Korean War Memorial Approved for Memorial Grove in Montgomery Twp., Committee Begins Planning Stage

The sundial at Memorial Grove in Montgomery Township is surrounded by benches and memorial plaques. Credits: Tony Di Domizio

Montgomery Township will be the site for a memorial honoring Americans and Koreans on a global scale.

A Korean War Memorial and Peace Park was approved 4-0 by Montgomery Township Supervisors Monday night to be installed at Memorial Grove, located off Kenas Road. The estimated $875,000 project would be partially funded by the government of South Korea. The project has a 2-year timeframe for completion. Supervisor Candyce Chimera was absent from the meeting.

Now, the planning stage begins. A committee has already been formed, comprised of State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151), Rep. Kate Harper (R-61), Rep. Tom Murt (R-152) and Master Bong Pil Yang, secretary general of the 21st Century American-Korean-China Leaders Society. The committee wants to bring on board Korean War veterans and community leaders.

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On Monday night, Stephens appeared at the meeting to discuss the project. He said the impetus for the memorial came from the 21st Century American-Korean-China Leaders Society, who will also partially fund the project.

"The goal is to really make this a place where folks will come from far away," Stephens said. "There's such a huge Korean population here."

After the meeting, Stephens said the leaders in the Korean community came to him and pitched the idea of a memorial.

"Harper, Murt and I began working on it and considered different locations, including state parks and places in Philadelphia. As we sat around looking at different potential locations, Montgomery Township came to mind. I reached out to the township and said, 'Would you be receptive to this?' in a letter, and they agreed it would be a worthwhile location," he said. 

In a letter to township Manager Larry Gregan, Stephens wrote that  "Montgomery Township would be an appropriate and fitting location for this memorial."

"As you know, Montgomery Township is home to a substantial population of Korean-Americans. Additionally, the concept of Memorial Grove as a place to reflect upon and honor those we've lost is consistent with the goal of the Korean War Memorial. Should the township have an interest in hosting the memorial, we would like to include Montgomery Township in future planning sessions," Stephens wrote in a June 27 letter.

Supervisor Robert Birch estimated about 10 percent of the population of Montgomery Township is Korean.

Stephens said it would be "a tremendous help" to get Korean War veterans involved in the planning.

The Korean War broke out June 25, 1950, and a day later, at the United Nations Security Council, the United States condemned the North Korean invasion of South Korea. By June 27, 1950, the United States decided to provide military assistance to South Korea, this after North Korea refused to back down. On July 1, 1950, the United States entered the war, bringing the number of Allied Forces to 1,789,000 soldiers. The United States accounted for 300,000 troops during the war. 

An armistice would end the war on July 27, 1953. When all was said and done, the United States suffered 137,250 casualties: 36,940 killed, 92,134 wounded, 3,737 missing in action and 4,439 captured.

One Montgomery Township resident was a victim of the Korean War and is honored outside the administration building on a memorial, along with other casualties of war – Robert F. Frank.

The Korean War Memorial would have a global influence: It is a place where U.S. and Republic of Korea veterans of the war, their families and friends can gather to remember and reflect on sacrifice.

Memorial Grove was created in the aftermath of 9/11, inspired by resident and former township Shade Tree Commission member Ralph Maerz, who lost his son Noell Maerz, a standout athlete at Lansdale Catholic, at age 29 in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Following approval Monday night, the next step for the planning committee is to obtain direction from supervisors on upkeep and criteria for the memorial. Next, the committee will review and choose a design and sufficient seating area for the monument, and develop an estimate cost of build. Fundraising by the society, the Republic of Korea and the community would then commence for the project.

"The Korean leaders have pledged to work to raise the revenue necessary," Stephens said. "We are working with the Korean government and we've had meetings with the Korean Ambassador in New York. I think the leaders in the Korean community locally are very energetic and hardworking. They have an idea, and they work hard to get it to come to fruition."

Conceptual drawings, which Stephens said were drafted up by a volunteer Upper Moreland Township commissioner, show decorative pavers, benches and plantings around the memorial centerpiece. The conceptual drafts of the memorial itself shows a four-sided structure with proposed emblems of the military service branches from the Korean War on two sides. A third side proposes the war's "We Go Together" slogan. The fourth side conceptually shows the list of names who lost their lives in service.

Another alternative concept shows two statues on the memorial, depicting a U.S./U.N. soldier and a Republic of Korea soldier.

"It's just some sketches on paper," Stephens said. "Nothing has been formally done yet." 

Supervisors Chairman Joe Walsh suggested the Shade Tree Commission be involved on the planning committee.

"In looking at this, it's a fairly modest-sized statue," Walsh said. "I saw different plans, and initially there were soccer fields, but it's scaled down. I like the sketch. It does look like a nice spot. We appreciate it."

Stephens said the committee will continue to discuss formalizing plans and nail down a concrete idea of what will go in Memorial Grove.

"We can hone down on specifics of the actual plan," he said. "That will drive the fundraising needs. You don't know how much to raise until you know what you're going to build."

Township Manager Larry Gregan said Memorial Grove is a perfect, appropriate location for the memorial.

"It's not a Korean memorial; it's a joint memorial honoring the contributions of both U.S. service units and Korean units that served together in the Korean War," Gregan said. "It's a special proposal that was brought to the township through State Representatives, and the township is interested in supporting it by providing a location for it."

Memorial Grove, he said, is not limited to 9/11.

"9/11 was the impetus for starting the memorial, but you can have memorials for members of your family. It's a public memorial grove," he said. 

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