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PBS Ombudsman

The Mailbag: Forgetting, Again, the 'Forgotten War'

* This mailbag was amended on Nov. 16 to include a statement from the producer.

Here's a brief ombudsman's mailbag about an old wound that seems to keep opening.

Among the most popular programs that PBS presents every year, for more than two decades, are the National Memorial Day and July 4th holiday concerts from the lawn in front of the Capitol building in Washington. On Sunday night, Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — PBS added another celebratory, patriotic offering to those two long-running broadcasts with an hour-long "National Salute to Veterans," also produced by Capital Concerts in conjunction with local PBS-member station WETA. The program is dedicated to saluting "America's 22 million veterans" who "have served throughout our country's history."

Last year, after the 2011 Memorial Day concert, I wrote that, while these telecasts are always among the highest-rated on PBS, they "also generate mail to the ombudsman from people who feel slighted or left out. Honoring our country's war dead, veterans and those who serve in today's armed forces pushes powerful buttons. This year, it was those who remember America's 'Forgotten War,' the one in Korea, who complained most."

Alas, it has happened again. The Korean War from 1950 to 1953 — in which some 300,000 Americans served and more than 33,000 were killed — still remains the "Forgotten War" for some of those who watched the new program.

Here Are Some of the Letters

Sunday night I watched PBS' Salute to Veterans and was saddened and taken aback at the almost total exclusion of reference to the Korean War. I may be mistaken, but I recall it being mentioned just once in the program, almost offhandedly as something that occurred between World War II and Vietnam.

As a reporter I interviewed Korean War veterans for a similar written piece for my newspaper. Their pride in their sacrifice is there, but so is the hurt that this same sacrifice is often slighted or ignored when programs similar to Sunday night's fail to take even the most basic note of it. To them the names Chosin Reservoir, Pusan perimeter, Inchon, and Chinese Offensive (in which 300,000 Chinese troops were involved) still echo. It was not a little war, it was not an easy war, no war ever is, but it was fought by American troops and they should have been saluted along with all the others.

Phyllis Johnson, Ellenton, FL

~ ~ ~

Your Tribute to Veterans completely forgot to give adequate and equal coverage to the forgotten war — KOREA. As a Marine who made the Inchon landing and fought his way out of the Frozen Chosin, I'm most pissed that those of us who served were not sufficiently honored.

Arnold Hansen, Ridge, NY
S/Sgt, USMC (1948-1952)

~ ~ ~

Why are Korean Veterans not included when there is a program about Veterans? We just competed watching the Salute to Veterans Program on PBS, and AGAIN, no mention of Korean Veterans.

Muskogee, OK

And the U.S. Merchant Marine

I watched the National Salute to Veterans. It was a moving piece of film but had one major defect. In the salute to the various services they missed one service that had a very honorable service with much loss of life. They deserve to be remembered with all the other services. That service is the U.S. Merchant Marine. They basically serve unarmed to provide all the other services goods and ammunition they require. Veterans of the Merchant Marine are a forgotten service again and I hope PBS will make an attempt to remember them with all the honor they deserve.

John W. Wilson, Walton, IN

(Ombudsman's Note: Last year's column linked to above also includes a number of letters making the same point about the absence of the Merchant Marine in these patriotic celebrations.)

* Capital Concerts Replies

On Friday, Nov. 16, Executive Producer Jerry Colbert sent the following statement:

"The National Salute to Veterans featured 'best of the best' moments from previous National Memorial Day Concerts and was dedicated to all of our nation's veterans. In recent years, the annual 90-minute long Memorial Day program has focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as our country has been fighting these two wars simultaneously, deeply affecting our service men and women as well as their families. There have been over 6,000 deaths, and more than 40,000 wounded, often suffering from traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and loss of limb(s). We have felt it was important to make these men and women the major focus of the program. However, the National Salute to Veterans also included stories from other wars, such as a World War II tribute, because there are so few of these veterans still living, and a segment on the 'Children of War' since they too have suffered so much. In past National Memorial Day Concerts we have featured major stories about the heroism and valor of our Korean War veterans. Unfortunately, we are not able to feature a story about every conflict every year. This was especially true for the inaugural broadcast of the National Salute to Veterans given the time constraints of a one-hour long television program."

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