Korean War veterans were given an added remembrance of their toil and sacrifice Monday as a new memorial was dedicated in their honor.
More than 100 people gathered at Veterans Park near the Medford Armory to honor the nation's warriors, including some who fought communist forces from the north and the Red Army from China to a stalemate.
Esther Lee Vaziri was a young girl living in Seoul during the hostilities and remembers the difference American servicemen made in defending her country. On Veterans Day, a memorial she donated to the park was dedicated to those who gave their lives during the conflict, those who have since died and those who remain.
"Through the selfless sacrifice you showed, you're my heroes, and the Korean people's heroes," said Vaziri, who later immigrated to the U.S., got married and settled in the Rogue Valley when she was 29.
"The Republic of Korea is the only country to ever really thank the veterans who served in their country to protect them so they could go forward and become a democracy," said Bert Plannette, who fought in Korea between 1951 and 1952 and retired as a master sergeant 20 years after leaving Korea.
"It's nice to see they are very thankful American servicemen were there to fight the North Koreans and China so they would have the freedom they have today."
The memorial is a fitting reminder, said John Woods, a Klamath Falls native who arrived in Korea on June 6, 1951, and endured temperatures as low as minus-22 degrees.
"We lost over 50,000 in the 'Forgotten War,' " Woods said. "There were no marching bands; we just went on to our duty and went on.
"Some came home so fast and were civilians like that next day. I stayed in the Marine Corps another year and a half, so I was acclimatized before I got out," added Woods, who went on to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley before launching a career with State Farm Insurance in the Bay Area.
Both men were part of a wreath-laying ceremony at the new memorial. Vaziri also presented a wreath during the dedication prayed over by local Korean Presbyterian pastor Abraham Chang Lee.
Vaziri shared the vast metamorphosis she witnessed on her return to Korea years later.
"I couldn't believe how much had changed," she said. "I felt like a stranger there."
Korea became the first country to ask America to end foreign monetary aid in the 1970s and has gone on to become an economic juggernaut.
"There's been an amazing change," Vaziri said. "The average income is 268 times more than 60 years ago."
Her daughter, June Lee McReynolds, who grew up in the Rogue Valley, said the stories she heard about the Korean War as a child have come into sharper focus as she's matured.
"My understanding has evolved," she said. "In our day, it's easy to get distracted and forget the harsh realities they faced. I can't think of a great enough distraction to cause them to forget."
McReynolds said her mother has dedicated more than 26 years to serving the veterans through dinners and functions.
"It's just part of who she is," McReynolds said. "The war and the U.S. military impacted her profoundly."