Relations with City of Bellingham

Relations with City of Bellingham

Looking over my files I can not determine whether or not I sent the following letter as it is written.  None the less it tells of my frustrations with the many committees, boards and commissions I had to deal with in trying to get the Korean War Children’s Memorial established in Big Rock Garden Park.



A Letter to the Bellingham Arts Commission
George F. Drake,   January 2005

1.  I attended the December Arts Commission meeting thinking that the issue of the plaques for the Korean War Children’s Memorial would be on the agenda.  I was told the meeting began at 7 pm so I arrived at that time.  No one acknowledged my presence until the meeting was adjourned at which time the chair recognized my presence with a word of greeting.

2.    There was no attempt on the part of the chair to say during the meeting “We have a visitor.  Welcome Dr. Drake.  Have you something to bring before this organization?”  No.  I was totally ignored until the meeting closed.  I was the only member of the public in attendance.

3.    Frankly, I left the meeting quite angry. First of all, let me inform you that in the past ten years my wife and I have donated over $120,000 to Big Rock Garden Park for its programs, sculpture purchases and other activities.  We have donated or participated in the acquisition of over 2/3 of all sculptures in that park.  We had planed to donate another $10,000 per year for the next twenty years ($200,000) to the Whatcom Community Foundation for Big Rock Garden Park programs and activities.  We had an estate plan that would have left our entire estate to provide an endowment to further the arts in Big Rock Garden Park that would have provided between two and three thousand dollars per month for plants, sculpture and programs. The Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee, seemingly with the approval of the City of Bellingham Park and Recreation Advisory Board and the City of Bellingham Arts Commission has destroyed our dream of making Big Rock Garden Park a centerpiece of art and culture in Bellingham.

4.    If all of this is a fait accomplice you might wonder why I just don’t just shut up, take my money and go home.  Well, the price is even higher than that.  What is at stake now is the reputation of the Bellingham Arts Commission and the City of Bellingham as it relates to its respect for veterans of the Korean War.  All of this deals with the Korean War Children’s Memorial pavilion built in Big Rock Garden Park which I have been working on for the past six years.  Your decision on this issue will be recorded in the history of the memorial and in published articles describing its development.  Since I doubt that the City of Bellingham Park Department staff has provided you with background material on this issue please allow me to give it to you now.

5.    I was a soldier in the Korean War.  I was witness to the destruction, devastation and the killing.  To me it was the debasement of the most basic human values we learn in home, church and community.  I was also witness to some of the most wonderful humanitarian acts of love and compassion rendered by the American servicemen and women for the lost, homeless, orphaned, ill and traumatized children, the innocent victims of that war.  I became deeply involved in efforts to rescue and help the children.  In my first six months in Korea I sent over 1,000 letters home to folks in the United States seeking help for the orphans and their caregivers.  All of this is documented on my web site  [My personal involvement is documented in the area “Manassas Manor” in the “Orphanages” section.]
6.    All of these experiences were buried in my consciousness along with other war time experiences.  One does not want to revisit these scenes of destruction and death but when the Korean War 50th Anniversary activities were announced I found nothing that spoke of the compassion and aid of the American Armed Forces for the children.  All celebrations and activities related to the deaths, the battles, the victories, etc. of the war qua war. Nothing dealt with the human element of the war, the effect of the war on the servicemen and women or on the civilian population.  I took it upon myself to develop a memorial (the only one in Korea or the United States) honoring the American servicemen and women for their compassionate aid to the children of Korea during that war.

7.    I created the Korean War Children’s Memorial [KWCM] project under the aegis of the City of Bellingham Park and Recreation Department and served as volunteer “Coordinator” for the project.  In order to devote full time to the Korean War Children’s Memorial project I resigned from the Big Rock Garden Park Sculpture Committee which I had founded a number of years previously. The KWCM project had three goals:

a.    Document the nature and extent of American forces involvement in the rescue and maintenance of the war child of Korea.
b.    Disseminate this information widely so it becomes part of the history of the Korean War.
c.    Build a small memorial in Big Rock Garden Park to honor the American servicemen and women for their aid to the children of Korea during their time of need.

8.    The City of Bellingham Park and Recreation Department allocated no funds for this project.  All expenses had to be paid with money donated to the Whatcom Community Foundation for this purpose. [The Whatcom Community Foundation serves as ‘Fiscal Agent’ for the project.]  Since donations no where near approached the costs my wife and I have “loaned” the project over $60,000.  In addition I have volunteered over 6,000 hours of my time on this project.  The results, to date, are as follows:

a.    Goal-I.  We conducted research at the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland, at the Pacific Stars and Stripes archives in Tokyo, Japan and at other archives and libraries in other cities in the U.S.  So far we have gathered over 2,000 photographs and over 1,800 documents illustrating the relationship of American servicemen and women to the children of Korea during the years of the Korean War and shortly thereafter.  Given what we have already collected we can state with confidence that the American servicemen and women:

i.    Saved the lives of over 10,000 children.
ii.    Helped sustain over 53,000 children in over 400 orphanages.
iii.    Donated over $2,000,000 from a monthly wage between $50 and $100 a month.
iv.    Brought in from parents, friends, neighbors, etc., thousands of tons of material aid for the children.

b.    Goal II.  To disseminate this information we created the project web site which now has hundreds of photographs and a like number of stories and documents dealing with the GIs and the children.  The web site is an on-going project as every day we are receiving or locating more information on this topic.  We have also prepared a photo exhibit of 35 panels 2’ x 4’ telling this story.  The initial “opening” of this exhibit will be in Las Vegas, Nevada early this year.

c.    Goal III.  This goal is the construction of a small memorial pavilion in Big Rock Garden Park which is nearly completed.  The large grey ceramic roof tiles are in a warehouse in Bellingham and will be installed in April, 2005.  A group of Korean War orphans rescued by American servicemen are paying the air fare and stipend for a traditional artisan to come to Bellingham to install the roof tiles.  From its inception this memorial structure has been called the “Korean War Children’s Memorial.” With that name its design was approved by the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee, the Bellingham Park and Recreation Advisory Board and the Bellingham Arts Commission.

The memorial pavilion was dedicated on 27 July 2003, 50th anniversary of the armistice ending hostilities in the Korean War.  In attendance were men who, collectively, had saved the lives of over 1,000 children as well as a number of the children, now in their 50s and 60s whose lives had been saved by the GIs present.  The highest award of the U.S. Air Force Chaplain’s Service was given at the banquet following the dedication ceremony to an Air Force Chaplain who had saved the lives of over 950 children in one incredible rescue operation.

It was a complete surprise for me to be the recipient of a plaque honoring me and members of my army unit for saving the lives of many children in the Manassas Manor Orphanage and the Seoul Sanitarium and Hospital Orphanage.  [See attached photo.] This plaque was presented to me by two of the little children in the orphanage whose photos I had in my scrap book.  Never did I imagine that I would ever meet them again.

9.    With the building nearing completion in 2003 I sought of the city bureaucracy approval for the bronze dedication plaque that was to be affixed to the structure or to a stone nearby.  That was when I realized that not every one shared my zeal for this project.  The wording “Korean War Children’s Memorial” was changed to read “Korean Children’s Memorial” and the phrase “American servicemen and women” was changed to read “American service people.”  This language was initiated by the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee and approved by the Bellingham City Park and Recreation Advisory Board and the Bellingham Arts Commission.  Since I still had to raise the money to pay the outstanding debt on the structure, get the roof installed and covered and handle many other details I just ignored, for the time being, the results of that request for approval of the dedication plaque.

10.     Now, a year later, only two things remain for the completion of the memorial pavilion: the installation of the roof tiles and the installation of the dedication plaque.  After several frustrating delays plans are for the Korean artisan to install the roof tiles in April of 2005.  A local contractor has been hired to help and the roof, once installed, will protect the wonderful joinery understructure for hundreds of years.

11.    Rather than one plaque I now decided to request approval of two plaques, feeling that merely naming the structure the “Korean War Children’s Memorial” would not effectively identify the reason for its being there.  The smaller of the two plaques would be the same as the one submitted for approval a year earlier [which you rejected].  Again the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee changed my proposed wording, removing the word “war” and referring to our armed forces as “service people” rather than “servicemen and women.”  There was a feeling in the committee that war memorials should be in cemeteries or in special parks designated for that purpose where on Veterans Day and Memorial Day veterans and their families could go, shoot off old rifles and listen to the American Legion band play taps.  Otherwise such memorials should not intrude on the daily lives or activities of those citizens of this community who sent those servicemen and women off to war to be shot at, killed or wounded. It was deemed offensive to the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee that the word “WAR” be inscribed on a structure in the park.

12.    It was this recommended wording for the small plaque that was brought before the Bellingham Park and Recreation Advisory Board on November 20th of last year for approval.  I was in attendance and spoke strongly against that revised wording and asked for my original wording on the plaque.  I left the meeting in anger before the vote was taken but was informed it was 4 to 3 in favor of my wording.  I assumed that matter would be passed on to the Arts Commission for final approval and for that reason I attended the meeting of the Arts Commission on the 7th of December to speak to the issue if necessary.

13.    The second plaque that I sought approval for was one to tell the story of why the memorial was warranted in the first place.  It was to read: “American Armed Forces and the Children of Korea – During the Korean War, 1950-1953, American servicemen and women saved the lives of over 10,000 children.  They helped sustain over 53,000 children housed in more than 400 orphanages.  They donated over two million dollars from their meager pay and called for help from their families, neighbors and friends back home who sent thousands of tons of aid for the orphans and their care givers.  The American people can be proud of their sons and daughters who took to Korea with them basic American values of compassion and love for children. ” Permission for this plaque was denied by the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee.  Comments reported to have been uttered at the meeting of that committee include “the place is looking like a cemetery”, “the wording is highly inflammatory”, “the figures stated on the plaque are questionable”.  Since I was specifically advised (by Shirley Erickson) NOT to attend that meeting I cannot report who said what.  Let me elaborate a little more on why I feel so strongly that the larger plaque is called for.

a.    The Korean War is popularly known as the “Forgotten War.”  Unfortunately, when some bodies were found under a bridge at No Gun Ri newspaper headlines around the world read “American Troops in Korea Commit Atrocities.”  If you were to yell at the top of your lungs “But we also saved the lives of 10,000 children” the press and the public would yawn.  What seems to be remembered of the Korean War are the supposed atrocities committed by US Forces.  But the same thing happens today in Iraq.  We hear little of the aid the US forces render the civilian population of that devastated nation but we sure hear of any atrocities committed by our troops.

b.    The purpose of the KWCM is to ensure that the compassionate aid the American armed forces rendered the children in that horrendous war is not forgotten. Merely labeling the structure the Korean War Children’s Memorial does not ensure that the story is saved and promulgated.

c.    To ensure that the story behind the Korean War Children’s Memorial is not lost to history we requested permission to affix a bronze plaque to a stone in the vicinity of the memorial itself that relates the facts given in paragraph 8-a, above.  Fifty years from now or a hundred and fifty years from now that plaque would still give testimony of how American servicemen and women took to Korea with them American values of love for children and  helped them in every way they could.

d.    The Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee suggested that a flyer could be made available at the entrance to the park with the information to be inscribed on the plaque.  Who would pay for the design and the printing of those flyers?  How many years would it be before the cost would exceed that of the bronze plaque?  I do not accept this as an adequate alternative to the bronze plaque.

14.    Here is a chance for the citizens of Bellingham to say “We are proud of our servicemen and women and honor them for what they did for the children of Korea some fifty years ago.”  Here is a chance for the citizens of Bellingham to say it is willing to serve as witness to the story of these deeds and will ensure that the memory of them will not die.  For those who say such memorials should be put in a cemetery I state this memorial is about saving lives, the opposite of those memorials that honor our servicemen who died in action and which are usually placed in cemeteries out of sight and out of mind of the citizens who sent them off to get killed.

a.    [It should be noted that part of the ire of members of the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee arises from the fact that the Bellingham memorial for the twelve servicemen from Whatcom County who died in the Korean War is also placed in Big Rock Garden Park.  It is in the form of a twelve-story carved granite pagoda.  It and the companion 6’ tall granite Korean stone lantern honoring all who served in the Korean War were carved in Korea and shipped to Bellingham for placement in Big Rock Garden Park.  Aesthetically they fit in well with the Japanese maples and Asian ambience of the park.  Only on close inspection does one notice that they honor those from this community who served in the Korean War. I feel compelled to bring to your attention that the dedication of those two memorials was the FIRST formal recognition in 50 years that hundreds of our young men from Whatcom County went off to war in Korea and that 12 of them died in that conflict.  That indicates how much we care about sending our young men and women off to war to be killed, injured and damaged.  Will we do the same with those who went off to Iraq and Afghanistan to get shot at and killed?  Will we put their memorial in a cemetery (out of sight and out of mind) if we even bother to construct one?]

15.    As Coordinator of the Korean War Children’s Memorial project I call on the Bellingham Arts Commission to reject the recommendation from the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee and the Bellingham Park and Advisory Board and allow the larger plaque as shown in the accompanying illustration to be affixed to a rock in Big Rock Garden Park placed in a location adjacent to the Korean War Children’s Memorial pavilion.

a.    In my application to the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee I had suggested that the plaque be affixed to a large basalt column that formed one end of a six foot long polished basalt stone bench.  The committee was willing to accept the ($3,000) bench which they would place somewhere of their choosing and not necessarily any where near the memorial but would not allow any bronze plaque to be affixed to it.

b.    As a compromise I request that the large plaque be affixed to a stone that would be placed in the salal undergrowth in the wooded area to the north of the KWCM pavilion.  I further request that the Arts Commission appoint one of their members to serve on a committee with the City of Bellingham landscape architect (Jonathan Schilk) and myself to select the stone and determine its exact placement.

16.    I accept the recommendation of the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee to affix the smaller dedication plaque to one of the pillars of the memorial pavilion but with wording as approved by the Bellingham Park and Recreation Advisory Board.  This is not my first choice but will, with the above committee, decide on which post to affix the noted plaque.

17.    If the Arts Commission deems these requests unacceptable I shall take the issue to the Mayor (need I remind you that the Arts Commission decisions do not constitute law, that they are merely advisory to the Mayor?) and to the Bellingham City Council.  As the history of this memorial will be written for publication I want the various bodies involved to make clear their reasons to support this request or reject it.  The way the matter currently stands the Bellingham Arts Commission seemingly rejected this proposal without any discussion.  I think “due process” has been thwarted in this case and ask for a public discussion by the Bellingham Arts Commission of this matter.

18.    Since your last meeting the incredibly destructive tsunami hit the shores of many Asian nations and the headlines of our newspapers are filled with stories of death and destruction.  The death toll is now over 100,000.  Remember, though, there were over 100,000 orphans created by the Korean War.  What would be the public reaction today if American servicemen and women saved the lives of over 10,000 children in the tsunami crisis and helped sustain over 54,000 for more than three years without the formal support of their government or military organizations and voluntarily donated over ten million dollars from their military pay to help those kids survive?  Would the American public demand that any memorial honoring that activity be placed in a cemetery and suggest that it would be offensive to have such a memorial placed in a public park?

19.    Unfortunately, there is more.  Among my other requests placed before the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee was a request to form a committee that would create a series of musical and cultural activities in Big Rock Garden Park each Sunday during the summer months that would celebrate the wonderful ethnic/cultural diversity of our community.  I am attaching hereto the proposal.  This proposal was rejected based on the suggestion that persons attending the musical activities would damage the undergrowth in the park, that it would be too successful and cause a parking problem and that the Park Dept. had no funds to facilitate it.

Honoring our differences has been one of my passions for much of my life. The funding issue is spurious as I was willing to find the funds for the project.  The other objections are ridiculous.  With the new KWCM pavilion we have a marvelous stage for a Russian balalaika group, a Mayan marimba group, a Japanese shakuhachi ensemble, a Chinese er-hu player, etc.  Once the events get too successful then it is time to think about moving them.  I cite this rejection so the Arts Commission knows why and how citizen initiatives to promote the arts in Bellingham get destroyed.  There was no effort on the part of the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee to discuss ways this project could be accomplished with minimal damage to the environment or at no cost to the city.  It was just a blanket refusal to accept the idea.

20.    Another initiative I submitted to the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee was for the creation of a series of international sculpture exhibits at Big Rock Garden Park with a focus on contemporary Asian sculpture by young artists.  Again, the committee, without making any effort to discuss with me how such could be done given the exigencies of the city budget, staff limitations, etc, decided to turn down the proposal.  [A copy of the proposal is attached.]

a.    In the last six months I have discussed this concept with the Senator from Thailand who is the former chair of their senate committee on arts and culture, with the former Minister of Planning for Japan, with the Directors of two major arts organizations in Korea, with the former President of Belarus, with the President of the Aesthetic Association of Russia, and with other friends and contacts in the People’s Republic of China, Pakistan, Mongolia and elsewhere. My contacts and my experiences working on the international scale are extensive.  This made no impression on the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee.  Rather than exploring how this project could be achieved they “nipped it in the bud.”   Shortly I shall be visiting the Peoples Republic of China and will explore the possibility of sponsoring an exhibit of sculpture by young artists of that nation here in the Pacific Northwest, possibly in Seattle or Vancouver, BC, Canada since the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee has determined that Bellingham is not interested in hosting it and neither the Park and Recreation Department Advisory Board nor the City of Bellingham Arts Commission bothered to overturn that decision.

21.    In a way the Big Rock Garden Park Sculpture Committee decisions might have been for the best.  I am clearly getting the message it is time for me to retire and stop creating so much conflict.  The troglodytes of the Big Rock Garden Sculpture Committee can now spend two more years determining the size and character of the name plaques for sculptures in Big Rock Garden Park.  They might even learn how to spell the names of the works properly.  Perhaps they will even find and reinstall the Carrera marble sculpture by the Russian sculptor Alexi Kazantzev donated by my wife and me which is now no longer to be seen in the park.  Maybe they can find paper and send notes of appreciation to those who donate funds to the park for the purchase of works of art and its maintenance.  I am not holding my breath until this is done.  I will have to admit that the Big Rock Garden Park Sculpture Committee does have one talent.  It knows how to kill a dream.

22.    I request a place on the Bellingham Arts Commission agenda for their January, 2005 meeting to seek approval of the plaques for the Korean War Children’s Memorial in Big Rock Garden Park, Bellingham.


George F. Drake, Coordinator
Korean War Children’s Memorial Project
1421 Cornwall Ave. #B
Bellingham, WA 98225