Fellow Koreans, decorated patriots and veterans, families of fallen heroes,
Today, for the first time in the history of Memorial Day ceremonies, Seoul National Cemetery, Daejeon National Cemetery and the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan are connected via video to honor all of those who dedicated themselves to freedom, peace, democracy and a love for humanity.
Here at Seoul National Cemetery, those who served the cause of independence with distinction, veterans, Korea’s former presidents and unknown soldiers are laid to rest. Daejeon National Cemetery is home to tombs of not only decorated independence activists and war veterans but also the guardian spirits of the Dokdo volunteer garrison and soldiers killed in action in the battle of Yeonpyeong and the artillery attack on Yeongpyeongdo as well as sailors from the sunken corvette ROKS Cheonan. These two national cemeteries are also the resting places for ordinary neighbors who acted righteously to help others. Separate graveyards have been created to honor the noble sacrifices of firefighters, police officers and civil servants who died in the line of duty as well as those who died for righteous causes.
The United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Busan is a symbol of solidarity and cooperation for global justice and peace. It is the only place of its kind in the world. With patriotism and love for humanity, we were able to triumph over armed provocations and the ideology war. Today, I think of the U.N. Korean War veterans together with our fallen patriotic forebears, the guardian spirits of the country and others who sacrificed for their neighbors. Every single one of them demonstrated unforgettable patriotism and became a root nurturing the Republic of Korea. I express my heartfelt respect for their noble sacrifices and dedication. My deepest sympathy and gratitude also go to the bereaved families.
The Republic of Korea rests upon the patriotism of our forebears. The heroes of independence and the defense of the nation restored the Republic of Korea. The dedication of mothers and fathers helped overcome poverty. Sons and daughters sacrificed themselves to advance human rights and democracy. Building on their noble sacrifices, our people today have become the Republic of Korea’s main players. With their own hands, they have generated the country’s worth and order, proving that the Republic of Korea is a democratic republic.
Now, patriotism has become a spirit within all of us, and it is expanding into actions for our communities. Stepping up to save our neighbors and sacrificing ourselves for the common good are very much a part of patriotism. Dr. Yoon Han-deok, the President of the National Emergency Medical Center, worked himself to death while doing his best for patients in need of emergency care. Righteous people like Chae Jong-min, the first person laid to rest in a graveyard reserved for those who were wounded or perished for a noble cause, and Lee Gung-yeol, who died while helping to save others caught in an expressway pile up, as well as firefighters and police officers who bravely carried out their missions in response to calls – all of them are the patriots of our time.
As they go about their lives, our people have been enduring inconveniences in order to surmount the COVID-19 pandemic. Epidemic prevention and medical professionals have been giving their all on the vaccination frontlines and in the battle against the disease. They are indeed the patriots of our time.
Moreover, patriotism has broadened from a love for neighbors and country into a love for humanity. The country that has experienced this the most dramatically is the Republic of Korea. The U.N. Korean War veterans came to our soil – for a country they never knew and a people they never met – to bring freedom and peace to the world. Their actions to help protect the world’s peace and freedom are the best examples of patriotism.
The globe is now facing an ever-increasing number of problems like the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. It is time for us to find ways to coexist on a global level. Patriotism these days requires solidarity and cooperation with the international community beyond borders.
In 2001, a beautiful young Korean, Lee Soo-hyun, practiced love for humanity beyond national borders by rescuing a Japanese man from the tracks at a subway station in Tokyo. The spirit of cooperation between Korea and Japan will be revived someday by his sacrifice. The true altruism and courage of Kim Ja-joong – who sacrificed himself while saving an Uzbek worker in 2013 – showed that it is patriotic to stand together with people from the broader world.
Our patriotism should be enhanced further through coexistence. All over the Republic of Korea, the legacy of tremendous patriotism has continued unceasingly through independence, national defense, industrialization, democratization and warm-hearted devotion to neighbors. I hope that the Republic of Korea will take a new leap forward with everyone practicing patriotism in their respective positions while respecting each other’s patriotic acts.
Fellow Koreans, decorated patriots and veterans, relatives of fallen heroes,
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs’ establishment. Its provisions of welfare support to veterans and patriots began with giving care to wounded soldiers and police officers and expanded to honoring and rewarding decorated patriots and veterans. It has now spread to become a culture that upholds the spiritual values of independence, national defense and democracy. Genuinely honoring decorated patriots and veterans is a source of patriotism. When we have faith that the nation will take care of us and our families, we can dedicate ourselves to the nation. The Government upgraded the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs to ministerial level and has increased the budget for veterans affairs every year. It reached 5.8 trillion won this year. To identify patriots of distinguished service to independence and bestow national merit awards accordingly, the Government made the criteria clearer and more reasonable. In 2019, 647 such individuals – a record high – received these decorations. We were also able to honor 585 decorated independence activists last year. Ceaseless efforts will be made to collect independence movement records until the last independence activist has been identified.
On March 24, the Ministry of National Defense Agency for Killed in Action Recovery and Identification established an identification center here at Seoul National Cemetery. Since 2019, we have identified remains from 33 war veterans and reunited them with their families. The excavation of remains along Arrowhead Ridge in the Demilitarized Zone will be completed this year, and, starting in the second half of this year, it will be expanded to White Horse Hill, site of the fiercest Korean War battle. Identification is as crucial as excavation. Even when remains are excavated, they cannot be returned to their families if no DNA samples for comparison have been provided. I ask the bereaved families to participate in gene collection.
The Government will actually begin providing retired military personnel funds to support career changes, so they can seek jobs after mid- to long-term service without worrying about their livelihoods. We will rectify relevant regulations to ensure that those receiving veteran benefits do not become ineligible for basic pensions and that the value of the decorated patriots and veterans’ sacrifice and dedication will not be buried.
It is truly historic that a former soldier deployed in Gwangju during martial law in 1980 personally met with a bereaved family and sought their forgiveness in March. It is also very meaningful that politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties attended this year’s memorial ceremony for the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement for the first time. Amid truth coming out and the forgiveness and healing continuing, it has become possible for us to respect each other more. I am looking forward to the Jeju of April, the Gwangju of May and the Seoul National Cemetery of June uniting as one spirit to advance the Republic of Korea by embracing each other’s pain.
Win Htut Zaw, a migrant worker from Myanmar who passed away here in 2018, gave Korean nationals a new lease on life after his family chose to donate his organs. I send unwavering solidarity and friendship to the people of Myanmar. Just as the Gwangju of May finally brought the democratization movement to fruition, Myanmar’s spring will surely come.
During my meeting with President Biden, we agreed to develop our peace-, prosperity-, democracy- and human rights-based ROK-U.S. alliance into a more comprehensive one. For the first time as a foreign head of state, I attended, along with President Biden, a ceremony in which the U.S. Government awarded the Medal of Honor to a Korean War hero. There, I watched how the United States treats its war veterans with the utmost respect.
In particular, I was very impressed by the fact that the award ceremony was held with full honors in a case where the level of merit conferred was being raised as a result of new details about the recipient’s military service coming to light. I remember American war veterans and their relatives greeting us with “Gamsahamnida” (Thank you) and “Gachi gapsida” (Let’s go together) during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Korean War Veterans Memorial Wall of Remembrance in Washington, D.C. I was able to confirm the friendship and solidarity built on the values of freedom and democracy. The Government will more actively respond to the changing international order and security environment on the strength of the robust ROK-U.S. alliance.
The decision to terminate missile guidelines at the summit indicates that we have secured missile-related sovereignty and, at the same time, that we have started taking on the challenges of space exploration. Korea also became the tenth country to join the Artemis Accords, the program to send astronauts to the moon. We will expand space-related cooperation with the international community, including the United States, and usher in a new space era for the Republic of Korea by developing our own launch vehicles.
President Biden and I decided to surmount COVID-19 together through a strong vaccine alliance and agreed that dialogue and diplomacy are the only ways to achieve denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. We will prepare to take another great step toward denuclearization and permanent peace on the Peninsula.
Today, before the patriotic souls who defended freedom and peace, I dedicated a commemorative plaque made out of iron melted down from military frontline fences and articles left by fallen heroes. We will end the pain of division and build peace through strong national defense capabilities. I believe that this is the way to repay the spirits of the persons of national merit who fought for the country’s independence, defense and democracy.
Veterans affairs is also about fully protecting the human rights and day-to-day lives of those dedicating themselves to defending their country on our soil at this moment. It is regretful that substandard meals to our military personnel were provided. It is also regretful that malicious acts still exist within our military community, resulting in an unjust death. We will certainly rectify them for the sake of not only the human rights of our soldiers but also their morale and national security. I believe that our military possesses the ability to change and innovate on their own in ways that will meet the people’s expectations.
Fellow Koreans, people of national merit and bereaved families,
Korea is now becoming a properly functioning country by building upon the noble sacrifices of not only the heroes of independence and national defense but also those who died while saving the lives of others. With our sense of responsibility toward each and every person and our country growing, patriotism is also being demonstrated in various ways.
The steadfast driving force of patriotism is faith in the community. Our patriotism, which has sturdy roots in independence, national defense and democracy, should now extend to issues of humanity. Together with people around the world who long for democracy, human rights, freedom, peace and justice, we will overcome infectious diseases and the climate crisis and move toward a sustainable future. I pay my deepest respect to the spirits who have left us a great legacy of patriotism. May they rest in eternal peace.