New Korean War Memorial Wall of Remembrance in D.C. is personal

by Aug 8, 2022Essays

A Wall of Remembrance was added in July 2022 at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Therese was there to honor the memory of her uncle Capt. Ara Mooradian, USAF, MIA, at the family ceremony prior to the public dedication. She took that moment to explore her own relationship to her uncle and his memory.

He was always there in so many ways, my Uncle Ara, never forgotten, but never really discussed. I can’t honestly say when I found out who he was since I never met him, Capt. Ara Mooradian, U.S. Air Force, MIA in the Korean War. I don’t know when I realized I would never meet this handsome man with such gentle dark eyes. I do know that I didn’t recognize until after my mom passed away the hole that she had carried in her heart for her older brother.

Nine years after she passed away – to the end dreaming of him coming home — I was standing in front of the new Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., on a special gold star family day on July 26, 2022, the day before the wall’s official public dedication. I ran my fingers across Uncle Ara’s name, engraved on this addition to the memorial with 100 granite panels and 43,000 names. Tears spilled over for this man I would never meet, for my mom’s deep hurt she never really expressed, the hush about this family tragedy, and for his future that had never been.

The public dedication on July 27, 2022, of the Wall of Remembrance at the nation’s Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., was the culmination of six years of planning and an investment of $22 million by South Korea and private donors to add names of those lost to a memorial that was initially opened in 1995. It is now one of 17 military monuments, memorials or museums in Washington, D.C., all worthy of a visit.

Korean War Memorial Soldier Statues

Uncle Ara’s name is now one of thousands on the granite slabs that encircle the reflecting pool with a wall jutting into the pool bearing the inscription, “Freedom is not free.” It was a gray day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on July 26 as families laid yellow roses alongside the names of loved ones.

“Today, we honor the veterans of the Korean War and the families of the fallen heroes, said retired Army Gen. John Tilelli, Jr., chairman of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, at the public ceremony. “With this dedication ceremony, I hope that it is no longer the ‘Forgotten War,’ but the ‘remembered victory’ that was won by these veterans.”

Korean War Memorial DC Ara And Rose

My uncle’s name, Ara Mooradian, sits at the bottom of a column on the new Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Memorial in D.C.

Korean War Memorial Wall of Remembrance awakens emotions

This was in fact the second time I had shed tears at a national memorial while I ran my fingertips over the letters of Uncle Ara’s name. The first time was in 2015 when I had the opportunity to visit South Korea with a group of Korean War veterans’ family members. When we got to that country’s Korean War Memorial, I walked among the slabs engraved with names, thinking of the war and its great toll, but never dreaming I would find Uncle Ara’s name on a memorial wall 5,800 miles away. When I did, the unexpected emotions boiled up and spilled out as I sobbed – for him, for the war, for my mom, and for the tragedy of it all. The experience had been surreal, seeing this honor for his and my family’s sacrifice on the other side of the globe.


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Korean War Memorial South Korea

Now, a national memorial befitting the tragic losses of the Korean War – called “The Forgotten War” because it was sandwiched between WWII and Vietnam – is ready for visitors in our nation’s capital. It honors the war’s losses and educates visitors about a war when approximately 1,000 soldiers died during each of its 37 months.

“This creates a very real image of the cost of war,” said Jeffrey Reinbold, superintendent of the national park service’s National Mall in Washington, D.C., at the family ceremony.

I never knew Uncle Ara – or the depth of my mom’s pain

I was born several years after Ara’s B-29 super fortress was shot down on a bombing mission to Namsi Airfield in North Korea on a mission called “Black Tuesday” due to heavy losses. Ara was the B-29 bombardier, sitting in the birds-eye seat of the super fortress surrounded by windows as the mission flew directly into what was known as MiG Alley. During his eight months stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, he was the one who on missions hit targets accurately and then returned with his crew to his base.

Ara Okinawa 51.tif

Ara Mooradian reclining on the shore of Okinawa where he was based during the Korean War .

It wasn’t until my mom, Roxy, passed away in 2013 and I was going through topsy-turvy stacks of boxes in the backs of closets that I found a cardboard box with “Ara’s belongings” scribbled in pencil on a flap. A shiver had run up my spine. Why hadn’t I known this existed? Why hadn’t I been shown it or seen what was inside? I untied the twine around it and opened the aging box gingerly, realizing my mom likely hadn’t touched it in decades, part of her hope he would return — and she’d hand it back to him personally.

Inside were personal items like a shaver and a plastic travel soap box still sticky with residue, but also photos he had taken from his bombardier’s seat, an old camera, letters, and photos of his fiancée (in what were pretty sexy bathing suit poses for the time, mind you). Then I spied a tiny spiral-bound pocket notebook — your dime store variety with a flimsy cardboard cover. What was inside? I opened the little notebook carefully for fear of tearing the 62-year-old paper. Inside, I found meticulous lists of expenses (automobile insurance, $40.90), his salary ($452 in March 1951), his fiancée’s sizes (shoes, 61/2), and a list of dates he did not receive letters.

Ara Mooradian Mission Log Korean War

Entries on the third page of Uncle Ara’s personal log of missions stopped on Oct. 16, 1951, a week before he and his crew were shot down and didn’t return.

Then I turned another yellowed page to find one with “Missions” neatly penned and underlined on the top line. I shivered again as I scanned the dates. Uncle Ara had notated each mission from Kadena carefully, in tiny script, starting with his first there on March 9, 1951, to Pyongyang. Seventeen missions fit on each of the first two pages. I turned to look at the third page of the list and moved my eyes down the list, knowing what I was going to find but dreading it: The entries stopped with a mission on Oct. 16, 1951, to “Sunchon Bridge” and the “RR Bypass.” My hand fingered the blank line underneath that one which should have read “Oct. 23, 1951, Namsi Airfield,” but there was nothing there.

It had been his 50th mission, the bombing run to Namsi where six of nine aircraft were lost in what was the highest percentage of U.S. bombers ever lost on a single mission.

As I sat on the floor of this cramped closet in a dusty back bedroom of my parent’s former house, I cradled this little log and was brought closer to my Uncle Ara for a moment. I could practically feel him returning from prior missions, getting back to his tent, fetching out the notebook, and penning in the dates.

Keeping the flame alive for Uncle Ara

My mom never talked about the pain of losing her brother. “He was the handsome one,” was about all she’d ever said. Her family just didn’t discuss emotions. They were buried, and you moved on. Maybe that’s why I never really experienced her sadness. Only once did I sense a moment of deep grief: Mom had arranged an honor ceremony in 2004 at Arlington cemetery in Washington, D.C. I attended the ceremony, feeling less sadness as I did excitement to experience such military pomp. The caisson (traditional horse-drawn carriage), a 21-gun salute from the top of the hill, and a “Missing Man” memorial flyover where one fighter jet peels off to represent the lost airman were all a part. I was so deeply moved. Mom wore dark sunglasses the entire time. And that’s how I knew she was shedding tears of deep grief but remained intent on trying to hide.

Arlington Ceremony Honor Ceremony Burial Ara Mooradian

The honorary procession for Capt. Ara Mooradian in 2004.

Now that mom is gone, I have stepped up to keep the flame alive. With that, I have gotten to know Uncle Ara better than I ever did. I found out he had been engaged and then found his fiancée. I found the yellowed 1951 telegrams from the government announcing his loss. I spoke to an older aunt who described how their mom had dropped to the floor and rolled around sobbing and screaming when the first telegram arrived announcing his loss. I have letters she sent that he never got to open – that I have still not opened.

Why didn’t I ask my mom more about him? Why hadn’t she told me more? Why hadn’t she shared her decades of pain? I found out from his fiancée that she would see my mom around town. Why didn’t I know this woman existed so I could have talked to her before she started suffering from dementia? Why, mom, why?

Slowly, there is some resolution, although I will never meet my Uncle Ara. And the Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C., is part of that resolution. I stood there on July 26, 2022, at the family ceremony, again fingering his name, again shedding some tears. For some reason, I love that Uncle Ara’s name is at the bottom of a column on the mere four panels occupied by Air Force losses – there are 100 panels in total. You can’t miss finding his name.

Visiting Korean War Memorials and other war memorials

Korean War Memorial DC Freedom Is Not Free

The war memorials on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., can be lovely at night. Here, the Korean War Memorial’s new Wall of Remembrance is at the back, encircling the reflecting pool.

Ever since I became more involved with keeping track of MIA recovery efforts by the government, I have found myself attracted to Korean War Memorials wherever I go on my travels. From Santa Nella, California, to Jersey City, New Jersey, if I find one, I go. When the Korean War Memorial at San Francisco’s Presidio added the last section of names of those lost in September 2019, I was lucky to get my Uncle Ara’s name engraved there for all to see, overlooking the waters of the San Francisco Bay.

Today, I am a huge advocate of taking a moment on your travels to walk through a war memorial or military burial grounds. Think of them as a sight to see, yes, but also take the moment to remember the lives lost. I do find myself looking at these memorials with different eyes. Here, I find the names of people whose mothers like mine were ripped apart when a child or sibling or parent left and never returned. Give yourself a moment to grasp the losses and pain to appreciate your life and your future.


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