Korean City Plans Memorial for US Army General Who Rebuilt War-Torn Country

Korea Asia

Many American servicemen and women have been deployed to South Korea, but few have become so attached to the country that they decide to make it their final resting place. One US Army General who made that decision is still remembered in Busan.

A South Korean city has unveiled the design of a statue intended to memorialize a US Army General who earned praise for assisting in rebuilding efforts after the Korean War.

Richard Whitcomb, who was described as loving Korea more than Koreans did, served as commander of a US logistics support base in the southern port city of Busan during the Korean War.

A civic committee in the city announced that it had settled on a blueprint for a statue of Whitcomb which would show him walking hand-in-hand with orphans. According to the committee, the design gives visual expression to Whitcomb’s belief that the most effective way for Busan to revitalize itself after the war was through education.

Whitcomb, who was born in Kansas, remained in South Korea after the war ended in July 1953 and was particularly well-regarded in Busan for providing humanitarian aid in the aftermath of a major fire in November of that year. Earlier, he had also contributed to the effort to establish Pusan National University in the city.

Whitcomb became so attached to Korea that he expressed his wish to be laid to rest in the country. He was duly buried at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan when he died in 1982.

In 2022, as the country prepared to mark 70 years since the establishment of its military alliance with the US, the South Korean government awarded Whitcomb the Mugunghwa Medal, the highest order of civil merit in the country. In February 2023, the South Korean Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, Park Minshik, said that General Whitcomb helped the country rise from the ashes after overcoming the tragedy of war.

“General Whitcomb received a standing ovation from lawmakers when he told the U.S. Congress that war is not done by swords and rifles alone, and victory is never complete unless the people of the country have been cared for,” said then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a visit to the US in 2021.

Discussions about erecting a memorial to Whitcomb began in Busan in 2018, although substantial public fundraising only started in November 2022. The aim was to collect 300 million won (US$23,300) from 30,000 people, or 10,000 won (US$8) per person. As of March 22, there were an estimated 12,000 donors to the project. Among those donors was Pusan National University, the institution that he had helped to establish during his lifetime.

The sculpture will be displayed at the entrance to the UN Memorial Cemetery and Peace Park.

Aaron McNicholas is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a graduate student in the MA in Asian Studies program at Georgetown University, with a concentration in politics and security.