JOHN SONGER WAS a young man from South Buffalo with a fatal premonition. When he was sent to fight in Korea, Songer knew he would never return.
Songer was 20 when he died on Nov. 16, 1951, from machine gun wounds in Korea. Through the years, most people, except for his family, have forgotten him and the cause he gave his life for.
This summer, a Korean War Memorial is scheduled to be built and dedicated to honor the estimated 260 Western New Yorkers who died fighting in that war. The memorial will be located on Buffalo's waterfront in Servicemen's Park.
It is believed to be one of the country's first Korean War monuments. More than $100,000 has been raised for the project; about $30,000 more is needed to complete it. The Korean War Memorial Project was started about a year ago when Erie County Sheriff Thomas Higgins, a Korean veteran who is chairman of the Korean War Memorial Committee, began a drive to honor veterans of that war. Mayor Griffin and William A. Buyers, commissioner of Human Resources -- both Korean veterans -- also were instrumental in the memorial project.
The city donated the land for the monument, which will be located about 50 yards from the Vietnam War monument. It will feature two infantrymen on the march in Korea; located in front will be a plaque that lists about 260 names of Western New Yorkers who died in war. The American and South Korean flags will be on each side of the memorial.
Local Korean veterans hope the monument will remind people about a war, which lasted from June 1950 until July 1953, that has long been ignored by the American public. The toll included 54,246 Americans killed and 103,284 wounded.
But those statistics take on new meaning when looked at as individuals, like Songer.
"John was a strange guy as far as seeing the future," said Marty Mann, who graduated with Songer from Bishop Timon High School and enlisted in the Marines with him.
Mann is co-chairman of the Korean War Memorial Committee and served in Korea. "Even when we were in school, John used to talk about some of us fighting in a war and not coming home," Mann said. "We'd kid him about it, and tell him not to be so gloomy. But you could tell it really bothered him."
In his last letter home, Songer -- who had talked about becoming a priest -- wrote his family that he went to Mass and received communion. "He said he never knew what was going to happen," said Jean McCormick, Songer's sister. "He wrote that he might not see us again."
He grew up in Sharon, Pa., and moved to Buffalo with his family when he was 12. Songer was one of seven children and he had a difficult time adjusting to his new home in Buffalo. Everything changed, however, when he entered Timon.
"He loved Timon so much," Mrs. McCormick said. "He got into the print shop over there and was an honor student. He made friends and was very popular."
Kathleen Waterhouse, Songer's younger sister, recalled that after her brother's death the Marines sent home his personal belongings. Right on the top was his Timon high school ring.
Songer was a member of Timon's first graduation class in 1950, and was the first Timon graduate to die in a war. Each November, there is a special Mass and breakfast at the school in honor of Songer.
"It's a way to keep his memory alive," Marty Mann said. So is the proposed Korean War Memorial. "It's a shame it took this long to get something like this.
"You think about a guy like John and you wonder what kind of contribution he would have made, or how many lives he would have touched if he had lived. John and all the other guys who died in Korea deserve to be remembered."
"I can't tell how much this means to our family," said Mrs. Waterhouse. "There's no way to put into words what it means to lose a brother in a war. This memorial is long overdue."
Mrs. McCormick agreed. "It's about time the guys who fought in Korea got some recognition," she said.
Those wishing to donate to the memorial can contact the Veterans Helping Veterans Center at 851-4110.
Tax-deductible donations can be made payable to the Korean War Memorial, c/o Veterans Helping Veterans Center, 1608 City Hall, Buffalo, N.Y. 14202.