Fellow Koreans, decorated patriots and veterans, families of the fallen,
I can hardly imagine the sheer weight of longing for your lost loved ones that you carried with you when coming here. In many places on my way here, I came across those who had enshrined their loved ones whom they miss so much deep in their hearts.
Marking the 63rd Memorial Day today, I am once again reminded of the fact that the souls of those who sacrificed their lives protecting us in service to the country were all once our neighbors and family members.
With my profound reverence for patriots and veterans who dedicated themselves to the people and the nation with distinction, I offer my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the bereaved families.
My fellow Koreans,
The history of the Republic of Korea is made up of all the ordinary days of our neighbors and relatives. It is a history carved out by our daughters and sons who have started every morning waving with smiles before leaving for work and faithfully fulfilled their responsibilities.
It was our neighbors and other ordinary citizens who took the lead in shouting chants for Korea’s independence under Japanese colonial rule, went to war to defend the country, worked hard to contribute to the country’s economic development and took to the streets with their bare hands when Korean democracy was in peril. Many of our neighbors were sacrificed in the process. The Daejeon National Cemetery here is the place where those who were sacrificed are buried to rest in peace.
Independence activists and war veterans decorated for their actions are here. The guardian spirits of the Dokdo volunteer garrison and soldiers killed in action in the battle of Yeonpyeong and North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island as well as sailors sacrificed in the sinking of the Cheonan are honored here. Gravesites for firefighters and police officers as well as civil servants who died in the line of duty are here. A graveyard for the righteous has been separately created to honor their noble sacrifices.
In 2006, Chae Jong-min, a mechanic who dreamed of becoming the owner of an auto service center, saved a drowning nine-year-old and passed away at sea. In 2009, Hwang Ji-yeong, an administrative intern at Gimje Agricultural Development Technology Center, and Geum Na-rae, a nursery school teacher, were hit by a car and lost their lives while helping people who had been in a traffic accident. In 2016, Ahn Chi-beom, a university student who aspired to become a voice-over actor, went into a building that had caught fire and rescued all his neighbors, but he himself did not survive.
For the bereaved families, an eternal longing and sorrow must remain. They, however, let us know that courage to help others is embedded within us. Warm-heartedness toward neighbors has turned into a righteous life. A day spent with the best effort for the family has become a source of extraordinary bravery. And that has become the strength to prop up the Republic of Korea. Thanks to their dedication, we could be awakened to the fact that ordinary people like ourselves are the rightful owners of the nation.
My fellow citizens,
The reason why our families are so precious to us is that we believe that they will stand by us in the face of difficulties. The same is true for the nation. When we have a firm belief that we can get help from the nation at any time, we can fully dedicate ourselves to the nation. This is what true patriotism is all about.
This morning I visited the graveyard of fallen soldiers without surviving relatives. Paying respects at the grave of Sergeant First Class Kim Ki-eok, I had time to think about the confidence a nation can give to its people. Even though he sacrificed his youth for the nation at 22, his grave has been left unattended as time has gone by.
The Republic of Korea will never again leave them alone. We will remember and take care of them forever. The Republic of Korea has to remember all the fallen soldiers without surviving relatives. This is the only due answer to their dedication to and confidence in our country, and this is our country's role and responsibility, which enables our people to put trust in the country.
Fellow Koreans, decorated patriots and veterans and families of fallen heroes,
Ensuring the welfare of veterans and patriots is to express respect for their devotion to the nation. It is also to deeply engrave upon our mind the fact that sacrificing for others is to live an invaluable life. Therefore, it constitutes the fundamentals of building a properly functioning country. My Administration is striving to better repay the sacrifices of our veterans and patriots as part of efforts to honor all patriotic acts.
Up until now, we have failed to properly take care of the descendants of the independence activists. However, it is very fortunate that descendants of decorated independence activists, including their grandchildren, have now become eligible for the living allowance. In January this year, the Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs made a personal visit to Yi Ae-hee, who is 82 years old, and gave her a living allowance. She is the granddaughter of independence activist Yi Dong-nyeong who led the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea for about 20 years, serving as the President, the President of Governance and the Prime Minister. Her remark, "It finally helped me deserve the life I’ve carried on so far. I don’t have to feel sorry to my grandfather anymore," makes us feel ashamed.
My Administration upgraded the status of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs to a cabinet-level ministry, and the government budget for veterans affairs has surpassed 5 trillion won this year for the first time. In January this year, a new special group for ceremonies was created at the National Cemetery, so it has now become possible to hold burial services for decorated independence activists with dignity and exceptional respect of the nation. The special allowance for surviving patriotic activists has increased by 50 percent, and the monthly war veterans’ allowance and the allowance for those having given distinguished military service have both increased by 80,000 won.
A new instruction concerning the conferment of a banner to express the condolences of the President has been issued. On June 1, the first day when the instruction was enforced, the first presidential condolence banner was delivered in a respectful manner by government officials to the funeral hall of decorated patriot Kim Ki-yoon.
Incheon Veterans Hospital will be opened in August. Veterans chronic care hospitals will be newly established in Gangwon-do and Jeollabuk-do so that decorated patriots and all veterans can receive medical and nursing services close by, and professional rehabilitation centers are scheduled to be built in Busan, Daegu, Gwangju and Daejeon.
The restoration of the general headquarters of the Korean Liberation Army established in Chongqing by the Provisional Government of Korea is scheduled to be completed by April 2019 in cooperation with the Chinese Government, marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Provisional Government.
The excavation of remains of soldiers and police officers who died during the Korean War will be continued until the remains of the last person are found. When inter-Korean relations improve, the excavation of remains in the Demilitarized Zone will be carried out first. It will also be possible to unearth the remains of foreign war veterans, including American soldiers.
Ordinances were modified to repay for all the sacrifices and devotion for the people. In March, there was a regrettable incident in which three firefighters were killed on duty. However, Kim Eun-yeong and Mun Sae-mi, who were still trainees, could not be acknowledged as decorated patriots because they had not been officially appointed. There must not be any case of injustice in which people who have made equal sacrifices for the people and country are discriminated against because of their status. My Administration modified the ordinances for the appointment of firefighters so that those who are in job training, including the two mentioned, can be recognized as having died in the line of duty. The ceremony for the unveiling of tombstones for the three firefighters will be held here today. I express my wholehearted condolences to their parents and other relatives who bade a tearful goodbye to their daughters.
A sincere and respectful treatment for decorated patriots will not be completed until they and their bereaved families can take pride in themselves.
The stories of their lives have to be truly embedded in the minds of those in the next generation. All of our people should take interest in the issue together so that our children and grandchildren can remember our forebears’ dedication to the country and respect the lives of patriots and righteous persons.
There should be no differences between the conservatives and progressives when it comes to patriotism and veterans affairs. I ask the people to unite in the effort to make our nation a properly functioning country. It will be the strength of the Republic of Korea and our future.
Each local government is engaging in a project to attach nameplates on the houses of decorated patriots in order to indicate their national merit. The designs of nameplates vary from region to region, and some of them lack dignity. The Government will take charge of the project so that a sense of respect for decorated patriots can be shared with their neighbors.
Today, I take great pride in all the neighbors and families of the Republic of Korea who have cultivated a tender heart to care for each other in their ordinary daily lives.
When we are willing to cherish and protect each other, all of us will be righteous people and patriots.
In the name of the Republic of Korea, I will honor and uphold the spirit of the souls of fallen heroes, righteous people and martyrs for democracy. I will make sure that our country will fulfill its role and responsibility to ease by a little the sorrow and yearning of the bereaved families.