean War veteran that attended the ceremony in his Army khaki uniform.

“I am really happy that I am around for the 50th,” said Tony Nowotarski, a Corporal with the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during the Korean War.