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Hoping to draw attention to the veterans of a war often considered forgotten, the Defense Department is trying a new tack in its commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, sponsoring a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day.
Six veterans, representing Americans who served in the 1950-53 conflict, will ride on the float, a replica of the National Korean War Memorial in Washington.
"This is the parade they never got," said Army Col. David Clark, director of the Defense Department's 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee. "These guys didn't come home to a lot of fanfare."
Among the veterans on the float will be Hiroshi Miyamura, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions as an Army corporal in Korea but says many of his comrades drew little in the way of thanks.
"That's one of the reasons I decided to do it, because the Korean War veterans never received the recognition they earned," Miyamura, 87, said in a telephone interview Thursday from Las Vegas, where he and his family had stopped en route from his home in Gallup, N.M., to Pasadena, Calif., for the parade.
The float is part of an effort to raise awareness of the war's 60th anniversary not just among the American public, but also among the Korean War veterans themselves, Clark said, many of whom are unaware of the commemorations in their honor, including a recent Senate resolution designating 2012-2013 as the "Year of the Korean War Veteran."
"We were looking for a dynamic way that we can ring in this year in a way that reaches that generation," Clark, who also serves as director of foreign intelligence for the Army at the Pentagon, said. "We know that demographic watches this parade."
The Tournament of Roses parade, now in its 124th year, draws a larger television audience than any other parade in the United States and is also broadcast in a number of other countries, according to the commemoration committee.
Compared with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the 50th anniversary of the war in Vietnam, the 60th anniversary of the Korean War has received little attention.
The dedication of the Korean War memorial on the Mall in 1995 put a focus on the war, as did the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, observed from 2000 to 2003. "Other than a few events like that, the Korean War has been forgotten," Clark said.
He said it is important to reach as many veterans as possible for the 60th anniversary. "Many of them are very elderly and won't be around for the next milestone," he said. The anniversary commemoration will culminate with a ceremony for the Washington area on July 27 marking the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the fighting.
The Korean War float is 21 feet high and 55 feet long and is being decorated with 10,000 roses and 10,000 carnations. It was designed and built by two California float-building companies. The Defense Department is spending about $250,000 on the parade, part of the nearly $6 million that has been allocated for the three-year-long commemoration.
Clark said he was "a little worried about the optics" of spending money on a parade float during a time of fiscal constraint, but he noted that the Korean War anniversary is being done "on a shoestring budget" compared with other commemorations. "These guys deserve the recognition," he added.
Miyamura, who was born and raised in Gallup as the son of immigrants from Japan, joined the Army near the end of World War II and served with the occupation force in Italy as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, made up primarily of Japanese-Americans. Upon his discharge from service, he joined the Army Reserve.
After North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, American forces were rushed to the Korean peninsula to push back the communist forces. Miyamura was called back to active duty and assigned to the 7th Infantry Regiment in the 3rd Infantry Division.
On the night of April 24-25, 1951, near Taejon-ni, Miyamura's company was holding a defensive line against troops from Red China, which had intervened in the war to assist North Korea. Miyamura, a machine gun squad leader, said he heard bugle sounds and saw flares in the air, signals for a massive Chinese attack.
With his position nearly overrun, Miyamura fired his gun and then used his bayonet to fend off the enemy. After tending to wounded comrades and though wounded himself, he stayed behind to cover their withdrawal in the face of another Chinese attack. "When last seen he was fighting ferociously against an overwhelming number of enemy soldiers," his Medal of Honor citation reads.
Miyamura was captured and was held as a prisoner of war for 28 months. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, but it was kept secret because of fears he would suffer retaliation. President Dwight Eisenhower presented Miyamura the medal in 1953 after he was freed.
Though he has been honored for his bravery, Miyamura said the families of many Korean War veterans know little about what happened. "They grew up not knowing anything about what their fathers or mothers did in the war," he said.
The other veterans being honored in the parade include two Silver Star recipients: Solomon Jamerson, who as an Army first lieutenant was awarded the medal for his bravery as an air observer directing artillery on enemy positions despite heavy fire on his aircraft, and James McEachin, who was wounded in the fierce fighting around Old Baldy in west-central Korea in 1952 and went on to become a distinguished author, actor, producer and songwriter.
The other veterans aboard the float will be James Ferris, who served with the Marine Corps in Korea and Vietnam and is now national president of the Korean War Veterans Association; Michael Glazzy, a former Marine Corps sergeant who operated radar to guide Marine Corsairs in support of ground troops; and Minoru Tonai, who spent several years with his parents in an internment camp for civilians of Japanese descent and later served as an Army medic in Korea.
Participating in the parade is "quite a honor," said Miyamura. "I've been watching it all my life, and I never dreamt I'd be riding in a parade like this."