Just past the pavilion at Conestee Park is a slice of smooth Georgia granite that reads, “No longer forgotten.”
A pathway of bricks is laid beneath it, many engraved with the name of a Korean War veteran. For them, these words are a validation.
More than 100 people gathered on Saturday to dedicate the monument honoring the 6,544 Greenville County soldiers who fought in the Korean War.
American flags rippled in the breeze, manned by Patriot Guard riders. Veterans and their families took photos as the mournful sound of a trumpet playing taps lingered.
Future visitors who come to Conestee Park will see the three flag poles in a quiet corner near the parking lot where saplings have been planted.
“They’re going to come to play on the playground. They’re going to come to have a picnic They’re going to come to walk the trails ... but then they’re going to see this. This stands out. It’s going to catch their eye. You won’t be forgotten now,” said Don Shuman, parks director for Greenville County Recreation.
Before him stood members of the Foothills chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, who spent nearly two years raising money for the memorial. There was Frank Tooley, an Army private who was captured by enemy troops after a brutal fight on May 12, 1951.
There was Lewis Langley, an infantryman who served as Marilyn Monroe’s bodyguard when she visited Korea to perform for the troops. And there was Lew Perry, who served aboard the USS Lowry and was a driving force behind the memorial.
“This monument is more for the young people and the young families than it is for us. We’ve been there, done that,” Perry said. “We want the younger generation to understand the sacrifices. War is no pleasure. It’s not a picnic.”
South Carolina lost 483 troops to the Korean War. Thirty-six were from Greenville, according to George Blevins, the county’s veterans affairs officer.
Deep in the heart of present-day North Korea, nights could be 40 degrees below zero. Days were 125 degrees in the shade. There was disease and exposure to Agent Orange, Blevins said.
“I am not sure how many claims that we have filed for frostbite for Korean veterans,” he said. “They are our unsung heroes.”
Staff writer Donna Isbell Walker contributed to this story.