The yellow mums they held were one of the few visible signs of unity among the 60 men who went to Arlington National Cemetery yesterday with the goal of reawakening memories of what they call "The Forgotten War."
It had been exactly 32 years ago to the day that their war, the Korean conflict, ended. As the men walked, some still limping from war wounds, down the rain-slicked amphitheater to a wreath-laying service, they spoke of those who fought in Korea, "the land of the morning calm."
There were few moments of calm, the gray-haired veterans recalled, in the three-year conflict that the government called a "police action." They vividly remember a bloody war that took 54,236 lives and left 103,000 wounded and 389 missing.
With the monuments of Washington forming a fog-shrouded backdrop, they paused near the Tomb of Unknown Soldier and asked each other why there are no memorials here to their war, a question they put to Congress last week.
"We're the only veterans of a 'police action' that don't have a memorial in Washington," said former Army Col. Lloyd (Scooter) Burke, who wore the Medal of Honor around his neck, as shiny as the day he received it from President Truman in 1952.
Burke, who is from Burke, Va., and Carl Sitter, a retired Marine colonel who was also a recipient of the Medal of Honor, fanned out with the other veterans across the cemetery to lay their yellow mums on the graves of veterans of the Korean and other wars.
After stopping briefly at the grave of Audie Murphy, the most decorated hero of World War II, Burke and Sitter took pains -- as did other veterans yesterday -- to explain that the Korean veterans bear no grudge about the memorial and recent national attention given to Vietnam veterans.
"We're very proud for the Vietnam veterans because they have justly deserved it," said Sitter, a Richmond native who, with Burke, served in Vietnam.
As the veterans gathered later at a Rosslyn hotel, reminiscing about nights of fear and courage in such battles as Pork Chop Hill, Old Baldy and T-Bone Hill, they said it is for the men who fought, and the nurses who cared for them, that they want a memorial.
Korean veteran Bill Norris, who is spearheading the effort to win approval for a memorial, organized what has became the Korean War Veterans Association. He said too many people think of Korea as the place where Hawkeye Pierce and other "M*A*S*H" characters cavorted.
Norris began a Korean veterans chapter in New York recently after his daughter returned empty-handed from the Halfmoon, N.Y., library where she had gone to research a high school paper on the war.
"What got to me was that she couldn't find anything. I said: 'Baby, how do you think we feel?' We fought over there,' " the former Army sergeant said