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The Defense Department Finally Asks the Barker Brothers For Help Correcting the Korean War Memorial

East Dallas brothers Ted and Hal Barker have documented the soldiers who died in the Korean War for decades as a labor of love. The Defense Department is now asking for their help correcting its mistakes, and it may be too late.
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Courtesy of Marv Lynchard/U.S. Department of Defense

Brothers Hal and Ted Barker have worked for decades to memorialize the soldiers that died in the Korean War. Much of that time has been spent painstakingly working to make sure that soldiers are accurately remembered. In two weeks, the brothers’ database and website chronicling those who died during Korean War could be gone for good, because labors of love cost both time and money.

The original Korean War Veterans Memorial was dedicated 27 years ago on the National Mall in Washington D.C. The new Memorial Wall of Remembrance added more than 43,000 names. Construction on the $22 million project began in March 2021 and was paid for mostly by donations. It was unveiled in a rededication ceremony in July.

But if you talk to Hal Barker, he’ll tell you that the memorial does a disservice to a great deal of them. 

For almost as long as the Barkers have been maintaining and researching their database, the two have been pulling at the shirttails of the foundation tasked with the physical memorial and with the Department of Defense. The brothers want the two entities to correct hundreds of misspellings and inaccuracies. The response as recently as this summer was that the Barkers’ database and research wasn’t enough to convince the federal government of its errors.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel James Fisher, the executive director of the foundation overseeing the memorial, said as much to Texas Monthly. The Barkers “have to follow the law,” he told the magazine, which means adhering to the official DOD list. “They’re going to have to prove their case,” he said. “‘This guy should be on the wall.’ Okay, where’s your proof? If you have someone shot down in the sea, a family member has to petition it, not the Barker brothers.”

Hal says there are more than a thousand names that are misspelled or rendered inaccurately, and 500 more missing from the monument altogether.

But last month, Hal got an unexpected phone call. “On October 21, I’m sitting here, and the phone rings, and it’s the Department of Defense saying, ‘Hey Hal, would you be willing to help us fix the database?’”

Barker said the DOD wanted the names in his database as well as the names they were missing. 

“I said, ‘Well, you know, I’m going to need to have this formalized. I’m going to need to have a flag rank officer sign off on this and about what kind of credit we get and why this is happening,’” Hal said of the call. “He said, ‘Done deal, we’ll do that for you, but we need to have you help us fix this problem.’”

Hal shared a follow-up email from his contact at the Defense Department, which reiterated that he would “appreciate any information that you can provide that would assist the Department in updating and correcting the Korean War Casualty list.”

The Korean War began in 1950 and lasted three years. Often called “The Forgotten War,” at least 36,000 Americans died in that three-year period. For comparison, 58,000 died in the decade-long Vietnam War. Thousands are still missing in action to this day.

The most nascent effort to commemorate those who fought in the Korean War began in Dallas in 1984, when Hal Barker donated $10 to the American Battle Monuments Commission to seed the work that would become a Korean War memorial trust fund. Eventually, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to create the memorial, which was paid for with private donations sent to the trust fund that Hal had started with that sawbuck.

But nearly from the start, the casualty list was a bone of contention that has resulted, Hal said, in a monument that is riddled with inaccuracies. The brothers’ assistance comes too late to fix the misspelled and misrendered names on the memorial. ”Those get to stay there forever,” he said. 

“For example, with Ignatius Spotted Bear, he is on the wall as Bear I Spotted,” Hal said, adding that the names of Spotted Bear and other Native American soldiers were often misrendered on the memorial.

Some soldiers who died in Korea are listed under the wrong home countries, which will make it more difficult for their loved ones to find them if they ever visit the memorial. More than 200 names will likely be removed because those soldiers didn’t die in Korea but in completely different countries. Barker gave the example of a Navy squadron plane that crashed in Japan, just south of Hiroshima.

“There were nine men killed on this crash in Japan outside the area of criteria,” he said. “The Navy has, I think, five of them rated as killed in North Korea, so they are on the wall. The rest of the crew are not eligible to be on the wall because they were listed as killed in Japan. But they were on the same plane, and there’s no explanation other than they’re complete idiots. It was just absolute gross negligence.”

The worst thing about the mistakes, Barker said, is that he is “100 percent” sure they’ll never be fixed, because there is no money for it. The Barkers ultimately published a list of names on their own, with underwriting from Los Angeles philanthropist Mary Urquhart. The 4-pound, 525-page book had an initial printing of 500 copies and is an accounting of “everyone known to have died in the war, along with birthdays, hometowns, units in which they served, places and dates of death, and official status.”

Hal said that they have 100 books left, and how quickly those 100 books sell may make the difference in whether the two brothers can continue their labor of love. (To find out how to order a copy, or to become a member of the Barkers’ project, click here.)

“If we can’t sell those, we shut down in about two weeks. We’re gone,” he said. “Ted’s looking at working in at Walmart and I’m looking at working at a pet shop. So our website will be gone. Our data will be gone, and we’ll be gone basically.”

Hal said that doesn’t mean they’re done caring, however. They’re pushing for the Senate Armed Services Committee to investigate the whole mess at the Memorial, and they’re hoping others will, too. Hal says he’ll take a day off from the pet store if it means he can testify to the shoddy treatment of the soldiers who were killed in action more than half a century ago.

“Somebody’s head’s going to have to roll in Washington and I’m waiting to be the one handling the guillotine,” he said. 

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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