TODAY IS THE formal day for observances, but because of a coincidence of anniversaries, great numbers of Americans have been remembering their war dead for longer than just this holiday in 1985. They focused on World War II, which ended 40 years ago and then on the Vietnam war, which ended 10 years ago. But as writer Bill Gilbert noted in a "Close to Home" column on these pages eight days ago, there is "America's forgotten war" -- in Korea, where more than 50,000 Americans were killed. These victims deserve our attention, Mr. Gilbert wrote, as well as a memorial in this capital city. What better time to begin that effort than today?
Reader response to Mr. Gilbert's article was strong and unanimously enthusiastic. And in Congress, Rep. Stan Parris of Virginia and Sen. William L. Armstrong of Colorado introduced bills authorizing a memorial here to the 5.7 million men and women who served in the Armed Forces during the Korean War. These bills provide that site selection, design and construction of the memorial be subject to approval of the National Capital Planning Commission. The memorial would be constructed on federal land in the District or nearby.
Though the Parris-Armstrong proposals call for financing through funds appropriated by Congress, some groups -- including the American Legion -- have expressed a preference for raising the money from private donations. The cost, according to one estimate by an official of the American Battle Monuments Commission, would be around $2.5 million. Why not a compromise -- a matching arrangement?
Whatever -- but get this project going now. As Mr. Parris said in the House, "It is incredible to note that there is not yet a memorial in the nation's capital to the veterans of the Korean War -- the only group of war veterans not to be so honored. . . . This brave group of Americans has been leap- frogged by time, and it is up to those of us serving in Congress to rectify the situation."
It is up to other people, too, whose friends and relatives served their country in times of war wherever it was fought. When it comes to service, courage, injury and death of these individuals, there should be no "ranking" of wars by "importance." And though it is not pleasant to contemplate the tragedies associated with any of these wars or the events that led to them, it would be far worse were this country ever to forget. That is what the Vietnam memorial has succeeded in pointing up in emotional ways, and it is why the observance of this day -- somber and encompassing all wars -- should endure.