CPB Office of the Ombudsman

Don't Forget Korean War Vets

Joel Kaplan

November 29, 2012

On Veterans Day this year, PBS presented a National Salute To Veterans as one of its Capital Concerts.

The nearly one-hour program, co-hosted by actors Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise and featuring Colin Powell and several singers, was well received and lauded by a number of viewers.

But one viewer wasn't too pleased. Dick Clarens of North Dakota wrote to say that he was "very unhappy that approximately 54,000 Korean casualties did not merit more than 2-3 seconds of time in the Veterans Day program. It's the same old story—forgotten war, forgotten veterans. As you probably have guessed, I'm a Korean veteran."

Turns out, Mr. Clarens was not exaggerating. The broadcast spends a great deal of time recognizing all veterans, particularly those serving most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The program begins by saying that that it will include moments from past concerts at the Capitol as well as special remembrances of World War II and Vietnam and a welcome home to new veterans. There is no mention of Korea.

A little more than halfway through the program, following the National Symphony Orchestra playing music from the movie Pearl Harbor, Mr. Mantegna welcomes the World War II vets and says:

"After this attack propelled America into World War II, you vets and 16 million more Americans in the armed forces struggled through four years of service and sacrifice. Many of you said, 'I just did what needed to be done.' But your actions saved a world from tyranny, and we are honored to salute you once more."

Mr. Mantegna then continues: "Despite our fervent hopes for peace after World War II, it was not to be. Five short years later there was the Korean War. Then in the Sixties, we began fighting a different kind of war in Vietnam." The program then shows footage from the war in Vietnam.

That was the only mention of Korea in the program.

Jerry Colbert, the executive producer of the program, responded to Mr. Clarens' complaint about the lack of attention to Korean War veterans:

"The National Salute to Veterans featured 'best of the best' moments from previous National Memorial Day Concerts and was dedicated to all of our nation's veterans. In recent years, the annual 90-minute-long Memorial Day program has focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as our country has been fighting these two wars simultaneously, deeply affecting our service men and women as well as their families. There have been over 6,000 deaths, and more than 40,000 wounded, often suffering from traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and loss of limb(s). We have felt it was important to make these men and women the major focus of the program. However, the National Salute to Veterans also included stories from other wars, such as a World War II tribute, because there are so few of these veterans still living, and a segment on the 'Children of War' since they too have suffered so much. In past National Memorial Day Concerts we have featured major stories about the heroism and valor of our Korean War veterans. Unfortunately, we are not able to feature a story about every conflict every year. This was especially true for the inaugural broadcast of the National Salute to Veterans given the time constraints of a one-hour-long television program."

Kristina Hallman, a spokeswoman for Capital Concerts, said the company received nearly 700 positive comments about the show from viewers and agreed to share them.

Here are just a few of the reactions:

"What a touching tribute to all of our veterans and servicemen. Thank you for sharing your stories with the world. I've never been more proud of our heroes and veterans and to be an American and fellow veteran."

"Thank you so much for your Veterans Day salute. Just returned from a cruise that took us to Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. What sacrifice our soldiers made in liberating France from Nazi Germany."

"Awesome tribute to some that gave all and to all that served. Thanks, my brothers and sisters, for your service!"

"I couldn't hold back the tears. Thank you for honoring our veterans."

"I have never been so very moved by one program. You, at PBS have absolutely captured the sincere emotions we truly feel for our veterans, both survivors and those who are no longer with us and those who gave their lives for us and their country. Please, do this every single year. I am not moved emotionally very easily, but this brought me to tears, and I thank you. This was the True meaning of Veterans Day."

The program clearly resonated with a large percentage of the viewing public. It was well put together and delivered a stirring, patriotic message.

But I can't help sympathizing with Mr. Clarens. I certainly understand that there were time limits associated with the program and also understand that other programs dealt with the Korean War and its veterans. Still, in a program broadcast on Veterans Day, those involved in the Korean conflict deserve more than a two-second mention shoehorned in between World War II and Vietnam.

This will undoubtedly not be the last time Capital Concerts produces a program for public television. It would be behoove them in the future not to forget those who fought in Korea.

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