LEROY | Driving back to Chicago from Indianapolis recently, Jaewoong Lee, South Korean deputy consul general, saw the sign on Interstate 65 for the Korean War Memorial along the Veterans Memorial Parkway (U.S. 231).
"It is said the Korean War is the 'forgotten war,' but to South Koreans it is not forgotten," Lee told a gathering of Korean War veterans and local officials Tuesday at the memorial just east of Leroy. "Without the sacrifices of the veterans whose names are on this wall and those who are here, I would not be here."
Lee said his country would be under the communist dictatorship if not for those who fought to prevent his country being overrun. He expressed his thanks on behalf of South Koreans and added South Korea is trying its best to pay back the debt or to at least pay tribute to those who fought in the war.
One way South Korea would like to pay back the debt is to pay the cost of correcting the map on the memorial. The map of Korea shows the Sea of Japan between Korea and Japan, but Lee said it has always been known as the East Sea to Koreans.
The sea was renamed by the Japanese a few hundred years ago and efforts to get Japan to agree to change it back have not been successful. Lee said South Korea is more flexible and is willing to accept listing both names, as is being done in many reference books today.
After seeing the memorial, representatives from the Korean consulate contacted the Veterans Memorial Parkway Commission and offered to pay for adding the East Sea name to the wall's map. Tuesday's gathering was to formally announce the plan.
Mitch Barloga, president of the VMPC, said it would be a little like Chicago deciding to rename Lake Michigan as Chicago Lake. For Koreans, the Sea of Japan name is a reminder of many years of onerous rule by the Japanese.
"This is a significant issue," Barloga said. "This helps restore a bit of history that is important to the Korean people. Our intention with the parkway is to build these monuments so the people wouldn't be forgotten. It's important to know why these people died.
"The Korean War is one of the most mysterious conflicts. The South Korean people are very indebted to the soldiers, and they want to make sure (the memorial) is accurate," Barloga said.
Barloga said the correction can be etched onto the existing monument by Prestige Custom Stone Products, of Crown Point, which did the original. He said it isn't known yet what the cost will be. The whole monument cost $15,000, but adding "East Sea" to the map isn't expected to cost much.
Korean War veteran Alonzo Solis said he was "stone surprised" by the planned correction.
"This ceremony was a great way to show our appreciation," Solis said. "I was not aware they would have this kind of ceremony, and I appreciate all the (Korean War veterans) being able to come out."