House and Senate lawmakers are demanding answers on how hundreds of service members’ names were misspelled or mixed-up on stone markers at the Korean War Veterans Memorial despite warnings from advocates about the potential for mistakes years ago.
“Errors of this magnitude should not have made it past the initial blueprints, much less carved into stone, and certainly not erected and unveiled to the public,” a bipartisan group of key congressional leaders wrote in a March 3 letter to Defense Department leaders.
“We find these errors deeply concerning and write to seek accountability on how the Remembrance Wall’s glaring flaws went unnoticed until post-construction,” the lawmakers wrote.
In spring 2021, ahead of plans to unveil a new remembrance wall at the memorial featuring the names of more than 36,000 Americans who died in support of the war, members of the Korean War Project warned of numerous discrepancies in the National Archives and Records Administration list officials planned to use to complete the project.
In particular, the advocacy group warned that numerous Native American, Asian-American, Hawaiian, and Latino troops had their names misspelled, transposed or otherwise listed incorrectly.
But memorial officials went ahead with the $22 million project despite the concerns. The stone wall addition to the existing memorial was unveiled in July 2022. Earlier this year, the Korean War Project reported at least 1,015 spelling mistakes among the stone etchings, and the names of 245 individuals who were not killed in the conflict but had their names included anyway.
Congress is now launching a formal investigation into how and why the mistakes happened, and what it might cost to fix them.
Signers of last week’s letter include House Committee on Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala.; Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and the top two lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee, Chairman Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and Ranking Member Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz.
“We find it unfortunate that what should have been a touching tribute for bereaved family members and a grateful nation has turned into an embarrassing gaffe,” the group wrote. “We must take the necessary steps to correct the issue, find the communication and research flaws that caused the errors, and ensure such errors are never repeated.”
At issue are official DoD records used by memorial officials in the new work. Advocates say most of the mistakes carved into the site are still incorrectly listed on online resources from the Departments of Defense and Interior.
The memorial work was paid for through private donations, not public funds. But lawmakers said because of the high-profile nature of the mistakes, finding a way to fix them is in the public’s interest.
The committees involved have requested that defense leaders submit plans for “a revised and accurate list of names for inclusion in the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance” by March 23. The committees are also considering public hearings on the issue.
Officials with the Korean War Memorial Foundation have said they will work with Park Service staff to make corrections to the remembrance wall if DoD officials determine that their lists were incomplete or inaccurate.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.