The message was simple: Write a letter to someone lost in the Korean War. Within a day, responses started pouring in for the latest effort by brothers Hal and Ted Barker to remember the war their father didn't like to discuss. In the three weeks since their plea went out, more than 500 letters and e-mails have arrived — from daughters who lost their fathers to veterans who lost friends to schoolchildren thanking those who died for their freedom.
"It's been a catharsis for a lot of people," said Hal Barker, 59. "They write a letter telling the person who was lost how their life turned out."
It's been 11 years since the Barkers, inspired by their father's reticence, started the Korean War Project, an online memory bank for the 1950s conflict that claimed about 36,500 U.S. lives. They have helped comrades reconnect and tried to get relatives of the missing to submit DNA to the U.S. government to help with identification.
The brothers have long struggled for funding to maintain the site, and they said recently they are about to give up. That prompted Hal Barker to ask those on their e-mail list — 44,000 strong — to send "Letters to the Lost."
It was an idea that resonated with others. "It's a stack that's 18 inches high now," Hal Barker said.
The letters appear on the project's Web site.
Janis Curran said it was difficult to write to her father, who went missing on May 18, 1951.
"I tried it so many times, and I kept getting bogged down because I wanted to say so much," said Curran, 59, of Diamond Bar, Calif. "It was one of the most difficult things I had to do."
Curran met the Barkers when they helped her find out more information about her father, Lt. Charles Garrison, a Navy pilot whose plane was shot up, forcing him to bail out.
"We have missed you every single day that you have been gone, over 55 years now," she wrote. "Some days are harder than others, especially the happiest days like weddings, and the births of your grandchildren and great grandchildren, even one great-great grandchild. I wish you could have known them."
Mark Hartford, 58, of Columbus, Ohio, wrote to the 19 people who died during the 13 months he was stationed along the Demilitarized Zone, which separates North and South Korea.
"I was in the zone the nights you were attacked and killed. I was in the zone during the days you were ambushed and killed," wrote Hartford, who served in the zone about 14 years after the war.
"I've carried the names of 19 teenage soldiers in my heart for 40 years now," Hartford said Thursday from Washington, where he is lobbying to get a plaque placed near the Korean War Veterans Memorial to commemorate the soldiers who served in the Demilitarized Zone after the war.
Hartford planned to go to the memorial Saturday for a ceremony to honor those who served in the zone.