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D.C. memorial called an insult to Korean vets

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When President Clinton dedicated the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Mall two years ago, he looked out over a shimmering three-tier pool surrounded by 40 large shade trees and a wide plaza of gray paving stones.

Now the water no longer flows, and the fountain is empty except for a puddle of dirty rainwater. There are 40 holes where the trees once stood. Some of the paving stones are sunken or out of place, creating an uneven pathway.And it's not clear who will pay to clean up the memorial, which cost $18 million to build.

There are multiple problems and multiple parties involved. When the National Park Service calls a meeting to discuss when and how the memorial will be repaired, there are representatives from the American Battles Monument Commission, which sponsored the memorial; the Army Corps of Engineers, which was hired as general contractor; and Cooper-Lecky Inc., the architectural firm that designed the memorial. Also present are various firms hired by the Corps of Engineers to actually build the memorial and landscape it.

The meetings have been taking place "almost constantly" for eight months and are continuing, said Washington parks Superintendent Arnold Goldstein.

Meanwhile, Washington is well into prime tourist season, and tour buses drop hundreds of visitors off at the memorial each day. They don't like what they see.

"It's a shame," said Earle Kittleman, a spokesman for the Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the memorial. "We've gotten lots of letters about it, and we are terribly disappointed on behalf of the veterans. We'd love to get it fixed."

Patricia Barton, a nurse practitioner who treats Korean War veterans in a Pittsburgh trauma center, was dismayed at the empty fountain. "This memorial needs to be in top-notch shape," she said. "It's an insult to those men who are still suffering from the war."

Barton's husband, steelworker Gary Fleming, said he took pictures for his father, Harold Fleming, a Korean War veteran. He said he won't tell him about the problems for fear of upsetting him. "I'll tell him they are working to get the bugs out of it," he said.