WASHINGTON — While the Korean War ended just about where it started, “that war was no tie,” President Barack Obama said on July 27. “Korea was a victory.”
The president spoke at the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War. He said the 60-year remove from the war makes it clear that the war, which claimed more than 36,000 American lives, was a victory for freedom.
“When 50 million South Koreans live in freedom, in a vibrant democracy, one of the world’s most dynamic economies, in stark contrast to the repression and poverty of the North, that is a victory and that is your legacy,” Obama told the Korean War vets who sat among the audience of 5,000.
And U.S. service members continue the mission — because the armistice didn’t end the Korean War, it just stopped the shooting. More than 28,000 Americans are on the peninsula today to guarantee that if the North again tries to step over the 38th Parallel, the world will stand against them.
“For generations to come, when history recalls how free nations banded together in a long Cold War and how we won that war, let it be said that Korea was the first battle, where freedom held its ground and free peoples refused to yield,” the president said.
The president spoke of the legacy of the Korean War and of its veterans. “Korea taught us the perils when we fail to prepare,” he said. He noted that the troops sent to fight in Korea in the early days were under-equipped and under-trained.
“Today, as we end a decade of war and reorient our forces for the future, as we make hard choices at home, our allies and adversaries must know the United States will maintain the strongest military the world has ever known, bar none, always,” he said. “That is what we do.”
While President Harry S. Truman integrated the military in 1948, it wasn’t until the pressure of war in Korea that integration actually occurred. “Korea taught us that as a people we are stronger when we stand as one,” Obama said. “On President Truman’s orders, our troops served together in integrated units.
“The heroism of African-Americans in Korea and Latinos and Asian-Americans and Native Americans advanced the idea, if these Americans could live and work together over there, surely we could do the same thing here at home,” the president continued.
And the war has lessons for today’s veterans, Obama noted. “Korea reminds us that when we send our troops into battle, they deserve the support and gratitude of the American people, especially when they come home,” he said. “Today let us remember that.”
With American troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan, the American people must welcome them home, and make it “our mission to give them the respect and the care and the opportunities that they have earned,” he said.
The president urged all Americans to simply listen to Korean War veterans – most now in their 80s. “Listen and hear how these Americans faced down their fears and did their duty, clutching their rifles, hearing the bugles in the distance, knowing that waves of enemy fighters would soon be upon them; in ships offshore, climbing down the ropes into the landing craft, knowing some of them would not leave that beach; on the tarmacs and flight decks, taking off in Corsairs and Sabres, knowing that they might not return,” he said.
Americans need to listen to the tales of gallantry amid some of the most brutal combat in modern times, the president said. Americans need to know how their fellow citizens “held the line at the Pusan perimeter, how they landed at Incheon and turned the tide of the war, how surrounded and freezing they battled their way out of Chosin Reservoir, and how they fought foxhole by foxhole, mountain after mountain, day and night at the Punchbowl and Heartbreak Ridge, Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill,” he said.
America owes much to the veterans of the Korean War, Obama said, and he spoke directly to them. “In the spring of your youth, you learned how short and precious life can be,” he said. “Because of you, millions of people can keep on living it in freedom and in peace. Your lives are an inspiration. Your service will never be forgotten. You have the thanks of a grateful nation, and your shining deeds will live now and forever.”