Databases don't always tell the whole story
- By Dan Verton
- Nov 21, 1999
The 800,000 tourists who visit the Korean War memorial in Washington, D.C., this year may be surprised to find out that the database at the memorial, known as the Honor Roll, does not represent the official number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines killed in action during the Korean War.
The American Battle Monuments Commission lists the official number of Korean War casualties at 56,246. However, that number represents all military deaths that occurred worldwide from July 1951 to July 1954one year after the Korean Armistice.
The founders of the Korean War memorial decided to honor all those who served during the period of the war, regardless if they died in combat. The memorial's list includes 37,333 names. The list is far short of the official number of casualties because a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed many records of service personnel, making a complete list impossible. The commission is actively seeking the names of the remaining worldwide casualties.
"It's not the official government database," said Martha Sell, chief of operations at the commission. "It was derived from a combination of databases, including from the Department of the Army and the national archives."
Sell said no other rosters are available that would help them collect the 18,913 names that are not on the list. However, she said, the commission provides so-called change-and-addition sheets at the memorial for family members to fill out if they cannot find a loved one on the list.
Veterans of the war, however, do not agree with the commission's approach. Hal Barker, who runs the Korean War Project, a major veterans organization, said the United States will never have an accurate accounting of Korean War casualties until someone rectifies the various databases.
"We have been trying to get several DOD agencies to outsource research on Korean War casualty lists," Barker said. "This is an information technology issue."
Although agencies have developed their own lists and databases, Barker said, there are thousands of errors, omissions and mistakes. "We can't normalize the databases because each database uses slightly different configurations," he said.
As a result, Barker's Korean War Project World Wide Web site has developed a Remembrance section where family members can add comments and verify listings without corrupting the original database. Barker obtained the database used on the Web site from the Pentagon's Directorate of Information Operations and Reports.
"It has been wildly successful, and thousands of family members have obtained their first real knowledge of Korean War losses from our pages," Barker said.
Pentagon officials said that the Directorate of Information Operations and Reports office is preparing to issue what will be dubbed the Korea Combat Casualty File II, which will further clarify the number of personnel killed within the Korea theater of operationsnot worldwide.
The office's official database lists 36,909 casualties from the war, of which 33,658 are considered battle deaths, according to one official who spoke on background. "That number will change, and it will be firmed up," the source said. "This file is close, but it's not here yet."
However, according to Barker, the issue comes down to who should be included in the database in the first place. "If you qualified to be issued a Korean War service stripe and you died, you should be honored," Barker said. "If you were on a ship in the Mediterranean during Korea and never served in Korea, you are not a Korean War veteran. Honorable service, but not a Korean War vet."