What’s in a Name?

We all have one, and although we have no choice in deciding what it’ll be, it’s permanent, staying with us from cradle to grave. It becomes a defining feature of our human character, and long after we’re gone, a memorial to what we did or didn’t do during our time on earth. Whether it’s chiseled in stone, recorded in a legal document, or written on the pages of a book, our name, the unique combination of surname and given name, represents our personality, passions, accomplishments, and contributions to the world.

What a wonderful gift it is to have been given a name! Every human being, from the beginning of time until the end of the human race, will have one.

I was recently reminded, however, that names can sometimes lose their significance. When thousands appear together, on a monument or memorial for example, they become abstract words. Something so unique as a person’s name, sadly, becomes mundane and uninteresting.

During a recent visit to The War Memorial of Korea in downtown Seoul, my wife took pictures of thousands of names. Etched in marble in a gallery outside the museum’s main building is a list of over 38,000 servicemen, who as part of the UN coalition forces sent to Korea from 1950-1953, fought and died to help stop North Korea and China from taking over South Korea. 

As I looked at the seemingly endless sea of words, I had to force myself to focus on individual names: Johnson, Lee, McClung, Brown, Lovett, Volkman, Matsunaga, Medina. My wife had been asked to take pictures of these specific names, among others, by our friend Susan Kee, so she could share them with their families in the States. As I read them out loud, carefully and respectfully pronouncing each one, as if the person were standing next to me, the immense tragedy of what happened nearly 70 years ago, during the Korean War, hit home.

Marine Corps Cemetery in Hamhung, North Korea, Dec. 1950 (Photo credit: US Marine Corps)

Each name represents a person who left behind family and friends, dreams and aspirations, and the hope of a better future. They all wanted to simply survive and return to their hometowns. A Marine at the Battle of Chosin, asked by a reporter what he wanted if he could make one wish, summed up what all the brave men who died in Korea wanted. He replied, “Give me tomorrow.” For tens of thousands of men who fought in the Korean War, tomorrow never came. Their lives were snuffed out by small-arms fire, red-hot shrapnel, and earth-shattering explosions.

For most, their bodies were returned home. For others, their final resting place will never be known. They are listed as MIA, or Missing In Action. The void left by these brave men forever impacted their families. 

In a small gesture of appreciation to those who lost a father, son, husband, brother, uncle, or grandfather in the Korean War, my wife and I are starting the What’s In A Name? project. We would be honored to take a picture of any name listed at the War Memorial of Korea for the family of the deceased serviceman. All we ask is that you give us a short paragraph or two about the person and a picture so we can pay tribute to him.

As the words on the Korean War Memorial in Washington, DC, remind us, "Freedom is not free.” We should never forget those who fought and died to secure our - and our allies' - freedom.

We hope you’ll share this so that people from the US, or any of the 16 other countries that sent troops to Korea, will learn about the project.

Please click here to get more information about getting a picture. 

View looking down the gallery where the names are listed (Photo courtesy of Ned Forney).


  1. Travis Brann on February 4, 2018 at 12:53 am

    A worthy project Ned. On my visits commerating the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the start of the war I spent several hours there checking on all my compatriots from 2d Infantry Division. It is a moving experience to visit there when one realizes that thus far no similar place exists in The United States.

    • Ned Forney on February 4, 2018 at 3:25 pm

      Glad you were able to see it yourself when you came for the anniversaries, and hopefully someday there will be a similar memorial in the States. It really is a special place. Thank you for your continued support and feedback, Travis.

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