Fellow Koreans, decorated patriots and veterans who served the nation with distinction, and families of fallen heroes,
We remember the bravery of fathers who defended the country and the hardships of mothers who protected their families.
We remember those fathers who could not make it home and the lives of their relatives left behind.
Our love of country begins from these invaluable memories.
No death is in vain when it is in service to the country. Sacrifices for the nation are honorable acts that should be repaid by our community collectively. This is because what we are today stems from their countless sacrifices.
Honoring patriots and veterans begins with this precious sense of responsibility.
We all wish that those who have left us could come home and open the door just like before they departed. However, our modern history is marked by many being unable to return, leaving behind tremendous suffering. Our caring for patriots and veterans also represents our determination to prevent such a painful history from being repeated.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement and the establishment of the Provisional Republic of Korea Government. Over the past century, numerous fallen patriotic ancestors and those who rendered distinguished service to the nation have served as our buttress.
I pay tribute to their noble sacrifices and dedication. My deepest sympathy also goes to their families.
My fellow Koreans,
Here in Seoul National Cemetery, a total of approximately 181,000 heroes have been buried since the first interment of an unknown soldier on January 16, 1956. From heads of state to unknown soldiers, those who have left us - decorated independence activists and persons of national merit as well as war veterans, police officers, firefighters, those who died while helping others and those who contributed to the nation and society - are laid to rest here together.
The National Cemetery is a site alive with patriotism. Every single person buried here is history by himself or herself, demonstrating the fact that patriotism transcends class, occupation and ideology.
Seoul National Cemetery’s Burial Ground II is reserved for rank-and-file soldiers. In this section, there is a general laid to rest in a simple one-pyeong (a unit of area equal to 3.3 square meters) grave instead of one of the grander eight-pyeong tombs normally reserved for generals. The grave belongs to General Chae Myung-shin, who requested in his will to be buried with the rank-and-file soldiers because he was able to be promoted to general thanks to those soldiers who gave their lives for the country on the battlefield.
General Chae exuded true military spirit even in death. This story of patriotism is still being told as a living testimony.
Seokju Yi Sang-ryong and Woodang Lee Hoe-yeong are also laid to rest here.
The two aristocratic independence activists took the spirit of noblesse oblige to new heights - becoming ordinary citizens. They committed themselves to the independence movement by burning the titles to their slaves thus emancipating their servants and turning over all of their property to the cause. Orthodox Confucian scholars from a long line of yangban (noble and literati class), they discarded their vested interests in the spirit of revolutionary Confucianists and dedicated themselves to the founding of a democratic republic, the Republic of Korea.
When it comes to patriotism, there is no difference between conservatives and liberals. Love of country is a mindset that regards the destiny of a national community as one’s own - as opposed to clinging to vested rights or private gain. Those engrossed in vested interests are not being true to either conservative or liberal causes.
We once endured a time when ideology ruled - when people and thoughts were divided by a contest between conservatives and liberals. However, a harmonious history combining conservatives and liberals permeates today’s Republic of Korea. Fused within the independence, democracy and economic development that we enjoy now are the efforts of conservatives and liberals.
I respect all acts of patriotism regardless of whether they are from conservative or liberal quarters. The days are gone when society can be characterized as a dichotomy between conservatives and liberals. Everyone, by nature, can at times be conservative and at other times liberal.
We pursue stability sometimes and change at other times. Some sectors choose stability and others opt for changes.
As long as we avoid extremes and define patriotism within the realm of common knowledge, no matter how we view ourselves - conservative or liberal - we can move closer to an integrated society. I believe that is what is required to provide patriots and veterans with genuine support in our time.
For five years up to 1945, when Japan finally surrendered to the Allied Forces, the Provisional Republic of Korea Government formed a united front between the left and right in Chongqing, China, and founded the Liberation Army.
Last March, we held a ceremony to commemorate the restoration of the headquarters of the Korean Liberation Army in Chongqing.
On December 10, 1941, the Provisional Government declared all-out war against imperial Japan, placing the Liberation Army at the forefront.
The Korean Youth Battlefield Mission Corps, the anarchist forces, and the Korean Volunteer Army, led by Kim Wong-bong whose penname was Yaksan, were incorporated into the Liberation Army, which helped to finally unite the nation's independence movement forces.
With that combined force, they, together with British troops, fought against Japanese forces on the India-Burmese front in 1943, and in 1945, they learned of the liberation of their country while preparing to launch a joint operation with the U.S. Office of Strategic Services to advance onto the Korean homeland. Kim Gu long regretted imperial Japan surrendering before the Liberation Army's advance.
Still, the unified Liberation Army members' indomitable determination to resist as well as the military capabilities fostered in cooperation with the Allied Forces served as the root of the founding of the Republic of Korea's Armed Forces following liberation and later became the groundwork for the ROK-U.S. alliance.
On the meaningful day of April 11 this year, which marked the centennial of the establishment of the Provisional Republic of Korea Government, a bipartisan resolution that formally recognizes the Provisional Government as the root of the foundation of the Republic of Korea was submitted to the U.S. Congress. The resolution underscored that the formation of the Provisional Government served as the foundation of the success and prosperity of Korea's democracy and that the ROK-U.S. alliance must be strengthened further in the areas of diplomacy, the economy and security.
Next year will mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. Under the flag of the United Nations, some 1.95 million soldiers from 22 countries took part in the War, and approximately 40,000 lost their precious lives. The United States endured the greatest sacrifice for the sake of our country’s liberty and peace. About 33,000 U.S. warriors lost their lives, and 92,000 of their soldiers were injured.
The Government will build a "Memorial Wall of Remembrance" within the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. by 2022. We will honor the noble sacrifices of each and every fallen U.S. Korean War veteran and help the sublime value of the alliance between Korea and the United States become deeply etched on the hearts of both peoples.
One duty of a state is to respond to the firm conviction that, no matter what happens, the state will remember each individual and repay their dedicated contributions.
Today, I ruminate on patriotism again here at the National Cemetery and pledge that every effort will be made to fulfill the duty of the nation for those who made sacrifices for the country and their families.
Decorated patriots and veterans and families of the fallen,
Last year, the accident compensation act for public servants was passed into law. This act makes it possible to bestow respectful treatment - on par with that of regular public servants - to contracted workers who lose their lives in the line of duty in order to repay them for their service. The pension awarded to the bereaved families of police officers and firefighters lost while on duty has been significantly increased.
Related efforts are being made this year to pass an accident compensation act for fallen service members. An amendment to the Military Service Act will also be pursued to ensure that medical assistance is provided until any disease or injury that arises during service is completely taken care of.
The remains of independence activists that were left overseas have been repatriated to Korea: Independence activist Kim Tae-yeon from China, Kang Yeong-gak and Lee Jae-soo from the United States, and Gye Bong-woo and Hwang Woon-jeong as well as their spouses from Kazakhstan were laid to rest in Seoul National Cemetery and Daejeon National Cemetery. We will continue in our efforts to bring the remains of independence fighter General Hong Beom-do back to Korea from Kazakhstan.
Today, I think about independence activist Lee Jae-soo's last wish: "Someday I will return to Korea and volunteer to build a new genuinely democratic country." To live up to his last wish, I will strive to help establish a Republic of Korea that he would be proud of.
Only when decorated patriots and veterans and the families of the fallen have self-esteem can I consider the nation to be functioning properly.
Since January, a project to attach nameplates to identify the homes of people of national merit has been underway. This year and next, nameplates will be attached to the residences of over 400,000 people, including decorated independence activists and bereaved families, war veterans, wounded servicemen and police officers, decorated pro-democracy movement activists, and those injured while carrying out special assignments. I hope that local communities as well as their families will come to recognize this as an honor. I’d like to see a culture take root where regional governments invite people of national merit to their respective events and seat them in the front row.
The Government will continue to strive to give people of national merit and their families respectful treatment and welfare benefits that provide more substance and expand medical infrastructure for decorated patriots and veterans.
In addition, to properly inter people of national merit, Goesan National Cemetery will be opened in October, and ground will be broken in August to complete Jeju National Cemetery by 2021. The Government will start to systematically manage cemeteries for decorated independence fighters, including Seoul’s Suyuri cemetery for patriots and the cemetery for decorated independence activists in Hyochang Park, which have so far been provided less than appropriate government maintenance. It will also be in charge of looking after the graves of people of national merit with no known surviving relatives.
The Government will also devise a plan to exercise its authority to register those persons of national merit who have passed away on active duty but have no surviving family members.
This year, the Government will adopt a review system to allow people of national merit to check in advance whether they qualify for burial in a national cemetery. It will also officially establish a system to allow professionals and ordinary citizens to participate in the screening process to determine whether veterans and patriots are qualified for government welfare benefits.
On May 24, we saw another serviceman depart this life. It happened just as he was about to return to his base after finishing a mission aboard the destroyer of the Republic of Korea Navy Choi Young of the Cheonghae Unit in an overseas deployment near the Gulf of Aden off Somalia. Petty Officer First Class Choi Jong-geun could not return to the arms of his family in the end, and the Government laid him to rest in Daejeon National Cemetery.
After the inter-Korean military agreement reached on September 19, 2018, the Government began eliminating landmines in the Demilitarized Zone and uncovered the remains of 67 people and some 30,000 articles left by the deceased.
The bereaved relatives of those who have been identified during excavations - the late Staff Sergeant Kim Won-gap, the late Staff Sergeant Park Jae-gwon and the late Private First Class Han Byeong-gu - are joining us here today.
A country is duty bound to locate everyone who dedicated themselves to their country until the last person is found. Many of the heroes who have finally reached the arms of their country after a difficult search, however, remain unknown soldiers whose family members cannot be found. There are no DNA samples with which to compare and confirm their identity.
If the bereaved families can actively cooperate by helping us secure a larger database from genetic samples, I promise that the Government will do all it can to locate their family members.
Fellow Koreans, people of national merit and bereaved relatives,
Over the past century, we have overcome colonialism, prevailed over profound grief caused by the War and accomplished democracy and economic growth by helping one another.
The path has never been easy. The path to independence was a solemn one taken by those who sacrificed everything they had. To protect the nation which we regained, we fought a war with noble patriotism, but we had to bury fellow soldiers on many hills. Dark shadows still linger as well in the course of economic growth.
We must constantly keep ourselves alert so as not to forget our past but retain it while moving toward the future. While pondering the origin of our roots, we must keep an insightful eye on where we are heading.
Our hearts harbor numerous songs. Songs about the homeland, songs about mothers and songs about fellow soldiers, these songs will continue to be sung without end. The stars of fallen soldiers and those who passed away in the line of duty will shine in our sky eternally.
As long as the spirit of our patriotic ancestors is alive within us, the Republic of Korea will never cease its advance toward the future.
I pay my deepest respect to all people of national merit once more.