South Charlotte

How the Forgotten War is remembered here

Korean War Veterans William “Bill” Stegall, left, and Don Putnam, sit on one of the granite benches at the North Carolina Korean War Memorial in Mint Hill. Behind Putnam is one of the four pillars that lists the names of the 788 North Carolinians who lost their lives during the Korean War.
Korean War Veterans William “Bill” Stegall, left, and Don Putnam, sit on one of the granite benches at the North Carolina Korean War Memorial in Mint Hill. Behind Putnam is one of the four pillars that lists the names of the 788 North Carolinians who lost their lives during the Korean War.

History books refer to it as the Forgotten War, but Korean War veterans Don Putnam and William “Bill” Stegall remember it everyday.

So do the other members of Chapter 265 of the Korean War Veterans Association.

The Korean War veterans are aging, the youngest now in their early 80s, and the Korean War Veterans Association wants to keep the sacrifices made, and the lessons learned, alive for future generations when the veterans are no longer around to tell their story.

We’ve built it, and now we are trying to get the word out to all of North Carolina.

William “Bill” Stegall

Several years ago, the group spearheaded construction of the North Carolina Korean War Veterans Memorial in Mint Hill Veterans Memorial Park, to honor the 788 North Carolinians who lost their lives in the war.

It is the only memorial in North Carolina dedicated exclusively to Tarheel natives who served in the Korean War.

Putnam, age 88, was an Air Force fighter pilot performing 78 missions in Korea from 1951-1952.

“Korea was sandwiched in between World War II and Vietnam. When the war broke out, everyone was still recovering from WWII. When Vietnam broke, it was the first war that was brought into everyone’s home by television,” said Putnam, who lives in the Starmount neighborhood of south Charlotte.

“People may have forgotten about this war, but it’s with us everyday.”

Stegall, age 85, is a Navy veteran who made two trips around the world during the war. He urges everyone to visit the memorial and remember.

“We’ve built it, and now we are trying to get the word out to all of North Carolina,” said Stegall, who lives on West Sugar Creek Road in University City.

The memorial, patterned after the Republic of Korea flag, has a red and blue planter in the middle flanked by four tall granite pillars listing the names of those that died. Two large granite soldiers stand at attention on pedestals at the perimeter of the circle. Curved brick walls with planters on top link all the elements together. The area is surrounded by granite pavers and benches that are engraved with the names of service men and women from all wars.

Anytime I see someone walking around the memorial I stop and remind them that the name on the pillars are not just names, they are real people. They are people in your church. They are your neighbors – and those are the people who died for our freedom.

Don Putnam

Once the memorial was finished in 2013, it was turned over to the Town of Mint Hill. Putnam says the town is doing a tremendous job with upkeep and maintenance, but he does hope more people will visit the site to get a sense of what it takes to be free.

“Freedom is not free. Everyday someone is dying to give us the liberties we take for granted,” said Putnam.

“Anytime I see someone walking around the memorial I stop and remind them that the name on the pillars are not just names, they are real people. They are people in your church. They are your neighbors – and those are the people who died for our freedom.”

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: m.johnston@carolina.rr.com.

Want to go?

The North Carolina Korean War Veterans Memorial is located in Mint Hill Veterans Memorial Park at the intersection of NC-218 and I-485 in Mint Hill. Park is open daily, 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. The Korean War Veterans Association members are available to meet civic groups, church groups, school classes or other groups at the monument and share the history of the war with them. To schedule a speaker, call Don Putnam at 704-496-4709.

Want to contribute?

Organizers must still raise about $140,000 to pay off their loan. For information on how you can make a tax-deductible gift to the 501(C-19), visit www.koreanwarmemorialnc.com

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