Sixty-eight years ago, countless young people in 21 countries opened an atlas. They searched for Korea that was engulfed by the dark clouds of war. They left their families with a promise they would certainly return and tightened their bootstraps.
What these brave young people harbored in their hearts was a sense of humanity and responsibility to protect freedom and peace. With that noble cause, they risked everything they had “to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Under the flag of the United Nations, 1.95 million troops fought in the Korean War, and over 40,000 of them lost their precious lives.
The sacrifice and dedication of every single United Nations Korean War veteran is etched into my life. In the bonechillingly cold winter of 1950, the heroic battle fought by them at the Jangjin Reservoir made the Hungnam evacuation a success. Among the refugees aboard the SS Meredith Victory at that time were my parents. I was born in Geoje Island where they had taken refuge and grew up in Busan.
The United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan is the only U.N. Forces graveyard in the world designated by the United Nations. It is a sanctuary honoring the 40,895 fallen soldiers of the U.N. Forces who were killed or missing during the Korean War. It is the place that informs the world of their sacrifices and devotion and reminds future generations of the fact that only genuine courage can defend freedom and peace.
Today, I am very pleased to be able to say that blood and sweat shed by the United Nations Korean War veterans has never been in vain.
The Republic of Korea rose yet again from the rubble of war and achieved high-flying economic growth and the development of democracy. The country has never forgotten the mind of the war veterans who said, “Korea is my second homeland and Koreans are my family.” It was able to be reborn as a nation that emanates the light of peace from a country steeped in the tragedy of war.
Furthermore, the country now engages in U.N. peacekeeping operations at any place on the earth where peace is needed. Keeping in mind the friendship you have shown to us, the Republic of Korea is returning the favor for the peace of other peoples.
Korean troops have successfully completed recovery and reconstruction projects in Somalia, Angola, East Timor and Haiti and a medical assistance mission in Western Sahara. Now, the Dongmyeong Unit in Lebanon and the Hanbit Unit in South Sudan are carrying out their missions as U.N. Peacekeeping Forces.
One nurse, who was dispatched to Korea as a member of the German medical aid corps after the Korean War, said, "If it was a nighttime at that time, now is daytime."
If the achievement today by the Republic of Korea is a miracle, you, the U.N. Korean War veterans, are the very protagonists of that miracle.
We will remember each and every U.N. Korean War veteran in the name of the Republic of Korea. In addition, we will redouble our endeavors to ensure that they take pride in the Republic of Korea today, together with their families and descendants.
Now, most of them are well over 80. We will exert enhanced efforts to help an increasing number of them visit Korea before too long. For those who find it difficult to visit Korea, we will arrange a special ceremony at places where they live to express our appreciation.
The sacrifices and devotion of the war veterans must remain as an invaluable legacy to posterity. My Administration will arrange the Peace Camp for Youth, through which descendants of the U.N. Korean War veterans and young Koreans will be able to share friendship and talk about the life of their heroes. Scholarships will be provided to the needy descendants of the war veterans, and assistance for their studying in Korea will be increased.
The Korean War is not a “forgotten war.” Endeavors will be made to help increase a sense of pride in having participated in the War. We plan to construct a memorial wall in the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Together with people around the world, we will remember and honor the noble sacrifice and achievement of each and every one of the fallen soldiers.
There is no border in honoring veterans by repaying their sacrifices for and dedication to the Republic of Korea.
Fully repaying the courage of facing the pain of the War is to create a peaceful Korean Peninsula free of the threat of another war. Achieving peace is in a true sense the way of ensuring the welfare of veterans and honoring the fallen heroes.
Last April, I met with Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of North Korea at Panmunjeom, the symbol of national division. We promised there would be no more war on the Korean Peninsula as well as complete denuclearization.
Following the Inter-Korean summit, the North Korea-U.S. summit was successfully held. The United States and North Korea declared they would achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and end hostile relations. In addition, they promised to recover the remains of missing soldiers and prisoners of war.
The remains of about 200 fallen American soldiers will return to their nation and families soon. The excavation of the remains of missing soldiers will also begin soon. The Korean Government will fulfill its responsibility so that the remains of missing U.N. soldiers, including Americans, will be fully excavated and repatriated in a swift manner.
Thanks to the sacrifice and dedication of the United Nations Korean War veterans, the Republic of Korea was able to protect freedom and peace and achieve the progress of today. The Republic of Korea will always stay together on the path to peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula with the United Nations Korean War veterans.
Though we live far apart, the Republic of Korea will always stay the same in remembering the war veterans.
I pay respect to all war veterans and reverently wish that the fallen heroes rest in peace.