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OC debuts memorial to Korean War vets


By Tess Sheets

It’s often referred to as the forgotten war, but to those with a personal connection to the fighting in Korea “that’s a misnomer,” said Frank Mendoza, whose older brother was among the tens of thousands of U.S. troops killed in the conflict.

Mendoza and his other brother, Bernie, stood among five massive granite stars draped in white cloth at Hillcrest Park in Fullerton on Thursday, waiting for the sheets to be pulled off to reveal the names of all 36,393 American military members who died, including their brother Joseph.


Korean War veterans and others have their photos taken in front of one of the memorial stars that make up the new Korean War Memorial in Hillcrest Park in Fullerton on Thursday. The memorial names 36,393American military members who died.


A woman looks for a name on a wall of the new Korean War Memorial unveiled Thursday.


The new memorial, which is believed to be the first in the country to include every fallen American service member’s name from the Korean War, was unveiled Thursday afternoon after Fullerton’s annual Veterans Day parade and ceremony.

Frank Mendoza, who wore an American flag shirt, said he’s interested in anything related to the Korean War because of his brother, who died in 1951. He’s visited the memorial in Washington, D.C., but seeing his brother’s name etched in the black granite of Fullerton’s tribute was a first.

“The Korean War is not a forgotten war, not for people who lost, you know, brothers or sisters,” Frank Mendoza said. “And it’s not for the people that were imprisoned over there. No, they haven’t forgotten it. The people who were injured or wounded, they don’t forget.”

The idea for a local tribute to Korean War veterans goes back more than a decade, with members of what would become the Orange County Korean War Memorial Committee leading the charge to find a location. After several cities declined, citing a lack of space, the Fullerton City Council welcomed the addition to the under-renovation Hillcrest Park.

“This beautiful tribute listing the names of all the fallen American troops is long overdue,” Mayor Bruce Whitaker said in a speech Thursday, also calling its placement in the city is fitting, given the large population of Korean Americans who call Fullerton home.

The monument establishes a gathering place for those who lost loved ones, “which forever changed the trajectory of their existence,” he said. Nestled adjacent to the recently restored duck pond in the northwest corner of Hillcrest Park, the $1 million memorial organizes the engraved names — about 7,500 per massive granite star — alphabetically and by the state the person was from. The tribute was funded completely by donors, including the South Korean government.

For Chuck Wiley of Menifee, who served in the war, the memorial was a long time coming, he said. “It’s about time that the general public sees a memorial like this.”

The memorial’s debut, marking the fulfillment of a long-held idea, was emotional for Rodney Chai of Buena Park, a veteran who said he has been a part of efforts to get a Korean War memorial built in Southern California for 11 years. The fighting that took place in Korea isn’t recognized enough, he said, despite the thousands of lives lost.

“You have World War II, and five years later, there’s the Korean War,” Chai said. “So the Korean War, in a way, people don’t want to really remember it.”

The unveiling Thursday was “overwhelming,” he said, “and just a wonderful moment in my life.”

When the stars were unveiled, Al Alvarez, with the help of his son, quickly found a name he was looking for: John Ward Beebe, a friend who was shot and killed. Alvarez was struck in the leg during the same attack.

The engravings are important to honor those like Beebe, Alvarez said, who “died in my arms.”

“The Korean War is not a forgotten war, not for people who lost, you know, brothers or sisters.”

— Frank Mendoza, whose brother’s name is etched on the memorial in Fullerton.

Members of the audience listen to speakers during the Orange County Korean War Memorial dedication ceremony and unveiling in Hillcrest Park in Fullerton on Thursday. Names of the war dead are written on five massive granite stars.


Veteran Navy pilot Jerome McCabe of Orange, who served in World War II and the Korean War, sits in front of one of the memorial stars following the dedication ceremony.

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