Fellow Koreans, decorated Korean War veterans and bereaved families,
Marking the 70th anniversary of the Korean War today, we’ve pulled close the remains of 147 of our soldiers. Seoul Air Base has become a most solemn venue to welcome the return of our fallen heroes.
These valiant warriors have now returned to us after 70 years – their rank insignias of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces belatedly restored.
It makes us feel sad but proud. Though this has been long delayed, your country has never forgotten you for even an instant. It is our privilege to honor you with the respect due.
Among the fallen heroes we have today, seven of them have already been identified. They all sacrificed themselves during the Battle of Jangjin Reservoir in Hamgyeongnam-do Province.
We will engrave their names in our history – Private First Class Kim Dong-seong, Private First Class Kim Jeong-yong, Private First Class Park Jin-sil, Private First Class Jeong Jae-sul, Private First Class Choi Jae-ik, Private First Class Ha Jin-ho and Staff Sergeant Oh Dae-yeong. May they rest in peace in the arms of their families.
The dedication of every single Korean War veteran has served as the foundation for our freedom, peace and prosperity. I extend my deepest respect and consolation to the bereaved families who have endured longing and sorrow with a sense of pride. I salute the surviving Korean War veterans who have anxiously waited for their comrades-in-arms.
The Government, together with the people, will forever remember our heroes who defended our country. We will never give up the efforts to find the remaining 123,000 fallen soldiers who were unable to be returned to us until the day they can be reunited with their families.
My Administration has bestowed Orders of Military Merit to some 5,000 Korean War veterans who have yet to receive their due recognitions. We have also significantly increased cost-of-living payments as well as military merit honor allowances, veteran honor allowances and those for the children of soldiers and police officers killed in the Korean War. We will continue to do our utmost to ensure that the war veterans and bereaved families are held in esteem.
Placed on the memorial altar today are the remains of six American soldiers we have found and will return to the United States. Our people will never forget the sacrifices of the Korean War veterans from each of the 22 participating United Nations member countries, including the United States.
By 2022, we will complete construction of a Memorial Wall of Remembrance in Washington D.C. to forever honor the fact that the “great alliance” is rooted in the noble sacrifices of Korean War veterans.
The U.N. Korean War veterans I met during my overseas trips have invariably regarded Korea as their second home and taken great pleasure and pride in Korea’s development as if it is their own.
On behalf of the Korean people, I delivered our gratitude and respect to Korean War veterans in the United States, France, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. I also awarded the Apostle of Peace medal to Korean War veterans in Thailand.
There are no borders when honoring patriots and veterans. We will remember and honor the noble sacrifices of fallen soldiers through various veterans affairs programs conducted jointly with the U.N. member states that sent troops to fight in the Korean War.
I am deeply grateful to the heads of state or government from U.N. member countries that participated in the Korean War for sending meaningful video messages on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of its outbreak. My profound appreciation also goes to the many ambassadors to Korea who are joining us at today’s event.
The Korean War is the war that has made us what we are today. The tragedy that the War brought about, the determination that overcame it, the pride in the economic growth achieved from the post-war ruins and the ideological scars left by the War – all of these remain wholly intact within our lives and minds. Even after 70 years have passed, they – in their totality – reflect what we are.
We came together to confront and prevail over the ravages of war, having been reborn as the genuine citizens of the Republic of Korea. We stood united in the face of national crises and cultivated the strength to safeguard the value of liberal democracy.
It was the Korean War that made “the most ordinary people” the “greatest patriots.” The neighbors who left their homes and relatives behind even before completing their farm chores or the school semester became the heroes who defended the Nakdonggang River frontline and recaptured Seoul. Personally realizing the value of the nation’s existence helped enhance their patriotism and made them aware of just how invaluable peace is.
It was also the Korean War that gave rise to the type of confidence that can help overcome any hardship. With the self-esteem from having surmounted the War and the skills learned in the military, our veterans became the mainstay of post-war reconstruction.
Their love for the Republic of Korea was so great that it even made up for the love lost as fellow soldiers fell in battlefields, becoming a source of pride for their neighbors and relatives.
However, we cannot commemorate the Korean War in a genuine manner yet. That is because the War has yet to come to an end. Even at this moment, the threat of war continues, and we are engaged in a war not only against the visible threats but also against the invisible enmity within us.
We all are daughters and sons of Korean War veterans and refugees. The War left scars all over the country, and it still remains intact in the life of each individual and the history of each family. It has been expressed in various ways: strong anti-communist spirit, diligence associated with the slogan “Let’s try to live well off too” and the spirits of popular sovereignty and democracy. However, the one unified wish of us all has been that there should never be another war on this land.
People who gave their all to an era they were in are able to join hands while respecting each other. We must end the long-standing Korean War in order to turn it into a historical experience we all share that unifies generations and ideologies.
The first step toward putting an end to the War is not to forget its horrible tragedy. This is also the aspiration of the U.N. Korean War veterans who sacrificed their lives for freedom and peace on this land 70 years ago as well as all peace-loving people around the world.
On June 25, 1950, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution ten hours after the outbreak of the War, urging North Korea to halt the invasion and pull its army back north of the 38th parallel. For the first time in history, it invoked the U.N. Collective Security system to restore peace and safety on the Korean Peninsula. Together, the world made noble sacrifices.
What we need now is to remember the countless sacrifices which have become the foundation for today’s freedom, peace and prosperity and to have pride in ourselves.
The spirit of our fallen independence activists led to the guardian spirit of those who gave their all to the country, which in turn became a great spirit that has safeguarded democracy. Likewise, we should revive the patriotism practiced in the Korean War and liberal democracy cherished in our hearts as a driving force for peace and prosperity. That’s the way to commemorate the War in a genuine sense.
A total of 138,000 South Korean soldiers fell during the Korean War. The number of soldiers injured reached 450,000, and 25,000 went missing. Some one million civilians were sacrificed; they were killed, massacred or wounded. As many as 100,000 children were orphaned, and 3.2 million people were forced to leave their hometowns. More than 10 million had to suffer the separation of their families.
No one was free from the War. It made our democracy regress and dealt a devastating blow to the economy as well. Eighty percent of industrial facilities were destroyed, and assets valued at two years of national income at that time were reduced to ashes. The foundation for society, the economy and the lives of the people collapsed.
Even after the War ceased, South and North Korea have been confronting each other for a long time on the far frontlines of the Cold War and have had to waste national power. While our people suffered the pains of the War, there were some countries that actually benefitted from heightened demand during that war.
However, post-war economic reconstruction for us was as rough a path as breaking away from colonial rule. In the beginning, we made efforts for restoration and reconstruction while depending on foreign aid, and – one after another – we fostered our light, heavy, chemical and ICT industries. It has taken a solid 70 years to catch up with developed countries.
We achieved the Miracle on the Han River thanks to the generation that surmounted the Korean War. The Republic of Korea recorded per capita income of merely US$67 in 1953, immediately after the War, but it rose from the ruins and developed into an economic powerhouse with per capita income of more than US$30,000. It joined the ranks of the world’s top ten economies. Korea turned itself from an aid recipient to a donor country and is transforming from a fast-follower economy into a pace-setter. During the process of surmounting the COVID-19 outbreak, Korea has garnered worldwide attention.
The Republic of Korea that the people have protected has now become strong enough to safeguard them. It has power and spirit strong enough to create peace.
Our military has strength to ward off any threat. It has a thorough readiness posture and will never allow even a handspan of our territory on land and sea and in the air to be violated again.
We long for peace. However, we will respond with resolve when the security and lives of our people are threatened. Our national defense capabilities are strong enough to repel any provocation from any direction.
Upon the strong ROK-U.S. alliance, we are thoroughly preparing for the return of our wartime operational control. Based on our inherent strength, we will keep and make peace at any cost.
My fellow Koreans, decorated war veterans and bereaved families,
We are against a war. Our GDP is more than 50 times that of North Korea, and our trade is over 400 times that of the North. The two Koreas’ competition over political and economic systems already ended a long time ago. We do not have any intention to force our system on the North. We pursue peace and intend to live well together. We will continuously search for routes that are mutually beneficial for both Koreas through peace. Before speaking of reunification, I hope that we can become friendly neighbors first.
We established primary and middle schools for refugees while fighting the War and ran war-time university confederations in many areas. We prepared for the future and have built a nation that no one dare challenge while nurturing our strength to maintain peace. Now, our sons and daughters have become the Republic of Korea’s main actors leading the world, preparing for the post-COVID-19 era ahead of others.
Achieving peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula is a duty that must be fulfilled without fail for both the parents who suffered through the War and their posterity who will usher in the next 70 years. It is a long-desired wish for 80 million Koreans.
I hope that North Korea, too, will boldly embark on an endeavor to end the saddest war in world history. I wish that the tragedy of the War suffered by the South, North and all Koreans will be shared by our future generations as a collective memory and become the strength to usher in peace. If we are going to talk about reunification, we have to achieve peace first, and only after peace has continued for a long time will we be able to finally see the door to reunification.
I believe that when inter-Korean reconciliation and peace inspires the world with hope, we will be able to truly repay the noble sacrifices made by our fallen heroes who gave their entirety to the country.