Remarks by the President at 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Armistice
National Korean War Veterans Memorial Washington, D.C.
July 27, 2013
Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you. Please be seated. Good morning. Annyong haseyo.
Secretaries Hagel, Jewell and Shinseki; Admiral Winnefeld; General Jung; all our friends from the Republic of Korea, including the legendary General Paik Sun Yup; distinguished guests; and most of all, veterans
of the Korean War and your families. (Applause.) To our veterans -- many in your 80s, a few in your old uniforms -- which still fit -- (laughter) -- let me just say you look outstanding. And I would ask that all United States, Republic of Korea, and other veterans who fought -- I would ask those who can stand to please stand so that we can properly honor you here today. (Applause.)
July 27th, 1953 -- 60 years ago today. In the village of Panmunjom, in a barren room, the generals picked up their pens and signed their names to the agreement spread before them. That night, as the armistice took hold, the guns of war thundered no more. Along the jagged front, men emerged from their muddy trenches. A Marine raised his bugle and played taps. And a soldier spoke for millions when he said, “Thank God it is over.”
In the days that followed, both sides pulled back, leaving a demilitarized
zone between them. Soldiers emptied their sandbags and tore down their bunkers
. Our POWs emerged from the camps. Our troops boarded ships and steamed back across the ocean. And describing the moment he passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, one of those soldiers wrote, “We suddenly knew we had survived the war, and we were home.”
Yet ask these veterans here today and many will tell you, compared to other wars, theirs was a different kind of homecoming. Unlike the Second World War, Korea did not galvanize
our country. These veterans did not return to parades. Unlike Vietnam, Korea did not tear at our country. These veterans did not return to protests. Among many Americans, tired of war, there was, it seemed, a desire to forget, to move on. As one of these veterans recalls, “We just came home and took off our uniforms and went to work. That was about it.”
You, our veterans of Korea, deserved better. And down the decades, our nation has worked to right that wrong, including here, with this eternal memorial, where the measure of your sacrifice is enshrined for all time. Because here in America, no war should ever be forgotten, and no veteran should ever be overlooked. And after the armistice
, a reporter wrote, “When men talk in some distant time with faint remembrance of the Korean War, the shining deeds will live.” The shining deeds will live.
On this 60th anniversary, perhaps the highest tribute we can offer our veterans of Korea is to do what should have been done the day you come home. In our hurried lives, let us pause. Let us listen. Let these veterans carry us back to the days of their youth, and let us be awed by their shining deeds.
Listen closely and hear the story of a generation -- veterans of World War II recalled to duty. Husbands kissing their wives goodbye yet again. Young men -- some just boys, 18, 19, 20 years old -- leaving behind everyone they loved “to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Let’s never forget all the daughters who left home, especially our heroic nurses who saved so many. Our women in Korea also served with honor. They also gave their lives. (Applause.)
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 their Corsairs and Sabres, knowing that they might not return to this earth.
Listen, and hear of their gallantry
-- often outnumbered and outgunned -- in some of the most brutal combat in modern history. How they held the line at the Pusan Perimeter. How they landed at Inchon 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.
Listen, and hear how perhaps the only thing worse than the enemy was the weather. The searing heat, the choking dust of summer. The deep snow and bitter cold of winter -- so cold their weapons could jam; so cold their food would turn to ice. And surely no one endured more than our POWs in those hellish
camps, where the torment was unimaginable. Our POWs from Korea are some of the strongest men our nation has ever produced, and today we honor them all -- those who never came home and those who are here today. (Applause.)
Listen to these veterans and you’ll also hear of the resilience of the human spirit. There was compassion -- starving prisoners who shared their food. There was love -- men who charged machine guns, and reached for grenades
, so their brothers might live. There was the dark humor of war -- as when someone misunderstood the code name for mortar rounds -- “Tootsie Rolls” -- and then shipped our troops thousands of Tootsie Rolls -- candies.
And there was hope -- as told in a letter home written by a soldier in the 7th Cavalry. Marching through the snow and ice, something caught his eye -- a young lieutenant
up ahead, and from the muzzle
of his rifle hung a pair of tiny baby booties, “swinging silently in the wind…like tiny bells.” They were sent by the lieutenant’s wife, pregnant with their first child, and she promised to send ribbons -- blue if a boy, pink if a girl. But as the war ground on, those soldiers were scattered. Until one day, on a Korean road, he spotted the lieutenant again. “Swinging gaily in the first rays of the morning sun,” the soldier wrote, were those booties, “and fluttering below them was the brightest, bluest piece of ribbon I have ever seen.”