The new Korean War Veterans Memorial remains a work in progress. An example of the new wave of monument design that incorporates digitized data, the memorial is the first to include computer-delivered images of the dead.
The memorial includes about 35,000 digitized service records of those killed in action, which can be accessed via touch-screen technology. But the data base is incomplete. As many as 17,000 additional biographies will be added as information flows in on the others who died in war. And only 1,500 photos have been scanned in so far. Survivors of the men killed - all who died were men - have been encouraged to send photos and information to help build the memorial.
Few people are as keenly aware of these details as Greg Blair of Blair, Dubilier & Assoc., an exhibit firm here that supervised the interactive design.
“The monument will be on the mall for literally 100 years or longer,” Blair says, “and here we’re dealing with a technology that stands still for about a minute and a half on slow Sunday mornings.”
So, Blair explains, the team used “off-the-shelf, easily maintained communications technology. We came up with a configuration that would allow them to duplicate what we’re doing here.” By “them” he means the American Battle Monuments Commission, which will cultivate the data base as it accumulates, and the National Park Service, which will maintain the monument.
The honor roll’s data and image bases are contained on a standard Pentium-class Micron computer with a four-gigabyte hard drive, located in a kiosk on the memorial’s site.
On a duplicate computer across town, ABMC workers tend the memorial’s permanent archive, plugging in new data as it becomes available. Workers verify data by comparing it to Defense Department records and asking those who offer information for the Social Security number and other facts about the deceased.
To link the computers with various scanners and printers, Blair used an off-the-shelf Novell Ethernet local area network. Total cost of the technology: about $100,000. To the visitor, the technical minutiae are all but invisible.
In the kiosk, located in a grove of trees near the triangular “field of service” at the heart of the memorial, there are two touch screens accessible to people standing or sitting in wheelchairs. Suspended overhead are two “echo” monitors providing a wider view. Three touches produce a typical bio, for a Leroy Abbott: “Muhlenberg, KY, Born 1932. U.S. Army, Private, Serial Number 15381689. Killed in Action August 17, 1950.” Touch the screen again for a printout from a basic Hewlett-Packard laserjet.
The life-and-death dynamic made the project uncommonly poignant. Blair and his staff scanned in the first few hundred photos before transferring the task to the ABMC. Many pictures come with news clippings and handwritten notes from loved ones.
“You couldn’t not read them,” Blair said.
xxxx MEMORIAL INFORMATION The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located just southeast of the Lincoln Memorial. For information call: (202) 208-3561. To send photos or data about a veteran killed in Korean War action, write: Korean War Veterans Memorial Assn., Department of Interior, 18th & C Sts. NW, Room 7424, Washington, D.C. 20240-9998. Washington Post