The Korean War, one of the United States' bloodiest military conflicts, is recognized as a war in most places around the country.
Then why not in Wellesley?
Someone defaced the Wellesley Korean Conflict Memorial, which sits at the foot of Town Hall and commemorates 711 Wellesley residents who served during Korea, by painting the word "war" in white paint underneath the word "Korean," and the years "1950-1953" above it. Also, the number "711" is drawn in the same white paint on the lower right corner of the plaque.
The graffiti has flown under the radar of town officials, as few were aware of its presence. But the changed wording reflects the sentiments of at least one Wellesley Korean War veteran.
Bruce Mansfield, 78, who served in Korea from June 1951 to January 1953, said the graffiti must have appeared on the plaque within the last six months, and is not necessarily the first protestation of the wording at the memorial site. While Mansfield claimed he did not tag the plaque himself, he is adamant that the plaque's official wording be changed from the word "conflict" to "war."
"It's the little things that add up to the big things," Mansfield said. "This is a little thing of not having the correct word on a memorial."
For Mansfield, this is not merely an issue of semantics. The original wording on the plaque represents how Wellesley – a town he's spent "72 of his 78 years in" – views the combat in Korea when compared to American wars throughout history.
"It's half-a***d," Mansfield said. "Fifty-four thousand guys died in Korea. Fifty-four thousand guys gave their lives to keep this country going the right way."
Records show 34,000 American soldiers were actually killed in the Korean War, which was originally declared a "police action" in the United States though that definition has become obscured over time.
The Wellesley Korean Conflict Memorial was erected in the mid-1950s, according to Dick Dillon, who served as director of West Suburban Veterans Services District from 1994 to 2009. The last war officially declared by Congress was World War II.
Dillon said this is the reason the word "conflict" is on the Wellesley memorial.
"The object of the town was to recognize those people who served; it didn't have to do with whether it was a 'war' or 'conflict.' "
It is unclear how one would go about changing something so longstanding. Hans Larsen, executive director of general government services for Wellesley, said the first step would involve drafting a letter to the Board of Selectmen.
"If somebody feels it's so important that it be changed, they're welcome to send a letter to the Selectmen and perhaps they'll see it fit to investigate that issue," Larsen said.
The word "war" is used on Needham's Korean War Memorial, a structure built and dedicated in 2000. The same goes for the memorial in Worcester and several others around the Bay state.
This has lead some veterans to believe that Congress officially recognized the conflict as a war, but Joe Davis, director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Washington, D.C., said this is not so.
Davis said the term "war" does add some legitimacy to the three-year battle at which several thousands of lives were lost.
"The Korean War Memorial in D.C. calls it a war," Davis said in an e-mail. "The VA's America's Wars factsheet calls it a war. A formal congressional declaration sometimes is overcome by the obvious.
"Calling it the Korean War is correct, especially in the minds of those who served there and their families who waited and worried. Calling it the Korean Conflict is also correct."
Stanley J. Spear Jr., director of the Western Suburban Veterans District, was unaware of the graffiti but said he would tell the Board of Selectmen about the defacement of the memorial. Spear added that he was disappointed that someone defaced an iconic piece of Wellesley's military history to serve a somewhat inconsequential purpose.
"If somebody felt strongly enough and wanted to change it, [they] should do it officially and go before the Selectmen," Spear said. "Do it legally, do it the proper way."
Mansfield has not yet gone through the proper channels to initiate a word change on the plaque. While Mansfield, the town of Wellesley, and Spear are all unsure of what municipal moves to make to initiate a word change, it won't stop Mansfield from being vocal about his goal.
"If we can get 'war' on the memorial instead of 'conflict,' my mission's accomplished," he said. "If I have to write the Selectmen, I'll write the Selectmen."