Nick Paganella looked down at the ground and then off somewhere in the distance. He had just posed with his wife for a picture at the Korean War Veterans' Memorial on the Mall. Now he was struggling to say why he wanted to document his visit.
"You really won't understand unless you were there," said the teacher from Boston, a veteran of the war. "That's it. That's all I can say."
His wife wiped tears from her eyes as she listened. "We want the pictures to show the grandchildren, so they will have respect for the Korean War veterans," she said.
The Paganellas joined about 200 people at the memorial yesterday to mark the fourth anniversary of the dedication of the monument. Korean War veterans often say that they participated in a forgotten war and that they feel their service was never appreciated. And for more than two years, their memorial itself seemed to reflect their sense that no one cared.
Only a year after the 1995 dedication of the $18 million memorial, the trees that surround the "pool of remembrance" had died, the pool itself was empty because of a persistent leak, and some paving stones set in a broad walkway had buckled. Visitors to the memorial could view the 19 stainless steel figures of soldiers trudging up a hill, but the rest was closed to them.
But yesterday, visitors saw 40 healthy linden trees, smooth walkways and a pool filled with shimmering water.
Last year, as the repair work proceeded slowly, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced legislation to provide the general contractor for the memorial, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, with $2 million for repairs.
Yesterday, Sarbanes, who has many veterans among his constituents, told the crowd that he was pleased with the work. He said the veterans "deserved a national memorial which is both fitting and lasting. . . . I think we have accomplished that."
The Korean War, which until this year was officially called an armed conflict, began June 25, 1950, and ended with an armistice July 27, 1953. Historians say that more than 54,000 Americans were listed as dead and that South Korea lost approximately 47,000. The 15 other United Nations countries involved suffered more than 3,000 deaths.
The memorial was dedicated July 27, 1995, the 42nd anniversary of the truce.
The repairs seemed to please the veterans and their families who inspected the memorial after the ceremony yesterday. However, even as veterans smiled while posing for pictures with the three large official wreaths placed at the memorial, the sorrow was not far away.
In his talk, Sarbanes spoke about gaining respect for the veterans. He pointed to the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act of 1999 that changed the name of the Korean conflict to the Korean War.
And he encouraged his audience to use next year's 50th anniversary of the beginning of the war as an opportunity to get more veterans to participate in ceremonies.
Among those who listened to Sarbanes's remarks was Robert W. McCoy, of Mitchellville, a medic in Korea who received the Purple Heart.
"I think there is a change coming," he said. "More of the Korean veterans are coming out to things and are willing to say they are veterans of Korea. We should let people know we were patriotic and we were all there together."