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Tampa monument honors Korean War vets

TAMPA — Sixty-one years after the Korean War ended, the Veterans Council of Hillsborough County dedicated the newest monument at Veterans Memorial Park.

The Korean War memorial pays homage to the 56 soldiers from Hillsborough County who died during the three-year conflict, including 25-year-old Lt. Baldomero Lopez, Tampa’s only Medal of Honor recipient during the war.

“Touch their names and tell them thanks for their service,” Eddie Ko said during a dedication ceremony Saturday morning. “And tell them, ‘You are heroes for our town.’”

Ko, a Korean War veteran and chairman of the monument committee for the local chapter of Korean War Veterans Association, said it took the group about five years to raise the money to design and build the monument. Hillsborough County contributed $100,000 and the chapter raised a second $100,000 through donations and sponsorships, he said.

The Korean War memorial isn’t quite completed. The committee has commissioned three statues — of General Douglas MacArthur, an American soldier and a Korean woman and child — which eventually will be placed on pedestals around the monument. The committee also is inviting people to buy a plaque to remember their loved ones and honor them on the memorial wall.

The Korean War Monument is the latest to be dedicated at the park beside U.S. 301. Eventually, 14 separate monuments will honor the Florida soldiers who served in America’s wars, ranging from the Seminole Wars to the Iraq War. Monuments recognizing Purple Heart recipients and soldiers who were prisoners of war or are missing in action also will be built.

“I’m really proud of Hillsborough County for doing this,” Ko said.

Saturday’s ceremony was focused on remembering veterans of the Korean War.

The war began on June 25, 1950, and lasted for three years until an armistice — which remains in effect today — was signed on July 27, 1953. More than 37,000 American soldiers were killed in the war and more than 100,000 were wounded. More than 500 soldiers from Florida were killed.

During the monument dedication ceremony, an honor squad performed a rifle salute and played taps to recognize Tampa’s fallen soldiers.

Those who fought in the war traveled thousands of miles to a poor country and risked their lives for people they never had met, said Ko, who worked in Marine intelligence during the war.

Now, 60 years after the war’s end, Korea has one of the strongest economies in the world, he said.

“That’s because of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives for Korea,” Ko said.

Kimi Springsteen, the county’s community affairs liaison, said she would not have had the education and the opportunities she had if it weren’t for the American soldiers who helped South Korea win its freedom.

She was a teenager in high school when her father told her family to pack up their belonging so they could evacuate the city of Seoul. Springsteen said she and millions of other people were “instantly homeless.”

Korea would not have survived and prospered as it has if American troops had not entered the war, she said.

“There’s nothing we can do to pay back your ultimate sacrifice,” she said.

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